Amid respite from Gaza missile attacks, ministers deny Hamas claims of ceasefire

Officials insist no agreement brokered, after factions in the Strip say informal ‘consensus’ reached to end flareup

Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)
Intelligence and Transportation Minister Israel Katz attends a Finance Committee meeting in the Knesset, February 26, 2018. (Flash90)

A senior Israeli minister on Wednesday denied a ceasefire had been reached with Hamas and Islamic Jihad after the worst armed flareup between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza since the 2014 war.

“There is no ceasefire,” Intelligence Minister Israel Katz told Israel Radio on Wednesday morning. “Israel maintains a clear policy not to allow fire and terror attacks against Israel.”

He spoke amid a respite from rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip said earlier Wednesday morning they were committed to a truce with Israel that they said was reached following extensive mediation efforts by Egypt, after more than 110 rockets and mortars were fired at Israeli communities in under 24 hours by Gaza terrorist groups.

“Israel does not want the situation to deteriorate, but those who started the violence must stop it,” said Katz, a member of the high-level security cabinet. “Israel will make [Hamas] pay for all fire against Israel.

“We see an Iranian fingerprint on Hamas and Hezbollah. This is an escalation, and we will not allow the continued firing at us,” he added. “Everything depends on Hamas now: If they continue, I do not know what their fate will be.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also denied reports of a ceasefire.

“We have reached no such understanding, not even an informal one,” he told Army Radio Wednesday morning. “It could just be that the other side is simply no longer interested in escalation.”

Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel , early Wednesday, May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Bennett, also a member of the security cabinet, said that Israel is not interested in war, but that unlike in the past “we will not allow them to grow stronger at the price of it being quiet.”

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, however, said Wednesday morning that there was an “understanding” in place between Israel and Hamas.

“I believe there is an indirect understanding with Hamas to end the current round of violence,” Steinitz said, but added that there would always be “some degree of fighting along the Gaza border.”

A reported ceasefire was set to start at midnight Tuesday, but that deadline passed with no signs of a truce as dozens of rockets and mortar shells continued to rain down on Israel.

Hamas’s senior political leader, Khalil al-Hayya in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED)

The Israeli ministers were responding to remarks by deputy Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya, who earlier announced that a “consensus” had been reached in the Strip to “return to the understandings of the ceasefire” during the night.

In a statement cited by Arab media, Hayya claimed that “the resistance succeeded in repelling the aggression and prevented the changing of rules,” adding that there had been many mediation interventions in the previous hours. He said that Hamas and other “resistance factions” were committed to the ceasefire as long as Israel, too, was committed to it.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which fired many of Tuesday’s mortar shells at Israel, also said it was committed to a ceasefire along the same terms reached following the 2014 Gaza War, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

A spokesperson for the Iran-backed group said the Palestinian groups would abide by the ceasefire as long as Israel does, adding that the understanding was reached following mediation by Egypt.

Senior Israeli officials were quoted by the public broadcaster Kan as saying that while there was no formal ceasefire agreement with Gaza terror groups, there was a mutual understanding that if the rocket and mortar shelling stops, Israel would stop its bombardment of Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Strip.

Tuesday saw at least 70 projectiles launched into Israel from Gaza, prompting dozens of retaliatory strikes by the IDF against targets in the Strip, after weeks of soaring tensions.

An Israeli man walks past a kindergarten yard, after mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip exploded near it, in the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Ein Hashlosha on May 29, 2018. Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a barrage of mortar shells at southern Israel on Tuesday, the army said, causing no injuries but raising tensions in the border area. (AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ)

In an early morning mortar shell barrage fired from Gaza into southern Israel, one shell exploded in the yard of a kindergarten shortly before children arrived.

A picture taken from Gaza City on May 29, 2018, shows a smoke billowing in the background following an Israeli air strike on the Palestinian enclave. (AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX)

Thousands of Israelis spent the subsequent night in bomb shelters as terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired some 40 more rockets and mortars at communities near the coastal enclave early Wednesday, with several of them being intercepted by Iron Dome. There were no reports of injuries, but one shell scored a direct hit on an empty house.

The IDF said that rockets and shells were fired at the Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev and Sdot Negev regions and that Iron Dome intercepted some of them, while most of the others fell in open areas.

Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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