Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Monday declared that Israel had exhausted efforts at reaching an arrangement with the Hamas terror group to end months of violence along the border with the Gaza Strip, and that the time had come for the cabinet to make a decision on military action.
Liberman’s comments came days after a Palestinian rocket attack on Beersheba that drew a series of Israeli airstrikes on targets in Gaza. Egyptian and United Nations mediators have been working to reach an agreement between the two sides to calm the situation.
Speaking at the start of a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, Liberman said the aim was to return the situation to the way it was before the end of March, when Palestinians in Gaza began weekly violent protests at the border.
“We have exhausted all of the options, and now it is time to make decisions,” he said. “My position is very clear: We need to deliver a powerful blow to Hamas — that is the only way to get the situation back to the way it was before and to lower the level of violence to zero, or nearly zero.
“That needs to be a decision by the cabinet,” Liberman continued. “I hope the cabinet will make the correct decisions. We have arrived at the point of no choice.”
Since the unrest began, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have participated in a series of protests and riots that have mostly involved tire-burning and rock-throwing along the security fence, but have also seen shooting attacks and bombings as well as the sending of incendiary balloons and kites into Israel. Hamas has said one of its goals is to force Israel to remove its blockade of the coastal enclave.
Israel says the blockade, which is supported by Egypt, is necessary to stop Hamas, the de facto rulers of Gaza, from bringing in weapons.
Some 156 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more have been injured in the clashes with IDF troops, according to AP figures. Hamas, the terror group that rules the Strip and seeks to destroy Israel, has acknowledged that dozens of the dead were its members. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a sniper on the border earlier this year.
Last Wednesday a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip exploded outside a home in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba and another landed in the sea off the coast of the greater Tel Aviv area. In response to the rocket strike, the Israeli military launched a wave of air raids, bombing some 20 targets in the coastal enclave, including a border-crossing attack tunnel, the army said.
During the ensuing days, Egypt and the UN were said to have brokered a short-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip — one that neither side officially acknowledged.
Still, the past weekend saw a significant decrease in the amount of violence along the Gaza security fence compared to previous weeks, both in terms of the number of people participating in border riots and the intensity of the clashes.
Jerusalem believes Hamas has toned down the demonstrations since last weekend in order to allow Egyptian mediators a chance to strike a deal with Israel for a long-term truce in Gaza, Hadashot TV news reported.