by Ariel Kahana, Nikki Guttman and Lilach Shoval
Senior Israeli official says while Israel is willing to ease conditions in Gaza and discuss a maritime supply route, terror and arson attacks on southern Israel must stop completely
Israel will only agree to engage in indirect negotiations with Hamas about easing the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip only when attacks on southern Israel, particularly the areas adjacent to Gaza, stop completely and calm is fully restored, a senior official traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Lithuania said this weekend.
The official spoke following protests on the Gaza border on Friday and recent reports of an imminent cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas.
"There is no deal yet," the official said. "Everyone is working together in a coordinated fashion. Yes, we are working to secure a cease-fire."
The official said further that Israel would be willing, in principle, to increase the electricity supply to Gaza if Qatar were to fund it, and that it would also be willing to transfer Qatari-funded salaries to Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip. Another possibility the official mentioned was talks over a potential maritime supply route between Cyprus and Gaza.
However, the official explained, all these gestures would be entirely contingent on a complete cease-fire along the border, similar to the calm following the 2014 Operation Protective Edge.
"The goal is a complete cease-fire, including at the [border] fence," the official said. "We cannot move on to any other stage without securing calm first. The previous cease-fire held for three and a half years. These past few weeks, we're seeing movement toward restoring calm near Gaza, with a drop in the number of arson balloons [which Hamas activists launch over the border to cause wildfires in Israel] and a dwindling numbers of protesters."
The official also confirmed that Israel had held talks with Hamas about the aforementioned benefits via a go-between, but said that the decreased attacks on Gaza-adjacent communities in southern Israel was a result of "the harsh blows we dealt Hamas," rather than the carrots offered.
Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the Gaza periphery on Friday and met with heads of local councils.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks with heads of local councils in southern Israel, Friday
"I'm not involved in any [cease-fire] agreements and I personally don't believe in them," Lieberman said. "The only 'agreement' is the reality on the ground. What we've seen these past few days is that Hamas has complete control over everything that happens."
"They [Hamas] had an interest in keeping things calm because of Eid al-Adha [the Festival of the Sacrifice, which began on Aug. 21]. The fact is that these past few days, the violence dropped to nearly zero," the defense minister continued.
Lieberman said he was trying to establish an equation in which Hamas would realize that terrorism would result in economic sanctions, while an absence of terrorism would carry economic benefits for Gaza.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett issued a press release addressing Lieberman's remarks, saying that "it's good that the defense minister has adopted our worldview and now understands that Hamas must not be allowed to conduct itself in an extortionist manner."
On Friday, Gazans staged yet another border demonstration, although only a few thousand demonstrators showed up to throw rocks and firebombs and roll burning tires at IDF forces. Israeli troops used crowd control measures as well as a few rounds of live fire, in accordance with regulations.
During the riots, a figure described as suspicious was spotted breaching the border fence, but he immediately returned to the Gazan side.
Burning kites launched by protesters in Gaza sparked two wildfires in the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council in southern Israel.
The Hamas leadership warned that "Israel would pay" for the sanctions that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had imposed on Gaza.
In related news, over the weekend, some 200 people arrived to support the family of the late Lt. Hadar Goldin, who was killed in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and whose remains are being held by Hamas. The family made its 17th visit to the Black Arrow memorial to fallen paratroopers, which sits on a hill overlooking the Gaza border.
Dr. Leah Goldin, Hadar's mother, said the family had asked senior officials in the American government not to start a new Gaza cease-fire process until the bodies of her son and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, another Protective Edge casualty whose remains Hamas is holding, were returned to Israel for burial.
Ariel Kahana, Nikki Guttman and Lilach Shoval
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