Israel said ready to offer Gaza easing of export limits, larger cash transfers

Netanyahu and security chiefs reportedly back Egypt-mediated indirect talks to prevent new violence after last week’s rockets at Tel Aviv; hardline ministers urge tougher action

An Israeli Merkava battle tank on the border with the Gaza Strip on March 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
An Israeli Merkava battle tank on the border with the Gaza Strip on March 15, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israel is reportedly mulling a package of benefits for Gaza as it resumes indirect ceasefire negotiations with the Hamas terror group, angering some hawkish ministers.

The high-level security cabinet met Sunday to discuss efforts to restore calm and prevent an escalation of violence with the Palestinian enclave ahead of April elections, Channel 13 news reported.

The meeting came after violence briefly ramped up sparked by two rockets shot from Gaza at Tel Aviv last Thursday evening, in what the army now believes to have been an accident. Israel carried out over 100 airstrikes in response overnight Thursday-Friday. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said four people were injured in the IDF attacks.

Israel holds Hamas, the de facto ruler of Gaza, responsible for any attacks emanating from the coastal enclave. Responding to the air raids, Hamas fired seven rockets at southern Israeli towns, six of which were intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the last landing in an open area.

According to the report, Israel is considering offering an expanded fishing zone off the Gaza coast, eased restrictions on the export of Gaza agricultural products, and increased monthly cash deliveries from Qatar which provide millions of dollars for needy families in Gaza.

Palestinian fishermen inspect their destroyed fishing boat hauled up onto the shore, close to the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on March 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Said Khatib/AFP)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both from the New Right party, opposed the plan. Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also reportedly expressed reservations about returning to indirect negotiations with Hamas.

For months Egypt has been acting as a mediator in efforts to end a year of violent rioting on the Israeli-Gazan border, which has at times escalated into rocket fire by Palestinians at southern Israel, drawing reprisal airstrikes on Hamas targets.

Citing two ministers who were at the meeting, the Kan public broadcaster reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, backed by senior security officials, told ministers that the mediated talks with Hamas would continue with the new offers.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett right, and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked hold a press conference of the New Right Political party, in Tel Aviv on March 17, 2019. (Flash90)

“Hamas had the last word in the last round, and talks for an agreement now will look like surrender and rewarding terror,” Bennett protested during the meeting, according to the sources, who were not identified in the report.

Bennett also dismissed an IDF assessment that the pair of rockets fired last Thursday at Tel Aviv were launched by accident.

A Palestinian woman counts her money after receiving her salary in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, November 9, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

“The announcement by the IDF spokesperson [about the rocket accident] was the mistake,” Bennett reportedly said.

Netanyahu said in response that Israel had shown restraint and responsibility. IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, who was at the meeting, backed Netanyahu and rejected Bennett’s stance.

Tensions along the volatile border have calmed since the flareup late last week, though Israel fears they may ratchet up again toward the end of the month, especially as Hamas comes under increasing domestic pressure from rare street protests in the Strip.

Under the terms of an unofficial arrangement reached in November, Israel allows Qatar to bring $15 million cash installments through its territory and into Gaza where it is distributed to tens of thousands of families. Hamas has accused Israel of breaking the agreement.

Palestinians prepare explosive devices to use in nighttime clashes along the border with Israel, at a house in al-Bureij refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Since last March, the Gaza border has seen large-scale weekly clashes on Fridays, smaller protests along the northern Gaza border on Tuesdays, as well as periodic flareups between the Israeli military and Palestinian terror organizations. Protesters have been gathering along the frontier in often-violent protests calling for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to be allowed to return to former homes now inside Israel.

Israel says that Hamas has orchestrated the protests as cover for border attacks which have included bombs, grenades, Molotov cocktails, shootings, and breaches of the boundary fence.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza in 2007 from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority. Following the Hamas takeover, Israel imposed a blockade of the Strip which it says is aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons and military materials into Gaza. Goods arrive at Israeli ports and are trucked into the Palestinian territory. The measures include a naval blockade which has restricted the distance Gazan fisherman can sail out to sea.

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