Bennett slams ceasefire with Hamas as ‘serious mistake’

Charging that agreement to end flare-up is dictated by terror group, Jewish Home leader says ‘showing restraint creates an escalation in violence”

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Education Minister Jewish Home party leader, Naftali Bennett, leads the faction meeting at the Knesset on June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Jewish Home party leader, Naftali Bennett, leads the faction meeting at the Knesset on June 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jewish Home leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett slammed Saturday night a ceasefire deal to end the latest flare-up between Hamas in Gaza and Israel, saying that the terror group is dictating the terms of the deal and calling it a “serious mistake.”

After Palestinians fired more than 100 rockets into Israel over the weekend and the IDF carried out dozens of air strikes, the Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups announced that they had agreed to a ceasefire with Israel, following talks with Egypt and other international bodies.

In a statement released after Hamas announced it had accepted the deal, Bennett said that showing restraint towards the group had caused recent violent clashes on the Gaza border and would encourage more attacks against Israelis.

“Allowing Hamas to dictate the terms of the ceasefire to use after two months of arson attacks and hundreds of rockets on the residents of Gaza border communities is a serious mistake,” Bennett said. “Showing restraint creates an escalation in violence.”

Beginning at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip launched over 174 rockets and mortar shells at southern Israel. The majority of them, well over 100, landed in open fields, where they caused neither injury nor damage. Over 30 of them were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. A number landed inside communities in southern Israel.

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows smoke plumes rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Hamas claimed the rocket firings were a response to Israeli strikes, adding that the organization would cease firing projectiles if the Jewish state stopped attacking targets in the Strip.

Announcing that it had accepted the ceasefire, the group said that “regional and international mediation has led to an end of the current escalation between the resistance and the occupation forces.”

A spokesperson for the Islamic Jihad also said that his group would maintain a ceasefire if Israeli strikes on Gaza came to a halt, according to the Ynet news site.

Bennett said that rather than agreeing to end retaliatory strikes, “the IDF must be instructed to act with force, sophistication and thoroughness.”

“Disregarding our sovereignty,” he added, “commits us to a long war of attrition.”

Shortly after Bennett’s statement, two mortar shells struck southern Israel, apparently hitting an open field. In response, the Israeli military said it “attacked the mortar from which the shells were launched.”

Hadashot TV news reported late Saturday that while Hamas leaders had told Egyptian mediators that they will keep firing rockets into Israel until the IDF stops its military actions, and bragged about the rocket fire, the Egyptians told Hamas that Israel is ready for an escalation of the conflict if necessary, and that therefore if Hamas wants the exchanges to stop, it would have to halt first.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Saturday that Israel would step up its strikes on Gaza until the Palestinian terror groups halt all violence coming out of the coastal enclave.

Netanyahu said that after consultations with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and the IDF chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot it was decided to take “powerful action against Hamas terror.”

“The IDF hit Hamas with the harshest blow since Operation Protective Edge and we will intensify our reaction as much as necessary,” Netanyahu said.

Over the last few months, Palestinians in Gaza have flown thousands of kites and balloons attached to incendiary devices that have set off hundreds of fires in farm lands and nature reserves along the border with Gaza, destroying tens of thousands of acres.

On Saturday evening, Palestinians in Gaza fired a salvo of rockets at the border town of Sderot, with two of the rockets hitting a home and a synagogue. Three Israelis were moderately wounded.

The rocket that injured them landed on the roof of a home in the town. It hit a reinforced bomb shelter in the building, limiting the damage. The second rocket hit a synagogue that was empty at the time.

Several other rockets were intercepted by Iron Dome.

People at the scene where a courtyard of a house was hit by a rocket in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, during an escalation in rocket fire in the Gaza envelope Israeli towns, on July 14, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Over the weekend, Palestinians fired dozens of rockets into Israel and the IDF attacked more than 40 targets in the Strip, in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza reported that two teenagers, aged 15 and 16, were killed in an IDF strike Saturday on a structure which the Israeli army said was situated over an attack tunnel in Gaza.

Fourteen people have been wounded across Gaza, the ministry said.

Palestinian sources reported that the IDF conducted several more strikes in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday evening.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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