Israeli officials on Thursday said Israel was in talks with Arab countries on a potential ceasefire to end the fighting with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip, but denied reports claiming Israel would agree to a number of controversial concessions.
According to the Saudi-based Al-Arabiya network, Israel had agreed to a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad and promised to halt targeted assassinations of the terror group’s members unless it has information about a specific planned attack.
The report also said Israel had agreed to hand over the body of Khader Adnan, an Islamic Jihad member who died in Israeli prison earlier this month after an 86-day hunger strike. His death sparked a brief flareup in violence last week, with Islamic Jihad launching over 100 rockets at Israel.
The Al-Arabiya report did not mention the Islamic Jihad demand that Israel halt next week’s Jerusalem Day Flag March.
An Israeli diplomatic official responded to the report, saying Israel was refusing to hand over Adnan’s body as part of any ceasefire agreement.
And a senior Israeli defense official said, “Israel has not committed to stopping the targeted killings of terror elements.”
According to sources in the Likud party, ministers and MKs received a message saying: “All talk of a ceasefire with conditions are total fake news. As of right now, there is no ceasefire! PM Netanyahu instructed the IDF and security forces to strike Islamic Jihad with its full force, and to continue the offensive policy he has pursued his entire tenure.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, meanwhile, instructed the military and other security branches to prepare “a series of additional operations” against the Gaza Strip and be ready for a longer-range incoming rocket fire.
The remarks from Gallant’s office were published following an assessment the minister held with military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar.
“I expressed my appreciation to the forces of the IDF and Shin Bet for the precise elimination tonight of the head of the Islamic Jihad rocket array,” Gallant said.
“I instructed all the security forces to take all necessary measures to prepare a series of additional operations, and to maintain a high level of readiness and vigilance for the possibility of increased range of fire,” he added.
An Israeli diplomat confirmed to The Times of Israel on Thursday that there was “direct and indirect contact” with Arab countries in order to calm the situation in Gaza and reach a ceasefire,.
The official would not lay out which countries Jerusalem is working with, nor say whether Saudi Arabia and Qatar were among them.
The responses from Arab capitals to the Israeli operation are “sharp but not extreme,” said the official. “We are not expecting solidarity from the Jordanians,” they say. “There is nothing that is different from previous rounds.”
Turning to Europe, the official stressed that while statements out of Brussels and some European states were “not extremely balanced,” there was no demand for the IDF to stop operating, and Israel’s right to self-defense was being acknowledged.
“This is familiar territory,” said the official.
Operation Shield and Arrow was launched early Tuesday with the killing of three top Islamic Jihad commanders in the wake of the rocket fire from Gaza earlier this month. Early Thursday morning, another Islamic Jihad commander was killed in an Israeli strike.
As of Thursday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said Palestinians in Gaza had launched 507 rockets and mortar shells at Israel. According to the military, at least 368 of the projectiles crossed the border, while 107 fell short in Gaza — with some of them believed to have killed four Palestinians.
The IDF said air defense systems — Iron Dome and the medium-range David’s Sling — intercepted 154 of the rockets, marking a 95 percent interception rate of projectiles heading for populated areas, while a handful landed in urban areas, causing damage.
The military also said it had carried out strikes against 158 targets belonging to Islamic Jihad during the campaign.
Rocket and mortar fire resumed on Thursday morning after an eight-hour lull overnight, following the IDF’s targeted killing of Ali Ghali, the commander of Islamic Jihad’s rocket forces.
The missile attacks were focused on Israeli towns close to the border with the Gaza Strip. Several mortars landed near homes, including one that caused heavy damage to a chicken coop.
The IDF responded with a series of airstrikes against Islamic Jihad targets, including mortar launching positions and command centers.
Rocket attacks on Wednesday caused damage in several southern cities, including Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, and Beersheba. The rocket fire reached as far as Tel Aviv.
There have been no physical injuries as a direct result of the rocket fire, but over 30 people have sought treatment for wounds suffered as they tried to reach shelter, or because of acute anxiety from nearby impacts.
Security restrictions in southern Israel remained in place, including rules mandating school closures within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Gaza and limiting outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people.
At least 25 people in Gaza have been killed since Israel launched the surprise offensive on Tuesday morning, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, and 76 more injured. The figure includes both terrorists targeted by Israel and civilians, as well as civilians believed killed by Islamic Jihad rocket misfires, according to Israeli officials.
Israeli officials have insisted that they are keeping the fight limited to Islamic Jihad and not the larger and better-armed Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, hoping to avoid widening the conflict, while warning that it is prepared to do so if fired upon.