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Netanyahu convenes security cabinet amid reports of looming ceasefire

Top ministerial body to discuss operations in Gaza along with offers brokered by foreign mediators to halt violence, which sides hint will end soon

Police officers from Gaza's ruling Hamas terror group near a destroyed residential building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes after rocket fire from Gaza, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP/Adel Hana)
Police officers from Gaza's ruling Hamas terror group near a destroyed residential building which was hit by Israeli airstrikes after rocket fire from Gaza, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, Thursday, May 20, 2021. (AP/Adel Hana)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the convening of the high-level security cabinet Thursday evening to discuss ongoing military operations in Gaza as well as diplomatic efforts by foreign actors to broker a ceasefire.

The ministerial panel was set to convene at 7 p.m. against the backdrop of dozens of rockets fired from Gaza and continued strikes by the Israel Defense Forces in the coastal enclave.

The meeting comes amid mixed reports about the progress of ceasefire talks to end hostilities. According to Al-Jazeera, Israel has informed Egypt — which is mediating the talks between the Jewish state and Hamas — that it is willing to halt its military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli sources have also told Hebrew-language media that the ministers will debate an initiative to unilaterally declare a ceasefire Friday.

Talks have continued after US President Joe Biden urged a “significant de-escalation” by the end of Wednesday while Netanyahu vowed to push on until the military campaign reaches its objective — “to restore quiet and security” for Israelis.

UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland was visiting Qatar for talks with Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of the terror group Hamas, which rules the enclave, as part of an effort to “restore calm,” according to a diplomatic source.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, shows visiting German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas fragments of a drone that Israel says was launched by Iran toward northern Israel, which was brought down by the Israeli military, on May 20, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/Government Press Office)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said “indirect talks” with Hamas were essential to advancing efforts toward an end to the hostilities. “Of course Hamas has to be included because without Hamas there will be no ceasefire,” she said.

Her foreign minister, Heiko Maas, speaking earlier near Tel Aviv, expressed Germany’s “solidarity” with Israel but also called for an end to the fighting.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack,” Maas said of the rockets Hamas started firing on May 10 following clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

“The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us, which is why we support the international efforts for a ceasefire and are convinced that the violence needs to end soon in the interest of the people,” he said.

Maas was also due to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank but had no plans to meet with Hamas, which the European Union considers a terrorist organization.

Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system intercepts rockets above the coastal city of Tel Aviv on May 15, 2021, following their launching from the Gaza Strip (Ahmad Gharabli / AFP)

A senior Hamas official told AFP, “We expect a return to calm in the coming hours, or tomorrow (Friday), but it depends on the cessation of the aggression of the occupation forces in Gaza and Jerusalem.”

“But there is nothing definitive for the moment,” added the source, indicating that Qatar, an emirate financing aid to Gaza and where Haniyeh lives, was at the heart of “intense” negotiations.

An IDF official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP Wednesday Israel was assessing at what stage it may stop its military campaign.

There have been various Israeli and international reports about ceasefire talks.

Following denials by officials on all sides, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday night that Israeli security officials believe a ceasefire could go into effect Friday afternoon. The report said that was the assessment shared during meetings of top Israeli defense brass on Wednesday.

At the same time, Israeli officials have told US officials that Washington’s pressure to reach a ceasefire quickly is only hindering the possibility of a truce, according to Channel 12.

The Wall Street Journal also reported late Wednesday that a ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza terror groups could come into effect as early as Friday.

People involved in the discussions told the outlet that Egyptian mediators have made progress in talks with leaders from Hamas, and Israel has “privately conceded” that it is close to achieving all its military objectives.

The report said Washington believes that barring any unforeseen events, the ceasefire could come into effect this week and the only question is one of timing.

However, a US official told the outlet that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad remains an unknown quantity — the newspaper said the terror group is a “wild card” — and could continue to carry out attacks even after the ceasefire is agreed upon.

The US, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities, saying it could undermine efforts to de-escalate the crisis. Earlier this week, France began circulating a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire.

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