Hamas says no ceasefire deal until after massive weekend protests
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Hamas says no ceasefire deal until after massive weekend protests

As Egypt scrambles to cement a truce, Netanyahu says he ordered the army to ready for an ‘extensive campaign’ in Gaza

Palestinians wave Palestinian flags as they try to climb the security fence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians wave Palestinian flags as they try to climb the security fence on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City, on March 22, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Hamas officials said Thursday that their group will only agree to an Egypt-mediated ceasefire with Israel after massive protests planned on the Gaza Strip border with Israel this weekend to mark a year since weekly disturbances started.

The reported condition came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had instructed the army to be ready for an “extensive campaign” in the Gaza Strip and Egyptian mediators headed to Israel to discuss a potential ceasefire plan to end the recent flareup in hostilities.

Three Hamas officials familiar with the negotiations said that the Egyptians had offered Hamas a series of measures to ease the blockade on Gaza. In exchange, Hamas would have to pledge to halt rocket fire and keep protests along the Israeli border under control.

The officials said the deal would only take effect after the planned mass demonstration along the Israeli border. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were ongoing. One of the officials described the atmosphere as positive.

Another official said the Egyptians were discussing the proposal with Israel on Thursday afternoon.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

The protests have at times seen the participation of tens of thousands of Palestinians.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, has been the de facto ruler of Gaza since seizing control of the territory from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with an IDF officer near the border with the Gaza Strip on March 28, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu on Thursday vowed not to hold back from a military invasion of Gaza if such action was needed to restore quiet.

“We’re tightening the security ring around the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said at an event in northern Israel. Earlier in the day, the prime minister visited troops on the Gaza border, where the IDF has been amassing units amid intense fighting earlier this week.

“I recently ordered that the units be reinforced, that tools be added, in preparation for an extensive campaign,” he added.

“All citizens of Israel know that if an extensive campaign is necessary – we will go into it strong and secure, after all other possibilities have been exhausted,” continued Netanyahu, who is also defense minister.

The comments came with the army gearing up for large riots along the security fence this weekend, as Palestinians mark one year since the start of the “March of Return” protests.

This week saw a spike in tensions after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a house in the agricultural community of Mishmeret in central Israel and destroyed it completely, wounding seven people. Israel responded with airstrikes on scores of Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian terror groups launched dozens of rockets at Israeli communities in the Gaza periphery.

Israeli security forces inspect the scene of a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the town of Mishmeret in central Israel on March 25, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Throughout the recent violence, Egyptian military intelligence officials have been working to broker a ceasefire. A delegation of Egyptian mediators and intelligence officials reportedly met Wednesday night and early Thursday morning with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, conveying an Israeli truce offer.

Israel has demanded that Gaza’s terror groups stop nighttime border riots, halt weekly demonstrations as well as riots at the Zikim beach in northern Gaza, and provide assurances that this weekend’s massive protest will be nonviolent, Ynet reported.

In return, according to the report, Jerusalem offered to increase the number of trucks loaded with goods entering Gaza every day through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, ease approvals for imports and exports; support UN employment initiatives in the Strip, expand the permitted fishing zone to 12 nautical miles off the Strip’s coast, and improve electric power supply from Israel.

Netanyahu also addressed tensions on the northern border in the wake of an airstrike attributed to Israel in Syria on targets linked to Iran.

“Iran is constantly trying to bring very advanced and very deadly long-range precision missiles into Syria,” the prime minister said. “We’re not prepared to accept this and our operations against Iran’s military entrenchment efforts in Syria — to introduce advanced weaponry — continue all the time.”

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