Israel says Gaza calm brokered with Hamas, but no ‘real’ deal without captives

As quiet returns to the border and goods crossing reopens, Netanyahu appears to respond to criticism over ceasefire by speaking of ‘cost of war’

Trucks loaded with goods and merchandise make deliveries to the Gaza Strip after the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)
Trucks loaded with goods and merchandise make deliveries to the Gaza Strip after the Kerem Shalom crossing was opened on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)

A senior Israeli official indicated that the quiet along the Gaza border maintained for several days was reached as part of a ceasefire agreement with Hamas, brokered by Egypt and the UN, but said a long-term truce could not be inked until captive Israelis and soldiers’ remains were returned from the enclave.

Israeli and Hamas officials have been engaged in intensive efforts via Egypt and the UN in recent weeks to reach a long-term deal to return calm to the restive border region in exchange for easing restrictions on the Strip.

The efforts came amid weeks of violence along the border, including arson attacks, rocket fire at southern Israel and retaliatory air strikes on Hamas targets.

On Wednesday, Israel re-opened the Kerem Shalom cargo crossing and an expanded fishing zone off the Gaza coast, after the border region saw several days with no cross-border arson attacks.

The Israeli official credited the relative calm on the border to “the understandings advanced by the Egyptians and the UN,” without elaborating. Hamas last week said it reached a ceasefire with Israel brokered by Egypt and the United Nations to end the flareup in violence, though this was denied by Israel.

The officials also credited “the tough action by the IDF, which will continue as needed,” for the calm.

Jerusalem has officially been mum on the talks with Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group which seized control of the Strip in 2007 from the Palestinian Authority and seeks to destroy Israel.

The official said there would be “no real arrangement without the return of our sons and citizens, and a commitment for a long-term calm.”

Hamas is thought to be holding onto Israeli civilians Avira Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, along with the remains of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, both killed in the 2014 war. Israel has insisted their return be included in any long-term truce.

Left to right: Oron Shaul, Hadar Goldin and Avraham Mengistu. (Flash90/The Times of Israel)

“As long as this commitment [to quiet] is maintained, it will be possible to deal with humanitarian issues, among them the return of our sons and citizens,” the source said.

Channel 10 News quoted an Israeli official saying Israel ha reached an understanding with Hamas, with Egypt and the UN, returning to the deal brokered at the end of the 2014 Gaza war.

The agreement, which went into effect with the opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing Wednesday, will see Hamas halt attacks in exchange for the opening of border terminals and an expanded fishing zone.

Local leaders near the Gaza border and hawkish politicians have been pushing the government and army to take a harder line toward Hamas even at the risk of war.

A ceasefire agreement reportedly reached last week was rejected by local politicians in the Gaza border region, who fear daily airborne arson attacks and other cross-border violence will return if Israel does not take military action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared Wednesday to defend his decision to avoid military confrontation.

“I think anyone who was a combat soldier will always be sensitive to the cost of his action, to the cost of war,” said Netanyahu who served as an officer in an elite commando unit during his time in the military. “The cost of war is heavy, it is terrible, and the knowledge that he has no choice but to pay this price, this knowledge always tells how we should reduce it.”

The remarks came during a ceremony for his new military secretary IDF Colonel Avi Blut, who replaced Brigadier General Eliezer Toledano.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 29, 2018. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Yedioth Ahronoth via Flash90)

On Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s office said Gaza restrictions would be eased. Liberman called on residents of the Gaza Strip to maintain the relative quiet along the border saying doing so was in their best interest.

The Kerem Shalom Crossing into Gaza had been closed for over a month as punishment for the regular violence along the border, bouts of rocket fire and daily incendiary kite and balloon attacks since March 30, the start of the “March of Return” protests, a series of demonstrations — often violent — along the Gaza security fence.

On Tuesday Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticized any deal for a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas saying that ministers in his party will oppose it.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of Education in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2018. (Flash90)

Bennett slammed the decision to reopen the Kerem Shalom Crossing and declared his national-religious Jewish Home party would “oppose an agreement based on a temporary calm, which would allow Hamas to rearm and regroup for the next round of terror.”

Last Wednesday and Thursday saw a significant confrontation between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, with some 200 rockets and mortar shells launched from the Strip and over 150 retaliatory bombing raids by the Israel Defense Forces.

Though both sides abided by a de facto ceasefire as it related to exchanges of fire, thousands of residents of the Strip took part in riots along the border on Friday. Three people, one of them reportedly a medic, were killed by IDF gunfire during clashes on the fence.

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