Egypt is attempting to mediate an end to the military escalation in the Gaza Strip and has urged Palestinian terror groups to halt their attacks on Israel, according to Israeli news reports Tuesday.
Egyptian intelligence has contacted the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups, which in the evening claimed joint responsibility for the day’s barrages of mortar shells and rockets, and urged them to rein in projectile fire in order to prevent the violence from spiraling into a larger conflict, Hadashot TV news reported.
According to the Kan public broadcaster, Islamic Jihad officials said they would consider the Egyptian request.
Egypt was also instrumental in calming tensions in the Strip earlier this month, after clashes during violent protests along the border led to the deaths of 62 Palestinians, at least 53 of them members of terror organizations.
Cairo announced it was opening the Rafah border crossing with Gaza days after the riots, amid media speculation that a deal had been struck for Egypt to open the border in exchange for Hamas ending the protests. Hamas denied that such a deal had been made.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said his government had communicated with both sides so that “bloodshed would stop.”
Officials in Israel claimed that Egypt had put heavy pressure on Hamas to end the protests, though Hamas characterized the mediation as the two sides coordinating.
Israeli officials and Hamas and Islamic Jihad both sent out signals Tuesday evening that they were uninterested in a further escalation of violence, even as sporadic rocket fire trickled out of the Strip after sundown.
Tuesday saw at least 60 rockets and mortar shells launched into Israel from Gaza, as well as dozens of retaliatory strikes by the IDF against terror targets in the Strip, capping weeks of soaring tensions in the region stemming from weekly protests on the border. In an early morning mortar shell barrage, one shell exploded in the yard of a kindergarten shortly before children arrived.
“We are not set on escalating the situation, but the Israel Defense Forces will respond forcefully to all fire from the Strip and will exact a price,” a senior Israeli official said, after a top-level emergency meeting convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist groups, jointly responsible for the hours of salvos of rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, released similar messages through Palestinian media, saying they were not interested in escalating the situation but that “you must be stupid to think that we won’t retaliate.”
Earlier, Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio the cross-border violence could potentially intensify.
He said Israel was closer to war than it had been since 2014, when the country fought a punishing 50 day war with Gaza-led fighters that the enclave has yet to recover from.
“We don’t want war and neither do they, but we have our red lines,” Katz said.