President Reuven Rivlin said Wednesday that he is not opposed to engaging in negotiations with the Gaza-based terrorist group Hamas, adding that Israel and the Palestinians have a shared interest in improving the quality of life for residents in the coastal enclave.
“It is really not important to me with whom I speak, but rather about what we are speaking. I have no aversion to holding negotiations with anyone who is prepared to negotiate. The question is what do they want to negotiate about. If they want to negotiate my very existence, then I would not negotiate with them,” the president said, when asked specifically about talks with Hamas.
Addressing the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Tuesday evening, the president said the IDF will not hesitate to respond to threats against the Jewish state, but said a distinction should be made between terror groups and civilians.
“We will continue to respond, promptly and firmly, to any attempt to disturb the calm in the south. It is important to remember that as long as Hamas rules Gaza, its residents will continue to suffer the consequences of such disturbances,” said Rivlin, who was speaking during a tour of the northern Israeli border area.
The president urged an international initiative to reconstruct the Gaza Strip, with Israeli participation. Such a proposal would require a “non-negotiable” condition that the enclave cease to “be used as a front to attack Israel at any given moment,” the president maintained.
“The rehabilitation of Gaza is in our interest and it would be good for there to be an initiative we are prepared to go along with, in order to solve the problems of the residents of Gaza. It must be an international initiative, with the understanding that the rebuilding requires the ending of all hostility toward Israel,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, dismissed Israel’s stern warnings to the terror organization, asserting that an escalation of violence would ultimately hurt the Jewish state more than the residents of the Palestinian enclave.
Haniyeh was reacting to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s statements earlier Wednesday, in which he warned Hamas to rein in any attempts by Gaza terror groups to attack Israel, or “pay a heavy price.”
Earlier, Israeli Air Force jets bombed four targets in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire late Tuesday which hit near the town of Gan Yavne, outside Ashdod, causing neither casualties nor damage. The army said the rocket was fired by Islamic Jihad activists, as a consequence of an internal dispute in the organization.
The projectile — a Grad missile — was located shortly after sirens sounded in the Lachish region and Ashdod.
There were no reports of casualties from the Israeli strikes on Gaza.
Escalating rocket fire from Gaza at Israel’s southern communities in 2014 was among the triggers of a bloody, two-month war between Israel and the armed factions in the Strip. During the conflict, Palestinians fired over 4,000 rockets at Israeli towns and cities, some of which reached Tel Aviv and as far north as Haifa’s suburbs.
Tuesday’s attack marked the first time a Grad rocket, which can go farther than the smaller Kassams more commonly shot out of Gaza, had been fired at Israel since the summer war.
Israel is wary of Gaza terrorist groups rearming after war. The IDF says Hamas has been conducting test launches in recent months in order to increase its rocket-launching capabilities.
Some 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the war and tens of thousands more left homeless, according to Palestinian and UN tallies. Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict, said half of the Gaza fatalities were combatants, and blamed Hamas for all civilian deaths, since the terror group emplaced its military infrastructure in residential areas.
AFP and Avi Issacharoff contributed to this report.