ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 64

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‘Well done’: Netanyahu hails IDF, Shin Bet performance in Gaza operation

In first comments since ceasefire took effect Saturday night, PM claims Israel made substantive gains by eliminating terror leaders

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on May 14, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday hailed the performance of Israel’s security forces during the recent conflict with a terror group in the Gaza Strip, saying they heeded his directives to take the initiative and surprise Israel’s enemies.

“The instruction I gave together with the defense minister to the IDF and the Shin Bet could be summed up in two words: ‘Initiative’ and ‘surprise,'” Netanyahu said during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, in his first public comments since the ceasefire came into effect the previous night.

“Yesterday I congratulated the IDF chief of staff and the head of the Shin Bet and said the following two words: ‘Well done,'” he said, switching to English for the words of praise.

Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad reached a ceasefire agreement on Saturday night after nearly five days of fighting during which the IDF eliminated much of PIJ’s senior leadership in a series of airstrikes.

“The performance was indeed perfect. With complete surprise and continuous initiative, we eliminated Islamic Jihad’s entire top brass in Gaza, destroyed 17 Islamic Jihad command centers, eliminated dozens of terrorists, struck missile storage sites, took out anti-tank squads and more,” Netanyahu said.

“Since the establishment of the government [four and a half] months ago, I have repeatedly said: Whoever hurts us — whether successful or not — will pay with their life,” the premier said. “Today Israel’s enemies — in Gaza and beyond — know that even if they try to hide, we can and are willing to reach them at any time.”

“This recognition was reinforced significantly in Operation Shield and Arrow. We flipped the script,” Netanyahu said.

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)

The prime minister went on to thank the citizens of Israel, particularly those living closer to the Gaza border, for their “support and steadfastness that allowed us to succeed in this important operation.”

Earlier Sunday, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Israel had not made any concessions to PIJ as part of the ceasefire agreement.

“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. 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.

Palestinian mourners carry the body of Iyad al-Hassani, an Islamic Jihad commander, draped in the militant group’s flag, during his funeral in Gaza City, Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

A tense ceasefire between Israel and PIJ in Gaza appeared to hold Sunday, 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.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire put a stop to five days of intense fighting that saw over 1,200 rockets launched at Israel.

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.

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