Hamas leaders go into hiding as truce ends

As truce ends, Israel says only "complete quiet" will prevent collision.

strike 248.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
strike 248.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Hamas officials in Gaza and Beirut on Thursday announced that the terror group would not extend the Gaza truce with Israel. Nevertheless, even before the officials' announcement, eleven rockets and six mortar shells had already been fired into Israel, following 24 rockets fired the day before. In Gaza, Hamas leaders went underground out of fear of being targeted by Israel. The group also evacuated many of its institutions and security installations in anticipation of an escalation with the IDF. Defense officials said that the only acceptable situation would be complete quiet on the Gaza front, like there was throughout most of the cease-fire and before the IDF launched an operation in November to uncover and destroy a tunnel being dug from Gaza into Israel. The operation triggered a sharp escalation in rocket fire. "We will only accept quiet like there was before the operation in November," a senior defense official said. "Sporadic fire of several Kassams a day is unacceptable and will lead us to a collision course with Hamas." On Thursday, OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoav Galant held a security assessment at his headquarters in Beersheba, after which dozens of armored vehicles deployed along the border with the Gaza Strip. Officers in the Gaza Division said their orders were to be "ready for an escalation at a moment's notice." IDF sources said the past week's rocket fire was carried out by Islamic Jihad under orders from Hamas to escalate the situation. Hamas, the officers said, wanted to pressure Israel into opening the border crossings and expanding the cease-fire to the West Bank. IAF bombings of two Islamic Jihad targets in Gaza overnight Wednesday were aimed at sending a message to the terror group that it would pay for its affiliation with Hamas, the officials said. The decision not to renew the cease-fire was taken following a series of consultations between Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip. It was being regarded as a victory for the Syrian-based Hamas leadership, which, along with other radical groups such as Islamic Jihad, was strongly opposed to an extension unless Israel lifted its Gaza blockade. Some Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip had maintained that the cease-fire should be extended so as not to give Israel an excuse to launch a massive military operation. Despite the announcement, sources close to Hamas predicted that the movement would eventually agree to abide by a renewed cease-fire. The sources said it was trying to extract concessions from Israel as a precondition for extending the cease-fire. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel of "destroying" the cease-fire by continuing to target Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank and by refusing to reopen the border crossings into the Gaza Strip. "There is no room for extending the cease-fire and Israel bears full responsibility for its collapse," he said. "Tomorrow [Friday] will be the last day of the truce." Representatives of other groups joined Hamas in declaring that the cease-fire was over. Saleh Zeidan, a member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, cited the continued Israeli blockade as the reason for letting the cease-fire lapse. He called on all armed groups in the Gaza Strip to prepare for a new round of confrontation with Israel. Walid Hils, spokesman for Islamic Jihad, said his organization "reserved the right to defend the Palestinians against Israeli aggression after December 19." He warned Israel