PM said to tell ministers of new ‘unprecedented’ diplomatic initiative in Gaza

PM said to tell ministers of new ‘unprecedented’ diplomatic initiative in Gaza

One TV report says UN, Egypt pushing hard for deal to end crisis, bring PA back to Strip; another claims Netanyahu blocked Liberman from hitting Hamas hard, an assertion PMO denies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Defense Minister Avigdor (left) Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (right) seen during an emergency meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, on July 20, 2018 (Ministry of Defense/Ariel Hermoni)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), Defense Minister Avigdor (left) Liberman and IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (right) seen during an emergency meeting at the Ministry of Defense in Tel Aviv, on July 20, 2018 (Ministry of Defense/Ariel Hermoni)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has told senior cabinet ministers that a new initiative will soon be launched for a diplomatic solution in the Gaza Strip, Channel 10 news reported Friday.

Netanyahu reportedly said during private conversations that the efforts, led by Egypt and the United Nations and with Israel’s cooperation, have made significant progress.

A senior diplomatic official told the TV station: “Egypt and the UN are putting immense pressure on all sides. This is an unprecedented initiative, but it is still too early to say whether it will succeed. A lot is at stake.”

The plan was said to include rebuilding the enclave’s moribund civilian infrastructure, a return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip and a long-term ceasefire.

A minister who is a member of the high-level security cabinet said Israel was willing to push a civil initiative in Gaza. “There is such an intention and hopefully Netanyahu will bring it before the cabinet for approval.”

Another senior minister told Channel 10 the ball was in the Palestinians’ court, and much depended on the Palestinian Authority’s willingness to reassert its responsibilities in Gaza and Hamas’s willingness to halt the violence.

“As long as that doesn’t happen there’s nothing to discuss. We want a solution in Gaza, but we won’t be pushovers.”

Masked gunmen from the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, a military wing of the Hamas terror group, march with their weapons, during a large-scale drill across the Gaza strip, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

The Israeli cabinet continues to monitor the difficult humanitarian conditions in Gaza, Channel 10 reported. During last week’s cabinet meeting ministers were told that due to Washington’s cuts in aid to the UN’s refugee agency in Gaza, there are no funds to pay teachers when the next school year begins in September. That could increase tensions and lead to a further escalation of violence.

The security establishment is examining ways to circumvent the US restrictions on UNRWA, and has suggested other means by which funds could reach teachers and schools.

A report on Hadashot news claimed serious disagreements exist between Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman over the correct Israeli response to events in Gaza, with the latter holding a more hawkish stance.

Liberman reportedly told a recent faction meeting of the Yisrael Beytenu party that he had sought a severe strike on Hamas earlier this month, but was blocked by the premier. Netanyahu and Liberman are also reportedly at odds over policy going forward, both in the military response to Hamas and on the civilian humanitarian level.

The Prime Minister’s Office rejected the claim outright, calling it a “false, spurious report intended to drive a wedge between the prime minister and the defense minister.”

On Friday Liberman warned Hamas not to resume rocket fire at Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, saying Israel could move to “the next level” in its response if peace is not maintained.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman visits Kibbutz Or HaNer near the Gaza Strip, July 27, 2018 (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

On a visit to Kibbutz Or HaNer, Liberman, referring to the name for warning sirens in the Gaza periphery, said: “If we get Color Red here, they’ll get deep red on the other side.”

The minister insisted that Jerusalem’s response to weeks and months of border violence, arson attacks and rocket fire had been forceful.

He said the IDF had caused Hamas serious casualties and had rendered “significant harm to its most critical terror infrastructure — weapons manufacturing and storage facilities and training sites. We’re also heavily regulating Kerem Shalom (Gaza’s main goods crossing), so looking at everything that’s taken place I think the response has been strong.

He implied that Israel did not want to escalate the situation in Gaza due to the need for vigilance on other fronts. “Do we need to go to the next level? It seems so,” he said. “But we have a responsibility to defend all the nation’s borders, to face all the threats at once and to maintain a normal life here and everywhere else.”

Asked what he meant by a ‘next stage,’ Liberman said: “I believe we are very much uninterested in being dragged into a war. We are doing everything to prevent a large-scale campaign, but the ball is in the other court, it’s not in our court.

“I highly recommend to Hamas to behave wisely this weekend and not to force us into actions we are capable of taking and don’t want to take.”

Liberman rejected Israeli responsibility for the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Strip, which has been blamed for deepening desperation and increased tensions and violence.

Trucks are seen at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 17, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“The crisis right now is chiefly because Abu Mazen has decided to cut $300 million [to Gaza] and Hamas is unwilling to provide a single dollar to civilians for education and health,” Liberman said, using Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s nickname.

“The entire Hamas budget is around $270 million. It is entirely beholden to the production of rockets and tunnels — and we and the international community are asked to give money to Gaza’s residents. It’s absurd. It’s their problem.”

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians during Friday’s violent protests at the border, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said. The ministry said the deceased were a 43-year-old man and a 12-year-old boy.

The IDF said around 7,000 Palestinians participated in violent riots in several locations along the border. Protesters hurled rocks and burned tires, and attacked troops with pipe bombs, a Molotov cocktail and a grenade — all of which did not manage to clear the fence and fell in Gazan territory.

The military said soldiers responded with less-lethal means as well as live fire in certain instances.

The Gaza health ministry reported that at least 240 people were injured, while 90 suffered wounds from live fire.

Recent weeks have seen the most serious tensions with Hamas since the 2014 war.

The past week has seen the most intense escalation. It began with the death of an IDF soldier on the border last Friday at the hands of a Gazan sniper, which led to widespread Israeli airstrikes. UN mediator Nickolay Mladenov later said the sides had been “minutes from war” before a tacit ceasefire was reached.

A ceasefire was hurriedly agreed upon over the weekend and the following few days were relatively calm.

Illustrative image of explosions from Israeli bombardment in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on July 20, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

But on Wednesday night another sniper attack moderately wounded an IDF officer near Kissufim, followed by retaliatory strikes by IDF tanks and planes that targeted multiple Hamas installations and left three members of the terror group dead.

Nine rockets were then fired at Israel overnight, eight falling in uninhabited areas and one shot down by Iron Dome, followed by another round of retaliatory IDF strikes against seven Hamas installations along the border.

Hamas’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, announced Thursday morning that its forces were going on high alert, deploying at the highest readiness level in expectation of a possible full-blown war with Israel.

“Israel will pay in blood for its latest crimes,” Hamas said in a Thursday morning statement.

According to the army, the Wednesday night sniper fire came as a squad of IDF soldiers arrived at a part of the fence that saw a group of 20 minors rioting on the other side. The minors were used as a decoy by the snipers to fire on the soldiers, the IDF said.

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