Opposition lawmakers on Thursday scorned a ceasefire reached between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group in the Gaza Strip to end two days of intense cross-border fighting, saying the lull will just lead to another round of conflict in the future.
At least five rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel in the hours that followed the reported 5:30 a.m. start of the ceasefire.
“The goal of every terror organization is to disrupt daily life,” Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman, a former defense minister, told Army Radio. “And here again we saw a minor organization shut down one-third of the country. Today, too, it’s clear to all: The next round [of fighting] is only a matter of time.”
The exchange of fire began when Israel killed senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group commander Baha Abu al-Ata in Gaza early on Tuesday in a targeted slaying, setting off a revenge barrage of hundreds of rockets and a two-day round of violence.
PIJ rockets targeted southern and central regions of Israel, including firing some missiles fired toward the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. The rocket fire caused the IDF Home Front command to order schools and businesses shut in many of the attacked areas, impacting hundreds of thousands of people. The IDF responded with airstrikes on PIJ targets in Gaza.
Blue and White party MK Ofer Shelah told Army Radio that PIJ “held us hostage for three days.”
“Islamic Jihad achieved the appearance of victory when it shut down work in Tel Aviv,” he said.
“The compromise with Islamic Jihad is not good,” Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid tweeted. “It’s not good because it will lead to the next round [of fighting]. It’s not good because if you give Islamic Jihad achievements after firing 400 rockets, in the next round Hamas won’t be able to sit on the sidelines. It’s not good because again nothing has changed.”
“The deterrence is nonexistent,” Lapid added. “The residents of the south don’t feel safe. The exceptional intelligence and operational achievement of the (justified) assassination of Abu Al-Ata remains an isolated incident that doesn’t change the public perception.”
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan responded to Lapid on Twitter, writing that “there was no compromise and you know it. [Islamic Jihad] wanted the ceasefire and it didn’t get any commitments in return for it. This was proactive action by Israel — deadly and deterring — which gave a message to the terrorists that ‘they will get what they deserve.'”
MK Tamar Zandberg of the opposition Democratic Union tweeted that while she welcomed the ceasefire, a more comprehensive agreement was needed to stop the fighting.
“Especially now it is more important than ever to remember that a ceasefire between rounds [of fighting] will not provide a complete solution,” Zandberg wrote. “That will be done only by reaching a complete understanding, and from that, the opening of talks for a diplomatic agreement with the entire Palestinian people.”
“If we don’t utilize this ceasefire in order to strive for a change in the situation we are likely to soon deteriorate into another round,” she warned.
The Israeli army confirmed Thursday that a ceasefire had been reached with terror groups in the Gaza Strip to stop the fighting.
However, senior cabinet ministers stressed that, despite the truce, Israel will continue to carry out targeted killings of those who attack the country’s civilian population.
The remarks from three members of the top-tier security cabinet came in the hours after the ceasefire went into effect and contradicted claims by PIJ’s Damascus-based Secretary General Ziad Nakhala, who said the day before that as part of the understanding Israel had agreed to not use targeted eliminations.
On Thursday an Israeli military spokesman said another Islamic Jihad terror group commander was killed overnight, apparently along with several members of his family, shortly before the truce went into effect.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that “the rules of the game are clear — the IDF will have full freedom of operation, without restrictions.”
“A terrorist who tries to harm Israeli civilians will no longer be able to sleep in peace, not in his home, not in his bed, not in any hiding place,” said Bennett, who took up his post on Tuesday, after the fighting had already erupted.
Bennett was apparently alluding to the elimination of Abu al-Ata, who was killed by rockets fired from Israeli aircraft through the window of the room he was sleeping in at the time.
Bennett also congratulated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the cabinet for what he said was “the correct decision” in targeting Abu al-Ata.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the policy of targeted killings had “proved itself” and that it would continue, despite the ceasefire.
“Everyone who was a top military official, who was set to carry out and was involved in terror or rocket firing against Israel, was eliminated,” he told Army Radio. “And we intend to continue with this.”
“Israel will harm anyone who tries to harm it,” Katz said.
The minister also noted that it was “an achievement for Israel” that the Hamas terror group, the de facto ruler of Gaza sine 2007 which has its own arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets, stayed out of the conflict.
Islamic Jihad, he said “received an unprecedented blow.”
Interior Minister Aryeh Deri seconded Katz, saying the apparent refusal of Hamas to join the Islamic Jihad-led rocket fire against Israel is an encouraging sign for ongoing diplomatic efforts to secure a long-term ceasefire with the Gaza-ruling terror group.
“We are in the middle of a process of reaching understandings with Hamas, and you see that it is interested [in securing an agreement with Israel] because it didn’t join the fighting,” the Shas party leader told the Ynet news site.
“We have no interest in continuing [the fighting],” Deri said “They [Islamic Jihad] didn’t enter this in order to open a new round [of conflict].”
Public Security Minister Erdan rejected another claim made by PIJ leader Nakhala who told the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese television station Al-Mayadeen on Wednesday night that Israel had agreed not to fire at protesters who gather weekly along the border with the Gaza Strip, often trying to breach the fence or attacking soldiers guarding the boundary.
“There is no Israeli commitment to stop firing at protesters on the [border] fence or to stop targeted killings,” Erdan said during a Thursday interview with Army Radio.
During the recent round of fighting, “security was always the consideration — what is right for the country,” Erdan said. “Our commitment is to try to achieve calm in ways that don’t involve a broad military campaign and a ground invasion [of Gaza].”
During the clash PIJ launched at least 450 rockets at Israeli cities, according to a count by Israeli officials. The IDF responded to the fire with waves of airstrikes targeting the terror group’s installations and rocket-launching squads. Gaza health officials say 34 Gazans died in the strikes. Israel said the great majority were PIJ fighters.
The Iron Dome missile defense system successfully intercepted some 90 percent of all rockets headed to populated areas since Tuesday morning, but dozens of Israelis were hurt, mostly while running to shelter or suffering panic attacks.
The IDF named the bout of fighting Operation Black Belt. The military said Thursday it had swiftly achieved its objectives in the fight, having struck a “harsh blow” to PIJ’s weapon capabilities.
AP contributed to this report.