Israel warns Hamas after rocket-barrage as U.N., Egypt push cease-fire

Israel warned Hamas Saturday night of strong retaliatory attacks for its , as intense diplomat efforts were launched to broker a ceasefire that would avoid a new war in Gaza.

According to unconfirmed reports late Saturday, Hamas and Islamic Jihad agreed to a truce with Israel. The reports said the truce was achieved thanks to mediation efforts made by Egypt and other international and regional parties.

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“In consultation with the Minister of Defense, the Chief-of-Staff and the top security command of the State of Israel, we have decided on strong action against Hamas terrorism,” Netanyahu said.

“The IDF has struck Hamas with the hardest blow since Operation Protective Edge and we will increase the strength of our attacks as necessary,” Netanyahu vowed.

He spoke after the worse flare-up of Israeli-Hamas violence since the 2014 Gaza war.

The security cabinet is set to meet on Sunday afternoon to debate further reaction, but already last week Israel banned the entry of commercial goods into Gaza to protest the flaming kites Hamas has launched across the border into souther Israel.

On Saturday Egypt and UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov worked behind the scenes to broker a cease-fire.

Efforts are ongoing “with all concerned parties to de-escalate the situation,” one diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post. According to reports late Saturday night, Hamas had agreed to a cease-fire.

An IDF source responded that only the facts on the ground would dictate the IDF’s continued response.

The European Union’s Ambassador to Israel, Emanuele Giaufret, called for calm.

“Indiscriminate firing against civilian targets is unacceptable. Very concerned for the situation, and the possibility of further escalation. Need to restore calm and step back from the brink,” Giaufret tweeted.

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Channel 10 that Israel was not interested in violence with Hamas.

“Those who are trying to escalate the situation at moment are the Iranians, backed by Abu Mazen [PA President Mahmoud Abbas],” said Steinitz who is a member of the security cabinet.

Should there be a war, he said, Israel would have no choice but to launch a ground operation to unseat Hamas.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the two major terror groups in the Gaza Strip, indicated that while they were not interested in an all-out military confrontation with Israel, they were nevertheless prepared to do their utmost to defend the Palestinians against any Israeli “aggression.”

The two groups said they relayed their position to Egypt.

Ismail Radwan, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, and other Hamas officials said that Hamas was in with Egypt regarding the latest developments in the Gaza Strip and ways of resolving the “economic and humanitarian crisis” there. He said that Egypt has shown “understanding” to the needs of the people in the Gaza Strip.

Last week, a senior Hamas delegation headed by Saleh Arouri was invited to Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on the crisis in the Gaza Strip and the continued dispute with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction.

Sources close to Hamas were quoted over the weekend as saying that the Egyptians made it clear to Arouri and his colleagues that Cairo was keen on preventing another war between Israel and the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip. According to the sources, the Egyptians warned the Hamas officials that a military confrontation would have a serious and negative impact on international efforts to improve the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The sources confirmed that the Egyptian authorities were in with Hamas and Israel to avoid an allout military confrontation following the spate of rocket and mortar attacks on Israel over the weekend.

Hamas has informed the Egyptians and other international parties that it was Israel that initiated the latest cycle of violence, said Hazen Qassem, a Hamas official in the Gaza Strip.

“Our position regarding a truce is clear,” he said. “Israel needs to halt its aggression.”

The Egyptians have also ed Islamic Jihad officials in the past 24 hours in a bid to prevent a further deterioration in the Gaza Strip. Representatives of the group said on Saturday that they have told the Egyptians that their group was not interested in a war with Israel.

“We’re not interested in a military confrontation [with Israel],” said Daoud Shehab, spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip. “However, we maintain the right to respond to any Israeli aggression on our people. We are prepared for a prolonged confrontation if the aggression [on the Gaza Strip] continues.” He too said that the protests along the border with Israel would continue until the blockade is lifted.

Hamas and the Islamic Jihad said that the protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which are being held in the context of the so-called March of Return, will continue until the blockade and economic sanctions imposed on the coastal enclave are lifted.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad also claimed that the mortar and rocket attacks on Israel over the weekend came in response to Israeli “military strikes” and “provocations.”

“We will not allow Israel to change the equation or impose a new reality by stepping up its attacks on the Gaza Strip,” said Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latin Kanou.

“Our immediate and powerful response to the [Israeli] enemy’s escalation against the Gaza Strip reflects a state of awareness and clarity on our part in managing the conflict,” said another Hamas spokesperson, Fawni Barhoum. The attacks on Israel, he added, were aimed at “sending a message [to Israel] and creating a swift and sufficient state of balance of deterrence to force it to stop its aggression. Protecting and defending our people is a national demand and a strategic option.”

Radwan, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, said that his movement was not scared of Israel’s threats and would not stop the “March of Return” protests to end the blockade. “Our people in the Gaza Strip will respond firmly to any idiocy committed by the Israeli occupation,” he said. The protests along the border with Israel, he added, will continue until the international community understands that the blockade on the Gaza Strip must be removed.

In Ramallah, meanwhile, the PA government called on the international community to immediately intervene to end what it termed “the Israeli aggression on our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Yusef al-Mahmoud, spokesperson for the PA government, said that PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was holding talking to “international and regional parties in a bid to stop the Israeli aggression.”

Mahmoud accused Israel of being responsible for the flare-up in violence by “targeting peaceful demonstrators, physicians, nurses, paramedics, and journalists and tightening the unjust blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has began 11 years ago.”

Anna Ahronheim contributed to this report