Israeli cabinet ministers said the Gaza Strip’s Hamas rulers must be crushed while the militant group vowed to keep fighting, as efforts to piece together a shattered truce faltered.
Should missile fire from the Palestinian territory continue for weeks, “we won’t have any choice but to defend ourselves and win this battle,” Minister of Intelligence and Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz told Channel 10 television yesterday, a day after the three-day truce unraveled amid a hail of rockets. “This means we will have to seriously consider the possibility of taking full control of Gaza for a number of weeks.”
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum promised the group’s militants would continue “resistance with all our might and with all means.”
The cease-fire was negotiated as a possible springboard for a more lasting settlement after three major military confrontations in less than six years. Talks in Cairo mediated by Egypt failed to extend the agreement and rocket fire resumed before the truce expired.
Hamas said Israel hadn’t agreed to its demands, which include allowing Gaza to have a seaport. Israel said it wouldn’t rejoin negotiations while under fire.
The rising rhetoric “is a classic example of each side trying to prove to the other side they have no need for compromise,” said Cameron Brown, a researcher at The Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.
“If you were desperate to stop the fighting there is a way to do that, make concessions at the negotiating table,” Brown said.
Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team in Cairo, said in comments broadcast on Voice of Palestine radio today that his delegation would leave Egypt unless Israeli officials return or resume contact. The Palestinians will meet today with Egyptian mediators before deciding whether to depart, he said.
Seven rockets fired from Gaza hit Israel early today without causing injuries or damage, a military spokeswoman said. Israel struck 25 targets in Gaza.
Steinitz said he would prefer to use diplomacy to resolve the monthlong conflict that has killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and 67 on the Israeli side. Even so, he and four other cabinet ministers warned that additional military action may be needed to restore quiet.
Communications Minister Gilad Erdan echoed Steinitz’s comments on the possibility of reoccupying Gaza, which Israel evacuated in 2005 after 38 years. Tourism Minister Uzi Landau said Israel must defeat Hamas on the battlefield. Finance Minister Yair Lapid warned the organization’s military leader that Israel would hunt him down in the same way the U.S. went after Osama Bin Laden.
If Israel is drawn into a war of attrition, it may be forced to open a “massive incursion” into Gaza, Science and Technology Minister Jacob Perry said.
Brown said he would take the threat of an Israeli reoccupation seriously only when Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and others who haven’t advocated such a move in the past support it.
While fighting was less intense yesterday than before the truce, seven more Gazans died in air strikes, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and Israel said 30 rockets were fired at its territory. Israel has accused Hamas of deliberately putting civilians in harm’s way by firing rockets from residential areas. The U.S. and European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
Israel’s five-year credit default swaps rose last week to the highest since January, while the benchmark TA-25 stock index has remained largely unaffected by the conflict, advancing 0.4 percent since Israel announced its military operation against Gaza militants on July 8.
The Israeli military withdrew from Gaza on Aug. 5 after saying it battered rocket operations and destroyed all of the 32 known tunnels militants built to stage cross-border attacks.
Steinitz said Israel wouldn’t send its delegation back to Cairo until rocket fire was halted.
“Israel doesn’t feel like it needs to make concessions because it is doing well on the battlefield and Hamas is doing poorly but they are concerned about what will happen when this is over and they have nothing to show but destruction,” Brown said.
Egypt brokered truce deals that ended Israeli operations in Gaza in 2009 and 2012. Since ousting his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Mursi last year, President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has led a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood that nominated him for office. Earlier this year, Egypt banned activities of Hamas, a Brotherhood offshoot.