The security cabinet will hold a special meeting Sunday as a possible ceasefire agreement with Hamas takes shape that would aim to end the daily arson attacks that have plagued the border region for the last few months.
The meeting comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly canceled a planned trip to Colombia next week, citing the volatile security situation in Israel’s south.
For over three months there have been near-weekly violent border protests organized by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Deadly clashes along the Israeli-Gazan border have seen Israeli security forces facing gunfire, grenades, Molotov cocktails, and efforts — sometimes successful — to damage or penetrate the border fence. An Egyptian-brokered informal ceasefire has so far prevented the tense situation from escalating into all-out war.
The truce efforts are being brokered by United Nations envoy for Middle East peace Nickolay Mladenov, who has been meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip.
In another sign of the emergence of a possible deal Deputy Hamas Politburo Chairman Saleh al-Arouri was slated to arrive in the Gaza Strip on Thursday after holding talks with the Egyptian intelligence services in Cairo about renewed reconciliation efforts with Fatah and a truce with Israel, Hamas-linked media reported.
Arouri, who helped found Hamas’s military wing in the West Bank, has been based in various Arab and Islamic countries since Israel deported him from the territory in 2010.
Egypt and Mladenov reportedly received assurances that Israel will not harm Arouri while he visits the Strip, the Ynet news site reported citing Palestinian sources.
Mladenov’s proposal envisions Israel removing recent restrictions on the Kerem Shalom crossing for goods into Gaza, and both sides agreeing to a ceasefire which would include the cessation of airborne arson attacks, according to recent Egyptian media reports. Balloons and kites carrying incendiaries, launched from Gaza into Israel have burned thousand of acres of farmland and caused millions of shekels in damage.
The envoy has been shuttling between regional leaders in an effort to defuse a sharp escalation in violence in Gaza before it explodes into full conflict. His proposal for calming tensions has reportedly been worked out in cooperation with Egypt and other Arab states.
“In light of the situation in the south, the prime minister decided to stay in Israel next week and therefore canceled his trip to Colombia,” his spokesperson told reporters, without elaborating.
Netanyahu was set to attend the inauguration of the country’s new president, Iván Duque. During his three-day stay in Bogota between August 6-9, Netanyahu was also expected to meet with various regional leaders, including the presidents of Argentina, Honduras and Guatemala.
On July 20, an Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Aviv Levi, was killed by Palestinian sniper fire along the border. Levi was the first IDF fatality on the Gaza front since Operation Protective Edge in 2014.
Colombia has been one of Israel’s closest friends in Latin America, with close political, military and economic ties.