‘We made no promises’: FM Cohen says Israel offered PIJ nothing beyond ceasefire

Foreign minister insists Jerusalem didn’t agree to concessions as part of deal to end Gaza fighting, says that controversial Flag March will go through Muslim Quarter as planned

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)
Smoke and fire rise from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike targeting a building in Gaza, May 13, 2023. The building was owned by an Islamic Jihad official. (AP Photo/Ashraf Amra)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Sunday that Israel had not made any concessions to Palestinian Islamic Jihad as part of the ceasefire agreement that brought an end to the latest round of violence after five days.

“We did not promise anything,” Cohen told Army Radio when pressed, confirming the account of a senior Egyptian official who told The Times of Israel on Saturday that Israel would not sign a ceasefire agreement that entailed any conditions beyond the IDF holding its fire.

PIJ has pushed for Israel to release the body of its senior member Khader Adnan, who died earlier this month after hunger striking in Israeli prison for 86 days in protest of his detention. Islamic Jihad had also demanded that Israel commit to halting the targeted killing of its leaders, the Egyptian official said, adding that Israel refused the inclusion of either demand in a ceasefire deal.

“[They’re] only willing to cease firing if the other side does too. No strings attached,” the Egyptian official said Saturday.

The Kan public broadcaster reported that the text of the ceasefire states the sides agreed to “stop targeting civilians, stop destroying houses and stop targeting people.” The wording was vague enough to allow Israel to maintain that it did not agree to cease targeted killings of PIJ leadership, while Islamic Jihad can claim that it did, Kan said.

Cohen spoke Sunday as a tense ceasefire between Israel and PIJ in Gaza appeared to be holding, following brief rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip late in the night and retaliatory IDF airstrikes after the 10 p.m. truce went into effect.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visits people injured in a terror attack in Tel Aviv at Ichilov hospital in Tel Aviv. April 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90/File)

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire put a stop to five days of intense fighting that saw over 1,200 rockets launched at Israel, with the Israeli military responding by targeting Islamic Jihad members, command centers, rocket launchers and other capabilities in the Palestinian enclave.

The Home Front Command told residents of communities near Gaza to remain near bomb shelters overnight and then lifted restrictions on movement and gatherings at noon on Sunday, and at 6 a.m. for those living between seven and 40 kilometers from the Strip.

Cohen said Sunday that Israel achieved everything it wanted to in the IDF’s Operation Shield and Arrow. “We made it very clear that those who try to harm Israel will be punished. We have seen in the last four to five days that Israel settles its accounts with all who threaten us.”

Israel killed 18 Islamic Jihad operatives in addition to at least 10 Palestinian civilians, an IDF official said Saturday. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry put the death toll from the five-day battle at 33, but the IDF official noted that some Gaza civilians were likely killed by PIJ rockets that landed inside the Strip. Another 151 Palestinians in Gaza were injured, according to the enclave’s health ministry.

Two civilians in Israel were killed by PIJ rockets since the fighting began last Tuesday — an Israeli woman in Rehovot and a Palestinian man from Gaza who was working near the southern town of Shokeda.

An aerial view shows Palestinians and supporters of the Islamic Jihad terror group celebrate in the street after a ceasefire agreement with Israel was reached on May 13, 2023. (BELAL AL SABBAGH / AFP)

Cohen also made a point of highlighting the support Israel received from countries around the world over the past week, pointing to the effort by the US and several UN Security Council members to block a joint statement expressing concern over the violence.

However, the past week also saw many countries raise concern over the civilian casualties that resulted from Israeli airstrikes. Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and the UAE were among the countries that issued condemnations, though the backlash was largely limited to the Arab world.

Asked whether Israel would reroute the Thursday-scheduled Flag March of religious nationalists through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City scheduled amid international pressure, Cohen insisted that the rally would go ahead as planned.

“We don’t need to make any changes,” he told Army Radio. “Jerusalem is our capital, and we are proud to march with the Israeli flag. And it will be the case on Thursday.”

Thousands wave Israeli flags as they celebrate Jerusalem Day at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, May 29, 2022. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Last Friday, the Egyptian official told The Times of Israel that Cairo was determined to broker a ceasefire ahead of the controversial Flag March, which Cairo fears could inflame tensions to a point of no return.

“This rally already poses a threat to stability, but if the fighting is still ongoing by then, it will be much harder to stop and it is likely that Hamas will ride this wave and join as well,” the official said.

The so-called Flag March is held every year on Jerusalem Day with its thousands of largely Orthodox participants rallying from Independence Park to the Western Wall to mark Israel’s reunification of East and West Jerusalem during the 1967 Six Day War. The march has gained notoriety over the years, as it is often marred by hate speech and sometimes violence by Jewish participants toward Palestinians.

In the past two years, the Biden administration has urged Israel to change the route of the march to go through the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, instead of Damascus Gate, thereby avoiding the Muslim Quarter, which is largely populated by Palestinians.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel earlier last week that the hardline government was not likely to reroute the march.

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