Israel walks away from ceasefire talks as rockets begin flying again

Diplomatic source says IDF preparing ‘significant’ response to barrages on south, Jerusalem area; Netanyahu said to order more targeted strikes against Islamic Jihad

Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike the in Gaza Strip, May 12, 2023, amid fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
Smoke rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike the in Gaza Strip, May 12, 2023, amid fighting between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Israel has cut off talks for a ceasefire agreement with Palestinian Islamic Jihad after the terror group renewed intense rocket fire on Israel Friday morning, an Israeli official told Hebrew media outlets.

The Israel Defense Forces renewed strikes on the coastal enclave just before noon Friday, after Islamic Jihad terrorists launched large barrages of rockets on communities near the Strip, and also fired missiles toward the Jerusalem area for the first time in this round of fighting.

The rocket attacks shattered several hours of calm that had raised hopes overnight for a deal to end the hostilities, amid efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations to broker indirect talks.

The senior diplomatic source said that the military was preparing a “significant” response to the wave of rocket fire, adding, “if we need to escalate, we’ll do it.”

An Egyptian official cited by Channel 12 news said that talks were not advancing as of Friday morning.

Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, the military liaison to the Palestinians, informed Egyptian mediators that Israel would not hold talks while under fire, according to the Ynet news site.

As rocket fire resumed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding a security assessment with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, Mossad chief David Barnea, Netanyahu’s military-secretary Avi Gil, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, and others.

According to Army Radio, the premier ordered targeted strikes on Islamic Jihad to continue after the bombardment.

This handout photo shows damage at a home in the southern town of Sderot that was struck by a rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip, May 12, 2023. (Sderot Municipality)

Ceasefire efforts had been held up by Islamic Jihad’s demand that Israel halt assassinations, a proposal Jerusalem has rejected outright.

“The bombing of Jerusalem sends a message,” Islamic Jihad said in a statement after it fired rockets toward the capital. “What is happening in Jerusalem is not separate from Gaza.”

It also threatened to continue firing rockets into Israel all the way up to a controversial march which brings thousands of flag waving nationalists through Palestinian parts of Jerusalem to celebrate the anniversary of the city’s reunification in 1967.

The annual march has been blamed for ratcheting up or compounding tensions. In 2021, Hamas fighters fired rockets at Jerusalem during the march, setting off 11 days of war. An Egyptian source told The Times of Israel that Cairo was rushing to get a deal finished before the march.

One rocket slammed into an open field the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, south of Jerusalem ,said Josh Hasten, a spokesperson for the area. Dull thuds could be heard from the capital as missiles were intercepted or impacted open ground, though sirens in the city were never activated.

Videos showed Israelis jumping out of vehicles and crouching beneath highway rails or scrambling for cover as the sirens sounded. Residents in nearby settlements reported hearing explosions and seeing black smoke rising from the hills after an apparent missile interception.

There were no casualties on either side, but some homes were hit by rockets and shrapnel in Sderot and Nir Am. The Eshkol Regional Council said one rocket caused minor damage to a greenhouse.

The rest of the rockets were downed by the Iron Dome air defense system or landed in open areas, local officials said.

Israel generally avoids confirming ceasefire agreements with terror groups, but several previous rounds of fighting between the IDF and Gaza have come to a close with international mediation and indirect talks.

Hamas officials told local media early Friday that Egypt was intensifying its efforts to stop the fighting through “intensive contacts” with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Islamic Jihad officials have sent conflicting messages about the talks.

Senior official Ihasan Attaya complained early Friday that the mediators “have been unable to provide us with any guarantees.”  But Islamic Jihad political bureau member Mohamad al-Hindi told media from Cairo that he hoped both sides “would reach a ceasefire agreement and honor it today.”

Rockets are launched from Gaza City toward Israel on May 11, 2023, amid fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

This week’s clash began after Israel launched Operation Shield and Arrow with simultaneous airstrikes early Tuesday that killed three Islamic Jihad commanders along with some of their wives and children as they slept in their homes. Israel said it was retaliating for a barrage of rocket fire launched last week by Islamic Jihad following the death of one of its West Bank members, Khader Adnan, from a hunger strike while in Israeli custody.

Officials earlier said Israel was in talks with Arab countries on a potential ceasefire, but denied reports claiming Israel would agree to a number of their controversial concessions, such as the halting of targeted killings and the return of the body of Adnan.

Talks were also set back on Thursday after Israel assassinated the commander of PIJ’s rocket division and his deputy. That came after a rocket slammed into a Rehovot home, killing an Israeli woman — the country’s first fatality in the current conflict.

At least 31 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the offensive, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, and at least 93 more injured.

The IDF spokesman said Israel had killed 16 terrorists but admitted the IDF was responsible for the deaths of 10 civilians during the initial strikes, which destroyed residential structures where families were sleeping. He said four Gazan civilians had been killed by Islamic Jihad rockets impacting inside Gaza.

Gazan fighters, who only began firing rockets in response to the bombing on Wednesday afternoon, launched 866 projectiles during the conflict, 163 of which fell short of the border and 260 of which were intercepted, Hagari said. Most rockets targeted towns in southern Israel, but some reached as far north as Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a meeting with security chiefs at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on May 11, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu held a security briefing Thursday night with his security chiefs at the IDF’s Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv. As it ended, Hebrew media cited a message from the premier’s office that Israel would continue its operation in Gaza “as needed” and “continue to exact a heavy price from Islamic Jihad for its aggression against Israel’s citizens.”

However, reports indicated that those at the meeting had come to the conclusion that the operation had met its objectives and that pressure should be piled on Islamic Jihad to agree to a ceasefire.

Both the European Union’s foreign policy chief and foreign ministers of France, Egypt, Germany, and Jordan issued public statements Thursday urging a ceasefire.

They also praised Egypt for its mediation efforts and called on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to implement commitments made at summits in Aqaba in February and in Sharm El-Sheikh in March.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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