Israel to ‘broaden’ campaign if Hamas rejects truce
Israel will expand its week-long military campaign in the Gaza Strip if Hamas refuses to accept an Egyptian ceasefire plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned on Tuesday.
“If Hamas doesn’t accept the ceasefire proposal — and that’s how it seems at this point in time — Israel will have all the international legitimacy to broaden its military activity (in Gaza) in order to achieve the necessary quiet,” Netanyahu said at a joint news conference in Tel Aviv with visiting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“We agreed to the Egyptian proposal in order to give an opportunity for the demilitarisation of the (Gaza) Strip – from missiles, from rockets and from tunnels – through diplomatic means,” he told reporters.
The announcement came after three rockets exploded in and near the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat on Tuesday, and rescue teams were investigating reports that several people were injured, a military spokesman said.
They were the first rockets to strike Eilat since a week-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, though rockets fired from Egypt have struck in the city previously in the past few years.
Two rockets struck inside the city that borders both Egypt and Jordan and which is filled with hotels and tourist attractions. A third landed in an open area, the spokesman said. A Gaza rocket also struck the southern port city of Ashdod.
Hamas was still debating the proposed Gaza truce on Tuesday, a top official from the Palestinian Islamist group said as rocket fire from the territory into Israel continued more than two hours after the deal was meant to go into effect.
“We are still in consultation and there has been no official position made by the (Hamas) movement regarding the Egyptian proposal,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, who was in Cairo, said in a Facebook posting.
Hamas’ armed wing rejects proposal
But the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist group rejected the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, according to its official website.
The al-Qassam Brigades said it had not officially received the exact text of the cease-fire treaty but said that media reports exposed that it was “an initiative of kneeling and submission”.
“Our battle with the enemy continues and will increase in ferocity and intensity,” it added.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged Hamas to accept ceasefire with Israel, while President Obama said he was “encouraged” by the Egyptian proposal.
Egypt’s proposal intended to close a week of trans-frontier violence which has resulted in the death of at least 180 Palestinians. On Tuesday, four Palestinians were killed in Israeli air strikes on Gaza’s Khan Younis, according to medical sources.
According to a statement from Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, the three-step plan would commence with a temporary cease-fire to go into effect within 12 hours of “unconditional acceptance” by the two sides.
That would be followed by the opening of Gaza’s border crossings and talks in Cairo between the sides within two days, according to the statement.
A foreign ministry spokesman told state television that Egypt would seek Arab backing for the initiative at an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League on Monday night.
Hamas, however, said it would not commit to a cease-fire without a full agreement.
“A ceasefire without reaching an agreement is rejected. In times of war, you don’t cease fire and then negotiate,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP after Egypt proposed the truce which was set at 0600 GMT.
Talking after an extraordinary meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, the organization’s chief Nabil AlAraby slammed Israel, accusing the Jewish state of committing “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”
“Israel enjoys political immunity, it commits crimes without being charged for it,” he said in Cairo.
The European Union said it was in touch with “all parties in the region” to press for an immediate halt to the hostilities, the worst flare-up of Israeli-Palestinian violence for almost two years.
The violence was prompted by the murder of three Israeli teenagers and revenge killing of a Palestinian youth. Israeli officials said on Monday three people arrested over the Palestinian’s death had confessed to burning him alive.