JERUSALEM: Israel today vowed to respond “most harshly” if Gaza-based militant outfits continued to fire rocket and mortar shells in its southern territories, as an informal ceasefire between the two sides appeared in sight following the death of 19 Palestinians in Israeli pounding of the coastal Strip.
“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) hit Hamas and the terrorist organisations hard over the weekend,” the Israel’s Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu told his ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting today in Jerusalem.
“If attacks against Israeli civilians and the IDF continue, the response will be most harsh,” he asserted.
The Israeli Premier was backed by the deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Mr Ellie Yishai, who called on the cabinet to agree to taking “less routine” and more “stronger” action against the Gaza Strip, to curb the onslaught of rockets.
Mr Yishai said that he was not envisioning “another Cast Lead” operation, referring to the war between Hamas and Israel more than two years ago, but rather “an expanded air operation”. “A ground operation is completely useless. We need to do something stronger and not stay apathetic as we have been, in order to bring calm to the area,” the deputy Prime Minister said.
Meanwhile, Islamist Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip since June 2007, and Israel signalled willingness towards another informal ceasefire after the escalation during the last 72 hours saw at least 19 Palestinians killed and more than 100 rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip.
The Defence Minister, Mr Ehud Barak told Israel Radio that the army would be willing to accept a mutual cease-fire with Hamas if the movement stopped firing from Gaza.
“If they stop firing on our communities, we will stop firing. If they stop firing in general, it will be quiet, it will be good,” Mr Barak said.
A Hamas spokesperson, Mr Sami Abu Zuhri, on the other hand was reported in the local media as saying that the Palestinian factions are not interested in escalation and calm will be restored if the Israeli attacks on Gaza stopped.
Unconfirmed reports by Palestinian news agency Ma’an said that UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Mr Robert Serry, has managed to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza late last night.
All the Palestinian militant factions, except Islamic Jihad, which fired three mortar shells today on Israel are said to have agreed for the ceasefire.