Israel rejects international mediation as cabinet meets to discuss Gaza

Israel rejects international mediation as cabinet meets to discuss Gaza

Officials freeze contact with UN envoy and Egypt on possible ceasefire; some ministers reportedly support upping military action against Hamas

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)
United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov at a press conference at the (UNSCO) offices in Gaza City, September 25, 2017. (Adel Hana/AP)

As Israel’s top ministers gathered in Tel Aviv to discuss the latest flareup of violence in and around Gaza on Monday morning, which threatened to plunge the area into war, the government was rejecting outreach efforts by international mediators.

“We’re not talking with them about a ceasefire,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel, speaking on condition of anonymity.

After more than 400 rockets and mortar shells were fired at the south by terrorists in the Gaza Strip in the space of less than 24 hours, Jerusalem has decided not to conduct any dialogue at this point with either Egypt or United Nations envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who were said to be scrambling to defuse the explosive situation.

The security cabinet convened in the late morning at the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters to receive updates from the military and to deliberate how to proceed. The discussion was expected to last several hours, and it was unclear whether at the end of it the ministers would vote on the next course of action.

IDF soldiers rest close to Kibbutz Nir Oz, in southern Israel near the border with Gaza, on November 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Before entering the room, several ministers reportedly indicated that they were in favor of intensifying the military’s response to the rocket fire from Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said repeatedly in recent days that he is interested in avoiding “unnecessary wars,” but also stressed that Israel may not have any alternative to a widespread military operation in Gaza to halt rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.

He has not made public statements on the matter since returning from Paris Monday morning.

Together with the government in Cairo, Mladenov, the UN envoy, has been involved in efforts to broker a Israel-Hamas ceasefire for several weeks.

“The #UN is working closely with #Egypt & all concerned to ensure that #Gaza steps back from the brink,” he tweeted Monday night. “The escalation in the past 24hrs is EXTREMELY dangerous & reckless. Rockets must STOP, restraint must b shown by all! No effort must be spared to reverse the spiral of violence.”

Rocket alarms rang out across southern Israel as dawn broke Tuesday and into the morning, ending a brief overnight lull, as intense fighting between Israel and Gaza entered its second day.

A man stands inside a house that was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip in the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, on November 13, 2018 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Rocket launches were reported in the coastal city of Ashkelon and towns closer to the Gaza border, including Sderot. Two houses in the Eshkol region were hit by rockets. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

In Ashkelon, which took several barrages late Monday and early Tuesday, one person was killed when an apartment building was hit around midnight. Eight others were wounded in the strike, including two women with life-threatening injuries, according to emergency services.

Six Gazans were killed in Israeli retaliatory airstrikes overnight and Tuesday morning. Most of them were claimed as members by terror groups.

Spokespeople for the armed wing of Hamas, the terror group that runs the Strip, threatened to start shooting rockets deeper into Israeli territory if fighting continued, calling the barrages on Ashkelon a “warning.”

“Approximately one million Zionists will be within the range of our missiles if the Zionist enemy’s decision is to continue its aggression,” a spokesman said.

Another spokesman said Tuesday morning that if Israel will continue its bombardments of Gaza, “Ashdod and Beersheba are next in line.”

Israel issued warnings of its own and indicated it would not back down.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the army had sent additional infantry troops, rocket defense systems and intelligence units to the Gaza frontier.

A ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in the Gaza Strip during an Israeli air strike, on November 12, 2018. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

“We continue to strike and retaliate against the military targets belonging to terrorist organizations in Gaza, and as for our intentions we will enhance these efforts as needed,” he told reporters.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis tweeted that “Hamas knows well what our targets are and what the price of conflict with the IDF is.”

Israeli military launched a series of strikes against dozens of targets inside the Gaza Strip, including multi-story buildings housing a Hamas military intelligence center and the headquarters of al-Aqsa TV.

The army also said it targeted three attack tunnels operated by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two largest terror groups in the Strip.

On Monday evening, large numbers of IDF tanks and other military vehicles were seen being moved down to the Gaza border on the backs of large trucks. Earlier in the day, before the barrages began, the army also ordered extra infantry battalions to the region.

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

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