Egyptian and UN officials on Tuesday night were pushing for a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza terrorist groups, as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad vowed to step up attacks against the Jewish state in retaliation for the targeted killing of a PIJ terror chief.
Israel killed senior Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata in Gaza in a dawn strike on Tuesday. The Gaza terror organizations subsequently fired large salvos of rockets at cities and towns in the Jewish state, prompting ongoing retaliatory Israeli strikes in the Palestinian enclave.
Egyptian officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Cairo was attempting to de-escalate tensions between Israel and the terror groups. The officials added the Egyptian General Intelligence Service stepped up communications and “opened channels” with the US and the European Union.
In the past year, both the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and UN Special Coordinator to the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov have been involved in brokering unofficial ceasefires between Israel and the terror groups.
Mladenov “is heading urgently to Cairo,” a diplomatic source told The Times of Israel on Tuesday night, adding that the international organization “has been involved throughout the day to de-escalate” tensions between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip.
Both Egyptian intelligence officials and Mladenov have frequently visited Gaza to discuss the truce agreements.
The possibility of a further escalation between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip is “high,” according to a source close to the discussions on a truce.
“The situation remains very complicated and the risk of escalation is high,” the source told The Times of Israel.”It is too early to talk of mediation yet. The goal now is to stop the escalation.”
The Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has been in contact with Egypt and the United Nations to push for a ceasefire between Israel and terror groups in the Gaza Strip, Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization official said earlier on Tuesday.
“We have been in touch with the Egyptian intelligence as well as United Nations to push for a restoration of calm and an end to the spilling of blood,” Ahmad told The Times of Israel in a phone call.
Despite the appeals for calm, unnamed senior Islamic Jihad officials said the “real response” to Abu al-Ata’s elimination has yet to come, Channel 12 reported on Tuesday.
“The coming hours will speak for themselves,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab al-Breim told the Islamic Jihad-linked Palestine Today news site.
A spokesman for the al-Quds Brigades, the PIJ’s military wing, warned of further rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, saying Israel will not determine how the current round of fighting in the enclave ends.
“We hold the enemy fully responsible for the consequences of its stupid decision to assassinate the leadership of the resistance,” Abu Hamza said. “The coming hours will add a new headline to the record of defeats of the enemy’s rash prime minister, who has only brought the Zionists destruction and war.”
Abu Hamza continued: “We tell the enemy: Perhaps you succeeded in starting this aggression against our people and resistance, but you will not be able to determine when it ends.”
“The coming hours will record a victory for our people. While you started the battle, you will not be able know when it will end,” he said. “We send a message to the Zionist settlers to not listen to their dumb leadership. The decision is now in the hands of the Al-Quds Brigades and the Palestinian resistance.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told the Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa TV Monday evening that terror groups in Gaza would continue to retaliate, “but with wisdom and understanding and comprehension of the resistance’s ability to manage this battle.”
However, Channel 13 reported that Hamas has also been conveying messages to Jerusalem through Cairo that it does not want an escalation.
The network cited two ministers as saying National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat told ministers during the morning’s security cabinet meeting that Hamas’s message came after Israel dispatched a similar message to the Gaza rulers immediately after Abu al-Ata’s assassination. It also said security officials believe Hamas genuinely isn’t interested in a prolonged military conflict.
The Gaza Strip is governed by the Hamas terror group, which seized the enclave in a 2007 coup and openly seeks Israel’s destruction.
Terror groups in Gaza fired approximately 190 rockets and mortar shells at central and southern Israel on Tuesday, according to the army. The IDF has said it carried out a number of strikes on the coastal enclave in response to the projectiles as well as to prevent Islamic Jihad fighters from launching additional ones.
Dozens of incoming rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the IDF.
Abu al-Ata was the true “senior commander” of the Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, the IDF said, who had ordered the group to carry out most of the significant rocket and border attacks from the Palestinian enclave in recent months and had been planning to carry out more.
Several Israelis were wounded on Tuesday either by rocket fire or while running to shelters.
Schools were closed in the south and through the Dan region, including Tel Aviv, and in the Yarkon area. Businesses were temporarily ordered shut there as well, but were allowed to reopen on Tuesday morning, providing there was a bomb shelter nearby, the military said. In both the Dan and Yarkon regions, the IDF prohibited all public gatherings of more than 300 people.
It was the first time that the IDF ordered a closure of schools and businesses in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area since the 2014 Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. Over a million Israeli students did not attend classes.
Meanwhile, 10 Palestinians, including Abu al-Ata, were killed by the Israeli strikes and 30 others were wounded, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza. PIJ said five of the dead were its members.
Ahmad said the West Bank-based Palestinian leadership calls on both Israel and the terror groups in Gaza to halt their fire.
“We urge all parties to cease their fire and put an end to this escalation,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ziad al-Nakhala, Islamic Jihad’s secretary-general, asserted that the terror group was going to fight a war with Israel.
“We are going to war. [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has crossed all the red lines in assassinating Al-Quds Brigades Commander Baha Abu al-Ata. We will respond forcefully,” he told the Dar al-Hayat Arabic-language news site.
The Associated Press, Judah Ari Gross contributed to this article.