Senior official: ‘Israel didn’t agree to halt targeted killings for ceasefire’

Official says Islamic Jihad made demand but Jerusalem never accepted; rift reported between terror group’s military, political wings over decision to halt combat

Two new F-35 fighter jets land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)
Two new F-35 fighter jets land at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel from the United States on July 14, 2019. (Israel Defense Forces)

A senior Israeli official on Friday denied Islamic Jihad’s claims that the Jewish state had agreed to stop targeted killings in exchange for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

The official told Hebrew media outlets: “Contrary to the claims by Islamic Jihad, Israel did not agree to the demand to stop targeted killings.”

Islamic Jihad has asserted the truce was based on three conditions — an end to targeted killings, a halt in Israeli shootings of protesters at weekly demonstrations along the Israeli frontier and easing a 12-year Israeli blockade.

Officials in the terror group have been quoted by Arabic media claiming Israel had agreed to all its conditions for a ceasefire.

But the Israeli official told Ynet it was Islamic Jihad that had requested a ceasefire, and Israel had made no promises. “We didn’t promise anyone that we would avoid assassinations,” he said. “Whoever tries to attack or does attack, will get hit.”

The official acknowledged that the group had “set terms” to uphold the peace “but it’s meaningless.”

Ynet also reported that the decision to halt combat had led to a major rift within the terror group, with the organization’s political wing supporting the ceasefire while the military wing wanted to keep fighting.

An Israeli soldier walks past military vehicles in a gathering point near the Israel-Gaza Border, Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019. Israel and the militant Islamic Jihad group in Gaza reached a cease-fire on Thursday to end the heaviest Gaza fighting in months. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Palestinian sources told the website that officials in the military wing were demanding that the group quit the joint war room of Gaza’s armed factions over Hamas’s decision not to participate in this week’s combat.

They were also reportedly demanding that the group halt its participation in the weekly protest marches at the Gaza border.

From predawn Tuesday to Thursday morning, Israel and Islamic Jihad fought a 48-hour battle in which over 450 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the IDF responded with dozens of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad facilities and on the terror cells as they were firing and preparing to launch rockets.

Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed. Israel said the overwhelming majority of the fatalities were terrorists, but human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.

Fifty-eight Israelis were lightly and moderately injured or treated for shock.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists attend the funeral of one of their members in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, November 14, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

Most of the rockets from Gaza either landed in open fields or were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. Some struck homes, businesses and streets, causing injuries and significant property damage. Dozens of people were also hurt as they fell running to bomb shelters.

In response to the attacks, the Israeli military conducted dozens of strikes on Islamic Jihad bases and weapons facilities, as well as rocket-launching teams throughout the Strip, killing 25 terrorists, according to the IDF.

A ceasefire was announced Thursday morning, though the day saw four rocket attacks on Israel despite the truce. The army responded Thursday night with strikes on Islamic Jihad targets.

On Friday schools remained closed in the Gaza periphery, but at noon local councils announced a return to normal life.

The flareup started after an Israeli missile killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a senior commander in the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group, whom Israel said was the “prime instigator” of terrorism from Gaza over the past year.

In this photo taken on October 21, 2016, Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror leader Baha Abu al-Ata attends a rally in Gaza City. (STR/AFP)

On Thursday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Shin Bet security service’s war room in central Israel that directed the hit on Ata, commending the agents for their “daring” work in the operation.

Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, warned Gaza-area residents Thursday that the rocket fire might continue even with the ceasefire agreement in place.

The general said the IDF would be working to thwart these attacks. “If we identity launch efforts, we will strike the cells,” Halevi said.

Other Israeli leaders have warned they would not hesitate to return to battle.

Islamic Jihad’s military wing also threatened Israel that it was ready to continue fighting.

Judah Ari Gross and agencies contributed to this report.

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