24 hour ceasefire extension: Israel accepts, Hamas rejects
Israel's security cabinet on Saturday night decided to accede to a United Nations (UN) request and agree to a 24-hour extension of a humanitarian ceasefire until midnight Sunday.
Diplomatic officials said that despite the ceasefire, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) would act against any violation of the ceasefire by the other side. In addition, during the lull in the fighting the IDF "will continue to neutralize the tunnels inside Gaza. Four tunnels were neutralized in Gaza on Saturday, despite the ceasefire that was in place from 8:00 a.m."
The security cabinet will meet again on Sunday to discuss future steps.
The decision was made despite the continued rocket fire by Palestinians in Gaza. Sirens continued to sound in Beersheba, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and the Gaza frontier communities late Saturday. One Israeli was seriously injured by a mortar that exploded in the Eshkol regional council late Saturday.
The forum of ministers met late Saturday night, even as Hamas rejected a continuation of the ceasefire and began again firing on Israel.
The security cabinet met late Saturday night on whether to extend a humanitarian ceasefire that began at 8 a.m. for another 20 hours, even as Hamas rejected a continuation of the ceasefire.
The wider question on the table was how to ensure that in any longer ceasefire agreement Israel would maintain its ability to continue destroying tunnels in Gaza, and that Hamas’s rocket capabilities would be dismantled.
On Friday afternoon, the security cabinet unanimously rejected a United States (U.S.) proposal that called for a week-long ceasefire, which the ministers believed did not sufficiently ensure either continued Israeli activity against the tunnels or dismantling the rocket infrastructure, while giving Hamas significant concessions regarding lifting the blockade around Gaza.
While US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a Cairo press conference Friday afternoon that the proposal was based on a previous Egyptian ceasefire agreement, Israeli officials said that included too many elements of a Qatari and Turkish proposal, which leaned more favorably toward Hamas.
On Saturday, Kerry flew to Paris to continue the ceasefire talks with his Qatari and Turkish counterparts, as well as with the German, French, British and Italian foreign ministers.
At a press conference before leaving for Washington in the evening he said that while the Palestinians “need to live with dignity” and “with goods that can come in and out,” at the same time “Israelis need to live free from rockets and from tunnels that threaten them, and every conversation we’ve had embraces a discussion about these competing interests that are real for both.”
The tunnels, Kerry said, “have to be dealt with. We understand that; we’re working at that. By the same token, the Palestinians can’t have a ceasefire in which they think the status quo is going to stay and they’re not going to have the ability to be able to begin to live and breathe more freely and move within the crossings and begin to have goods and services that come in from outside.”
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan criticized Kerry’s holding of the talks in Paris – which included the Qatari and Turkish foreign ministers, who are viewed in Jerusalem as essentially representing Hamas’s interests – without Israeli or Egyptian representatives.
“We’re a long way from a political solution,” he said. “We will not end this operation and leave Gaza until the tunnels are dealt with.”
Erdan said that while Israel was open to international efforts to rehabilitate Gaza when the crisis ended, Israel would “not tolerate” the rockets and tunnels.
Israel was open to the economic rehabilitation of Gaza after the crisis ended, but was also intent on drastically degrading Hamas’s infrastructure.
Israel will not leave Gaza or end the operation until the tunnels are dealt with. Regrading Israel’s aim of restoring long-term quiet to the South, this, he said, will be judged by actions on the ground.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Saturday night that if Israel stopped the military campaign, and tomorrow Hamas continued building tunnels and manufacturing rockets, then nothing would have been achieved. Although on Friday night the security cabinet rejected Kerry’s proposal for a week-long ceasefire, it did agree to a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire.
Just before that ceasefire ended Saturday evening, the UN asked Israel to agree to another 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire.
The members of the security cabinet voted via phone to agree to another four hours, during which Saturday night’s security cabinet meeting was convened – where the question of a longer ceasefire was discussed.
In addition to Erdan and Liberman inside the eight-person security cabinet, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett made clear his opposition to a wider ceasefire, and called for the military operation to be expanded.
The five other voting members of the forum – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch – indicated a willingness to agree to a wide ceasefire that is compatible with the goals of the operation: restoring quiet and significantly degrading Hamas’s capabilities.
Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris on Saturday – after the gathering of the foreign ministers to discuss the Gaza crisis – that “all of us want to obtain, as quickly as possible, a durable, negotiated ceasefire that responds both to Israel’s needs in terms of security and to Palestinian needs in terms of the social-economic development and access to the territory of Gaza.”