Israel will seek to reach a unilateral end to combat in the Gaza Strip, after the Security Cabinet decided overnight that it would not negotiate with Hamas on yet another truce and would not send a delegation to Cairo at this time, Channel 2 reported Saturday, quoting unnamed senior diplomatic officials.
According to the report, such a decision would base the conclusion of Operation Protective Edge, launched by Israel 26 days ago, on deterrence rather than a bilateral ceasefire agreement with Hamas.
“Israel has made it clear to Hamas that they can get lost,” a senior diplomatic official told Channel 2.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and colleagues are now firmly set on a unilateral end to the conflict in the next few days, the TV report said. Israel is adamant that Hamas cannot be trusted in any ceasefire deal, and that it has to be deterred. The US also understands this, the report went on, since the US also recognizes that the Hamas attack on Israeli troops in Rafah on Friday morning was a “spit in the eye” of the US and other mediators.
“When this is over,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Channel 2, “Hamas won’t dare fire on us for years.”
The cabinet members met late Friday and into Saturday for over five hours. No votes were held, but ministers decided to maintain the “current nature” of the operation, sources quoted by Israel Radio said, stressing the goal of demolishing tunnels, destroying Hamas terror infrastructure, and creating the deterrent effect intended to restore sustained calm for Israel. The sources said the IDF expected to complete its work on the tunnels in the next few days and would then “take stock.”
Israel would not agree to further internationally requested humanitarian truces, the cabinet decided, but would initiate such timeouts at its discretion as required, the TV report said.
Ministers dismissed Hamas’s efforts to dodge responsibility for the kidnapping, including its claims that it had lost contact with the gunmen who attacked the Israeli troops, as “lies” and “deceptions,” the report added.
Israel formally told Egypt it would not be sending negotiators since Hamas had repeatedly breached previous truce efforts, Israel Radio reported Saturday afternoon.
A Palestinian delegation including PLO and Fatah representatives from the West Bank, Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives from abroad, but no representatives in Gaza, was due to arrive in Cairo late Saturday.
Meanwhile Israel told Palestinian residents from the Beit Lahiya and al-Atatara areas of the northern Gaza Strip that they could return to their homes on Saturday afternoon.
The announcement, confirmed by Palestinian sources, marked the first time since Israel launched its ground offensive against Hamas targets in Gaza on July 17 that the IDF told Gaza residents it had completed its military operations in a specific area.
Security sources told The Times of Israel that additional withdrawals were expected in the coming days as forces completed tunnel-destroying operations in different Gaza areas.
On Friday, Netanyahu reportedly told US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that the Obama administration was “not to ever second-guess me again” and that Washington should trust his judgment on how to deal with Hamas, according to people familiar with the conversation. Netanyahu added that he now “expected” the US and other countries to fully support Israel’s offensive in Gaza, according to those familiar with the call. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.
With the ceasefire in tatters less than two hours after it took effect with a Hamas attack in Rafah that killed two Israeli troops and left a third missing, President Barack Obama demanded that those responsible release the soldier, Hadar Goldin, immediately.
Obama and other US officials did not directly blame Hamas for the abduction. But they made clear they hold Hamas responsible for, or having influence over, the actions of all factions in the Gaza Strip. Hamas confirmed carrying out the Rafah attack, but said it had no information on a missing soldier.
Regarding further ceasefire efforts, the president noted tellingly, “I think it’s going to be very hard to put a ceasefire back together again if Israel and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a ceasefire commitment.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.