Through Egypt, Hamas and Israel move close to cease-fire

‘Ball is in Hamas’s court,’ says official, as Jerusalem offers ‘quiet for quiet’

Abu Ubeida (right), the official spokesperson of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam  Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, at a press conference on July 3, 2014, in Gaza City (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Abu Ubeida (right), the official spokesperson of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, the armed wing of Hamas, at a press conference on July 3, 2014, in Gaza City (photo credit: AFP/Mohammed Abed)

A ceasefire is set to be declared between Israel and Hamas, Egyptian and Palestinian sources confirmed to The Times of Israel on Friday morning, but the exact timing has yet to be set.

The truce was mediated by Egyptian intelligence officials, as has been the case in similar negotiations in the past.

According to the sources, the understanding that the Egyptians reached with Israel and Hamas is that “quiet will be met with quiet.”

“Neither side is interested in an escalation,” the sources told The Times of Israel.

The sources also reported that the Egyptians passed messages from Israel to the deputy head of Hamas’s political desk, Moussa Abu Marzouk, based in Cairo.

Israeli sources said they were waiting for an answer from Hamas. “The ball is in Hamas’s court,” an official told the Ynet news site.

Commentators in Gaza attributed the escalation in rocket fire over the past 48 hours to the feeling in Hamas that Israel is looking to avoid a fight, and that a cease-fire is impending.

According to the commentators, Hamas is trying to achieve a public relations victory in the eyes of the Gaza public, to be seen as unafraid of an escalation. But, they said, Hamas is itself uninterested in a deterioration into a larger conflict.

The report came as five more rockets from Gaza were fired at Israel early Friday morning. One landed in Palestinian territory. The Iron Dome rocket-defense system intercepted another.

No injuries or damage were reported as the projectiles struck open areas.

The new salvo Friday came after over 15 rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip Thursday evening, leaving one soldier lightly injured. As the southern border continued to heat up Thursday, with intermittent rocket fire striking southern Israel, residents were advised to stay within 15 seconds of bomb shelters.

Israel on Thursday reportedly issued a 48-hour ultimatum to Hamas in Gaza to halt the incessant fire or face a massive Israeli strike. The ultimatum was conveyed to Hamas leaders via Egyptian intelligence, sources said.

An hour before the evening rocket barrage, Hamas said that in the event of an escalation, Israel would “be surprised” by its rocket arsenal and range.

“We promise that one stupid move your leaders make will constitute sufficient ground to turn all of your towns, even those you wouldn’t expect, into targets and burning cinders,” said Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s armed wing. Israel may initiate the escalation, “but it doesn’t know how it will continue and how it will end,” he said.

“The threats the occupiers issue, and the allusions to war against Gaza, are threats that have no meaning in our dictionaries, other than drawing the hour of vengeance and difficult lesson-learning closer,” Ubaida added.

He said that Israel’s move to rearrest — during an 18-day operation to find three kidnapped Israeli teens (their bodies were found in the West Bank earlier this week) — prisoners released during the 2011 swap for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit “crossed a line and we won’t be silent about it.”

The IDF beefed up its ground forces around the Gaza Strip on Thursday, as tensions continued to rise along the southern border region; meanwhile, in East Jerusalem, the killing Wednesday of a Muslim teenager, in an alleged revenge attack over the killings of the Israeli teens, triggered widespread riots on Wednesday.

But the movement of troops toward Gaza came in conjunction with unusually soothing messages from the army. “We want to deescalate the situation and restore calm,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, who described the deployment as defensive in nature.

The region has been increasingly tense since the June 12 kidnapping of the three Israeli teens and the onset of the holy month of Ramadan.

Hamas, which has apparently taken part in the rocket fire recently for the first time since 2012, failed in its attempt to kidnap and trade the Israeli teens for Palestinian prisoners, Lerner said, and therefore has been “pushed into a corner.”

In the West Bank, he added, the army’s current strategy comprises three main components: finding those responsible for the killing of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-ad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel; finding those who killed East Jerusalemite Muhammed Abu Khdeir, 16; and avoiding violence on the first Friday of Ramadan.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, in advance of Friday’s mass prayer gatherings, instructed all Central Command troops to “limit points of friction,” Lerner said.

Israel’s cabinet, meanwhile, has remained mum on possible anti-Hamas operations in the wake of the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens by Hebron-based Hamas members.

Marissa Newman and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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