As the end to a three-day ceasefire drew closer on Thursday, Israeli officials said they were willing to unconditionally extend the lull in fighting, only to be rebuffed by Hamas officials, who threatened to renew fire Friday morning if Jerusalem did not accede to their demands.
Palestinian delegations and Israeli officials are currently holding indirect talks in Egypt aimed at putting a conclusive end to a month of fighting, but officials say a large gap remains between the sides’ demands.
Egyptian officials spent Wednesday shuttling between the sides to get approval for an extension on the truce.
An unnamed Israeli official was widely reported on Wednesday night as saying that Israel was keen to extend the 72-hour ceasefire “unconditionally.”
However, Hamas officials were quick to say that there was no agreement on an extension and that negotiations in Cairo were still ongoing.
The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing, said it will start firing as soon as the ceasefire ends on Friday at 8 a.m., Israeli news site Walla reported, citing the Hamas news agency Al-Risala.
Hamas deputy leader Mussa Abu Marzouk, part of the Palestinian delegation holding talks in Cairo, denied overnight there was yet any agreement.
“There is no agreement to extend the ceasefire,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Any news about the extension of the truce is unfounded,” added Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
Senior Hamas figure Ismail Radwan told Al-Risala that there has been no agreement on extending the ceasefire because Hamas demands have not been met.
Pundits suggested that the threat is an attempt to bully Israel into giving in to some of the demands that Hamas presented at the ongoing indirect talks.
Hamas is seeking a lifting of the Israeli blockade, as well as extended fishing rights into the Mediterranean and the opening of a seaport and airport in the Strip, as well as opening the Rafah crossing into Egypt. Israeli officials have indicated they will only agree to lift the blockade in exchange for the Strip being disarmed, and would like the Palestinian Authority to manage the Gaza side of the Rafah border terminal.
Israel launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8 to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns and cities and destroy a network of tunnels, dug by Hamas under the border, that were used to launch terror attacks inside Israeli territory.
Egypt has emerged as the prime moderator in talks between Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate an enduring ceasefire.
The Egyptian initiative is based on an immediate ceasefire followed by negotiations for the long-term status.
Hamas political bureau member Azat Al-Rashak told al-Risala the Palestinian delegation has not received an answer from Israel to the demands it presented to the Egyptians and warned that “the resistance is ready to continue fighting.”
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz warned Wednesday that the IDF would retaliate strongly if the terror organization resumes its attacks on Israel.
“We aren’t done,” he said, as tens of thousands of army reservists, called up for the Gaza operation, were released from duty. “If there are incidents, we will respond to them.”
Reuters reported on Wednesday that Britain, France, and Germany have offered to revive an international delegation that monitored the Rafah crossing in the past.
The so-called EU Border Assistance Mission started working in 2005 to calm Israeli fears over security at the crossing, and in particular what was being brought into the Gaza Strip. However, the mission suspended its operations in 2007 after Hamas seized control of Gaza and pushed out PA officials.
AFP contributed to this report.