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Terror group said to tell Israel it does not seek escalation

TV: Israel not responding to Gaza rocket due to progress in talks with Hamas

Reported deal could see Qatar funds enter Strip, return of abducted Israels, Channel 12 says; earlier, PM Bennett vowed to respond ‘on our terms’

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pays a visit to IDF soldiers stationed near Gaza, on August 17, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pays a visit to IDF soldiers stationed near Gaza, on August 17, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel has so far avoided responding militarily to a rocket fired from Gaza on Monday, due to sensitive ongoing negotiations with Hamas that have the potential to reach a breakthrough, Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday.

According to the report, which did not cite a source, there is a possibility of a deal that will allow Qatari funds to enter Gaza and could include the release of Israelis being held by Hamas.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz held meetings at the Israel Defense Forces Gaza Division earlier in the day. According to the network, IDF intelligence officials and the Shin Bet told the pair that they believe a chance must be given for talks to succeed.

The report said that the rocket fired on the previous day was launched by Islamic Jihad members. Hamas quickly arrested them and then conveyed to Israel that it was not behind the rocket fire and was not interested in an escalation, it said.

Bennett and Gantz are aware of the potential public criticism for their failure to respond, but believe the potential for a deal justifies the matter. However, if the talks collapse, Israel will once again respond harshly to attacks.

During the tour of the Gaza Division, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israel will respond on its own terms to the rocket launched at Sderot.

“We will operate at a time, place, and under conditions that suit us and not anyone else,” Bennett declared during the visit, alongside Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

The prime minister said the Hamas terror group is ultimately the one responsible for any rocket fire out of Gaza, “not rebels and not anyone else — just Hamas.”

On Monday afternoon, Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Sderot, in what appeared to be the first such attack since May’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the military said.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted one of the rockets — signaling it was headed toward a populated area — while the second fell short and landed inside the Gaza Strip.

Some residents of the area have criticized the government for not immediately responding to the rocket fire, in an apparent change in policy.

Following the attack, Sha’ar Hanegev Mayor Ofir Liebstein called on the government to respond to the rocket launch, saying it was particularly heinous considering it took place in the middle of the day.

“This is the first launch since Operation Guardian of the Walls, which ended some two months ago. Until now, the operation had proven itself, and I hope and expect that the State of Israel will be able to retain the deterrence that was put in place after the operation,” Liebstein said in a statement on Monday.

But no immediate response came.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and IDF chief Aviv Kochavi tour the IDF Gaza Divison, on August 17, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“We asserted after Operation Guardian of the Walls that the way things have been in the past is not how they will be [henceforth], and that is how we will act,” Gantz said during the visit, using the military’s name for May’s war.

“We will reserve the right to act powerfully, at the place and time we choose, and we will do it properly,” he added, echoing Bennett’s statement.

Israel in recent months has been regularly responding with airstrikes against Hamas positions in Gaza, after balloons carrying incendiary devices sparked fires in southern Israel. Bennett has repeatedly said that he will not allow such incidents to occur without a response.

“Israel is interested in calm and has no interest in harming Gaza residents, but violence… will be met with a strong response,” Bennett told the cabinet following such incidents in early July.

Following a week with no incendiary balloon attacks, Israel began this week to allow the entry of merchants and businessmen from the Gaza Strip through the Erez crossing for the first time in some 18 months. Entry had stopped due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, Israel said that it would allow further imports and exports through the Kerem Shalom Crossing starting this week.

A Hamas security officer checks a truck entering Gaza at the gate of the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing with Israel, in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on June 21, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

Following the May conflict, Israel initially said that it would only allow basic humanitarian aid into the beleaguered enclave, unless the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group released two Israeli civilians it has held in captivity for years, along with the remains of two IDF soldiers.

Israel later eased away from that condition, gradually scaling back its blockade of Gaza and allowing more and more goods and people into and out of the Strip, at the request of the United Nations and foreign governments.

Still, the military said that the moves were “conditioned on continuing security stability in the region,” which yet again flared up with the rocket attack on Monday.

The launch on Monday came after repeated threats by Palestinian terror groups in recent weeks over the slow pace of both the Gaza reconstruction and the entrance of Qatari money into the Strip.

With Israel’s approval, Qatar has in recent years distributed hundreds of millions of dollars in cash to enable Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, pay civil servants’ salaries, and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.

The Qatari cash handouts have been frozen since the 11-day military conflict between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terrorists in May, some two weeks before Bennett took office.

“We will be happy to ease [restrictions] as much as possible, with the Qatari money initiative and other initiatives, provided we know that the money will reach the right places,” Gantz said on Tuesday.

Palestinians receive their $100 financial aid as part of the aid allocated by Qatar to poor families, through a post office, in the town of Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip, on December 3, 2020. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Hamas has warned of a return to fighting should Israel seek to again tighten restrictions on the blockaded Strip.

Bennett said on Tuesday that his visit was “to see that the IDF, the Southern Command, and the Gaza Division are prepared — and they are indeed properly prepared.”

“Our mission is to provide long-term security for the residents of the south and the residents of the Gaza envelope area,” he added.

Israel and Egypt impose tight restrictions on Gaza, which they say are necessary to prevent a greater threat from the Strip’s Hamas rulers. The terror group took over Gaza in a 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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