After fifty days of Operation Protective Edge and another day of heavy rocket and mortar fire from Gaza and retaliatory IAF air raids, the Israelis and Palestinians appeared once again to be moving toward a ceasefire agreement.
Hamas stepped up its launching of short-range projectiles at Israel’s southern communities, hoping to cause some significant injury or damage in the lead-up to a truce, so that they will be able to present it to their people as a victory.
But they did not abandon more distant targets. A long-range missile aimed at the Gush Dan region was intercepted by an Iron Dome battery at about 8 p.m. on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Hamas took responsibility for an M-75 missile sent at Tel Aviv, and the Iron Dome brought down a projectile near Ashdod.
An Egyptian source said Monday night that, “we’re getting close to announcing a ceasefire later tonight.”
Palestinian factions had joined together to give the Egyptian intermediaries a green light to pursue a ceasefire agreement with Israel.
But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that, despite the ongoing efforts, “until now, there is nothing final.”
Another Hamas official, Izzat al-Risheq, also said that there is still “nothing new” regarding a ceasefire agreement. “Once there is a development, we will announce it,” he said.
Palestinian officials said they were waiting for an Israeli response to the Egyptian proposal, but no public comment came from the Israeli side.
As Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday, Israel was in no hurry to agree to a new ceasefire. It was not clear that it would be in Israel’s interest at this juncture.
Israel has made it known that it has no objection to a ceasefire in principle, as long as it is without conditions and for a long period, and that talks will lead to demilitarization of Gaza and the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers. It has already agreed to extend fishing rights and allow more goods into Gaza.
Negotiations were described as very intensive, however. Not only the Israelis and Palestinians, but the Egyptians, Saudis, Americans, Europeans, Turks, Qataris and U.N. representatives were all involved.
Holon, Rishon LeTzion, Rehovot, Netivot, Ashkelon and Be’er Sheva were among the cities under fire on Monday. Although no direct hits were reported, damage to homes and businesses were caused by falling missile fragements in Ashdod and elsewhere.
Forty-eight hours after the tragic killing of Daniel Tragerman, Hy”d, 4, at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, another mortar hit the area. This time, only property damage, to a dining hall, was reported. All the residents were gone, having sought shelter from the attacks further north.
The air force targeted and hit a rocket launcher stationed by Hamas in Shejaia, used to fire at Nahal Oz. It was one of over 100 counter-strikes at terrorist targets since Sunday night.
In a joint Shin Bet and IDF operation, the air force struck a vehicle carrying operatives from the Jaish Al-Islam terror group, who were plotting an attack in the near future, security forces said. Jaish Al-Islam works with the close support and financial assistance of Hamas, according to Israeli intelligence assessments.
Some 20 Hamas members were killed in IDF strikes on Monday, according to Palestinian sources.
Meanwhile, the government is helping residents of the beleagured south to find shelter elsewhere in a voluntary evacuation program. An estimated 70 to 80 percent of residents in communities close to the Gaza border have fled, mostly families with young children.
Defense Ministry spokesman Jonathan Mosery said it was not a mandatory evacuation, but the government was assisting Israelis who live up to 3 miles from the Gaza border, paying for them to stay at youth hostels and other accommodations in areas farther away.
Regarding the increased mortar attack on communities bordering Gaza in recent days, a military source said the IAF is working with the IDF Gaza Division and Southern Command to decrease the fire and provide more advance siren alerts to local residents.
“Hamas is firing directly from medical centers, schools, and densely populated neighborhoods. We are operating where we can without harming non-combatants. We have been targeting areas that fire mortars more aggressively over the past two days. This involves increased surveillance and attacks,” the source said.
Additionally, the IAF is working to install more sensors in the border region to enhance mortar alerts, adding that “every second can save a life.”