Hamas said Wednesday that Palestinian militant groups would agree to a ceasefire if Israel also agreed to abide by one, following the biggest exchange of fire in Gaza since the 2014 war there.
The comments, made by a member of Hamas’ political bureau, Khalil Al Hayya, came after militants launched what the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described as the biggest barrage of rocket and mortar fire from the coastal enclave in years.
The IDF said it counted more than 100 launches from Gaza, and it responded with more than 60 airstrikes on targets in the enclave.
Al Hayya said in a statement early Wednesday that there had been considerable mediation efforts – an apparent reference to Egyptian-led talks – resulting in “a consensus to return to the ceasefire understandings of the Gaza Strip.”
“The resistance factions are committed [to the ceasefire], as long as the Occupation does the same,” added Al Hayya, using the militant groups’ term for Israel.
Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz dismissed suggestions of an agreement. “There is no ceasefire,” he told Israeli radio Wednesday morning, adding, “there is a clear Israeli policy not to allow shooting, attacks and violence against Israeli citizens.”
IDF spokesman Lt. Col Jonathan Conricus told CNN the Israeli military was not aware of any kind of ceasefire either, but added that “quiet will most likely be met with quiet.”
If militants relaunch attacks on Israel, he said, “terror will be met with a very strong response.”
There have been no reports of launches or strikes from either side since 5 a.m. local on Wednesday, suggesting a de facto ceasefire had taken hold even if there was no formal agreement.
UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting
By Wednesday, the IDF said it had launched more than 60 airstrikes targeting the militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In its final sortie, in the early hours of Wednesday, the IDF said it took aim at “sheds of drones used for terror purposes, a rocket manufacturing workshop, advanced naval weaponry, military compounds, training facilities and a munitions manufacturing site.”
The IDF said more than 100 mortars and rockets had been fired out of Gaza during the course of Tuesday, all of them either intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system, or landing in Israel. One mortar hit a kindergarten yard just an hour before it was due to open for the day.
Israel said three of its soldiers were injured, two lightly and a third moderately, in the militant fire.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad claimed joint responsibility for the attacks.
In a statement issued by the militant groups’ armed wings, the Al-Qassam Brigades and the Al-Quds Brigades respectively, the two groups blamed Israel for starting the latest round of aggression and said they had cooperated in launching the attacks because Israel’s “crimes could not be tolerated in any way.”
The IDF’s Conricus told CNN Israel was adamant it had not instigated the latest round of violence. “We are not the ones who fired on Gaza first,” he said.
The confrontations came after weeks of Palestinian protests, known as the Great March of Return, near the fence that separates Gaza and Israel, during which more than 100 protesters were killed by Israeli fire.
An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council, called by the United States, was expected to take place Wednesday to “discuss the latest attacks on Israel out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas and other militants,” said the US Mission to the UN in a statement.
“The recent attacks out of Gaza are the largest we have seen since 2014. Mortars fired by Palestinian militants hit civilian infrastructure, including a kindergarten. The Security Council should be outraged and respond to this latest bout of violence directed at innocent Israeli civilians, and the Palestinian leadership needs to be held accountable for what they’re allowing to happen in Gaza,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said, according to the statement.
There were no reports of any fatalities or injuries arising from Israel’s airstrikes from either the Palestinian Ministry of Health or from the militant groups themselves.
Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
CNN’s Sheena McKenzie and Angela Dewan wrote from London. Ameera Ahmed and Ibrahim Dahman contributed from Gaza; Abeer Salman and Andrew Carey contributed from Jerusalem; Hamdi Alkhshali and Darran Simon contributed from Atlanta and Richard Roth contributed from UN headquarters in New York.