With a sigh of relief, moments after a shudder of trepidation at the possibility of the restart of war, Israel’s press reports that the truce with the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip was extended for another five days, giving Israel the possibility of a full week without conflict. Minutes before the announcement of the truce extension was made, rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel.
“Fragile quiet,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s headline. “Hamas fired — then approved another truce.” The paper reports that five rockets were launched at Israel (Haaretz says four) before the 72-hour truce was set to expire at midnight, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon ordered the IDF to return fire. Shortly thereafter, a five-day truce agreement was announced in Cairo, putting things back on hold in southern Israel. Yedioth Ahronoth quotes Palestinian official Izzat al-Risheq saying that the extension was agreed upon “in order to continue the consultations and discussions.”
Haaretz notes a curious thing about the announcement of the extended truce by chief Palestinian negotiator (for the Palestinian Authority) Azzam al-Ahmed in an impromptu press conference. First Ahmed announced that the truce was extended for five days, then Hamas did, but the Israeli government kept mum and made no comment about the agreement. Unlike Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page headline blaming Hamas, however, it notes that the Islamist group denied responsibility for the rocket fire, and doesn’t attribute the breach in the ceasefire to it. (Israel Hayom cites security sources saying “Hamas violated the ceasefire, the prime minister and defense minister instructed the IDF to act in response.”)
The paper also reports that the destruction of over 60 mosques in the Gaza Strip not only harms the fabric of Gazan life, but also Hamas infrastructure. It notes that in the last conflict, Israel didn’t strike a single mosque. While the religious buildings were used as social centers, educational centers and clinics, they were also used to store munitions, launch rockets and house entrances to Hamas’s tunnel network.
“For Hamas, mosques have always served as centers for enlisting and training, and as an ideological hothouse for future fighters,” it writes in its amended AP story. In the original English report by the news agency, the author finishes the sentence saying “their destruction would certainly have negative repercussions for the militant movement in the future.”
In Israel Hayom, the top ministers in the government’s “hardening of stances” make headlines as Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman buckle down on Hamas. Liberman is quoted saying that if Hamas delegates don’t agree to return the remains of two soldiers killed in Gaza, “Israel must assassinate all of the leaders of the terror organization.”
Lapid, who entered office as a moderate, also took a hard line, saying he would “only vote in favor of a [ceasefire] agreement which gives a real solution to the residents of the south. I am concerned that without an international conference, which we’ve already presented, this is a process which will only bring about another round of fighting in another six months or a year.”
Alex Fishman writes an op-ed in Yedioth Ahronoth which he calls “Talks for the long-term,” referring to the current negotiations in Cairo to reach a long-term truce between Israel and the Gaza-based terror groups. He scathingly rebukes the government for what he sees as conceding to Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip.
“An entire country sits and shrinks, almost on its knees, and waits for a terror organization to decide for it if there will be a ceasefire or not,” he says. “Hamas is dictating to us the nature and pace of life, and [our] weak, indecisive and feeble government is waiting to find its mouth.”
After rambling on for far too long about the details of the Egyptian ceasefire proposal that neither side has agreed to yet, Fishman gives the bottom line: “All in all, the Egyptian proposal includes small improvements to the deal agreed upon at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense [in 2012], something which will allow the Hamas people to say to the residents of Gaza: ‘The great sacrifice you paid was not in vain.’ Especially since on the horizon awaits you a reconstruction project worth a billion dollars and discussion of the second phase of the Egyptian agreement which will grant them the characteristics of sovereignty, economic independence and freedom of movement in the form of an airport and sea port.”
Writing in Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit says that the rockets launched just before the ceasefire expired (and was then extended) “were not coincidental.”
“It was guided by an Iranian swindler,” he says without elaborating.
“Hamas broke the ceasefire 100 minutes early, as a way of acting out. Hamas is seeking to chip away at Israel’s mental fortitude, hoping to sow constant fear, bordering on panic. After the rocket fire, Hamas acted as if Israel owed it thanks for agreeing last-minute to a five-day ceasefire extension,” Margalit writes.
He says that in the next five days there are things Israel should be doing to prevent another flare-up of violence without employing it itself. “There is no need for Israel to shoot during this time, but there are other actions it should take: first, flood Gaza with appeals to local residents, which will restrain Hamas. And second, hold talks with the civilized nations of the world in an effort to renew at least some of the understandings that existed before Operation Protective Edge.”