Security cabinet huddles over Gaza Strip violence, ceasefire with Hamas

Netanyahu says Israel will continue to operate against terror targets unless all attacks stop; decrease reported in number of arson attacks from Gaza

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, August 12, 2018. (Jim Hollander/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives ahead of the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, August 12, 2018. (Jim Hollander/AFP)

The top-level security cabinet met on Sunday to discuss the ongoing Gaza Strip violence and the military options available, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear that Israel wants a full ceasefire and nothing less.

Netanyahu met with his senior ministers at the military headquarters in Tel Aviv. The meeting came as the status of an Egyptian and UN-brokered ceasefire, which Gaza’s Hamas rulers claim came into effect at the end of last week, remained unclear.

The meeting ended late Sunday, with no announcements or details released.

There was a significant drop Sunday in arson attacks from Gaza.

On Sunday evening a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said that Sunday marked the first day in several months that no fires were caused by incendiary balloons flown from Gaza toward Israeli communities bordering the coastal enclave. However, he later said it appeared that at least one fire was started by the the arson devices.

Earlier Netanyahu warned Hamas that Israel will continue to operate against the terrorism stemming from Gaza, apparently confirming that no official ceasefire agreement had been reached with the terrorist group.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza. It entails an exchange of blows; it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear – a complete ceasefire. We will not suffice with less than this,” Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly full cabinet meeting.

Senior Israel officials maintain the country has not agreed to the ceasefire which Hamas announced late Thursday and said went into effect at midnight. Hamas, a terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, claims the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.

A plume of smoke rises from the remains of a building west of Gaza City that was targeted by the Israeli Air Force in response to a rocket attack that hit southern Israel earlier in the day on August 9, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The apparent truce came after two days of spiraling violence that saw the heaviest exchanges of fire between Israel and the Gaza terrorist organization since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge. During the flareup Hamas fired over 150 rockets and mortars into southern Israel which responded with about the same number of air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said earlier on Sunday that Israel could overthrow Hamas, as a report indicated that Israel was mulling assassinating the leaders of the terrorist group which seized control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority in 2007.

Haaretz daily reported that Israel has formulated a plan to assassinate members of the senior Hamas leadership, but is waiting to see the outcome of the Egypt and UN-brokered negotiations before implementing it.

Defense sources told the newspaper that it is believed that assassinations are preferable to a wide-scale ground offensive in Gaza, while acknowledging that targeted killings could lead to the start of a military campaign.

Sources also told the paper that the Israeli defense establishment hopes to delay any broad conflict until at least the end of 2019, when construction of a technological above- and below-ground barrier along the Gaza border will be completed.

Senior Israeli officials have said that “quiet will be met by quiet,” implying that the country is not seeking an escalation of violence, but has not openly committed to an end to hostilities. Instead, military officials hope the terror group has internalized the damage Israel can cause to its infrastructure.

“Hamas understands very well what it has lost in the past few months; it can’t ignore it,” a senior IDF officer told the newspaper.

People stand next to a car that was damaged after a rocket fired by terrorists from the Gaza Strip fell in the southern Israeli town of Sderot on August 9, 2018. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Despite the apparent truce and reprieve in rocket fire, violence has continued on the border, and Israeli tanks struck two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip Friday evening after a grenade was hurled at troops and amid intense violence during mass riots in several locations along the border.

Around 9,000 Palestinians participated Friday in violent weekly border protests. Some protesters rioted near the fence, threw makeshift bombs, Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli soldiers, and burned tires to create a smokescreen. In one incident a grenade was thrown at Israeli troops, but caused no casualties. Several attempts were made to breach the security fence.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in Friday’s violence.

Meanwhile, incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza have continued to plague Israeli border communities, with a large incendiary kite landing on power lines near Kibbutz Sufa on Friday, causing blackouts in surrounding homes.

On Saturday afternoon the IDF said it targeted a cell responsible for launching incendiary balloons in the northern Gaza Strip. Reports in Palestinian media said two people were injured in the Israeli strikes in El-Bureij.There were also Palestinian reports of a second IDF strike elsewhere in the Gaza Strip.

Southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza in recent months. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Since March, there have been near-weekly, violent protests along the Israel-Gaza border organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, leading to escalations involving rockets fire on Israel and reprisal air strikes.

The deadly border clashes have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 150 Palestinian haves been killed in the violence. Hamas has admitted that many of fatalities were its or other Gaza terror groups.

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