Liberman asserts he has ‘nothing to do’ with Gaza ceasefire talk

In visit to border communities, defense minister says he doesn’t believe in long-term truce but in calm for economic welfare; any progress hinges on return of captive Israelis

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits an Israeli community near the Gaza border on August 24, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits an Israeli community near the Gaza border on August 24, 2018. (Ariel Hermony/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Friday he has “nothing to do” with any talks on a long-term ceasefire agreement with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Speaking during a visit to the communities in the Gaza periphery, Liberman said he is “not involved” and does not believe in an accord with Hamas, and that if the terror group wants progress for the Strip, it must first return the Israeli captives and bodies of slain soldiers it is holding.

“As for all the talk of an arrangement [in Gaza], I have nothing to do with it,” he said, “I’m not involved in the issue of an accord, I don’t believe in it. The only accord is the reality on the ground.”

He said Hamas is “a terror organization whose main goal is the destruction of Israel, so I don’t think we have anything to talk about with Hamas. The only thing we’re saying through the Egyptians and through others and they understand this [is] there will be no movement and no new agreements…until there is a solution on the captives and missing persons.”

Hamas is believed to be holding the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whose bodies were captured by the terror group after they were killed in Gaza during the 2014 war. It is also assumed to be holding Israeli citizens Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who each entered Gaza on their own accord.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, right, on a visit to an Israeli community in the Gaza periphery on August 24, 2018 (Ariel Hermony/Defense Ministry)

Liberman said that Israel would do all it takes to ensure calm for communities near Gaza. “First and foremost we want calm on the security front. If we decide there’s no choice and we need to launch a military operation, we’ll do what needs to be done. We’ll set the time and we’ll set the terms.”|

Reports have proliferated that Israel is in advanced talks with Hamas, via UN and Egyptian mediation, for a long-term truce in the Strip.

Liberman’s denial of involvement in such a deal appeared to contradict the assertions of fellow security cabinet member Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, who has heavily criticized the defense minister for what he has seen as a faulty strategy in Gaza — and has vowed to oppose any accord with Hamas.

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

Bennett alluded to that earlier criticism in an ironic response to Liberman’s Friday comments.

“It’s nice to see that the defense minister agrees with our point of view and understands that Hamas must not be allowed to extort us,” he said in a statement.

Bennett also warned that allowing Hamas to re-arm with rockets after the latest bout of violence with Israel would allow the terror group to establish itself as “Hezbollah 2” along the Gaza border.

Liberman himself has acknowledged that UN and Egyptian mediation are taking place in an effort to secure a calm.

On Sunday Liberman said the government’s “endgame” for Gaza was the toppling of its Hamas rulers to allow the Palestinian residents of the coastal enclave to enjoy the economic benefits of peace with Israel.

Gaza has seen a surge of violence since the start of the violent “March of Return” protests along the border in March. The clashes, which Gaza’s Hamas rulers have orchestrated, have included the throwing of rocks and explosives at troops, as well as attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers.

Palestinians in Gaza have also launched incendiary airborne devices toward Israel, burning thousands of acres of forest and farmland resulting in millions of shekels of estimated damages.

At least 171 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the clashes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. An Israeli soldier was shot to death by a Palestinian sniper. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the Palestinian casualties were members of terror groups.

A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot next to burning tires during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 10, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Additionally, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one earlier this month that was the largest flareup in violence since the 2014 war.

UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov and Egyptian officials have been seeking to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas. The two sides have fought three wars since 2008.

Israeli media have speculated that a deal could entail easing Israel’s blockade of Gaza in exchange for calm on the border and the return of the missing Israelis.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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