Israel's security cabinet decided after a five-hour meeting Friday night that Israel will no longer seek a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip via negotiations with Hamas, senior Israeli officials said. Therefore, Israel does not intend to send a delegation to the Cairo truce talks as previously agreed in the course of the last cease-fire, before it was violated by Hamas.
The senior officials said that ministers were unanimous in the cabinet meeting in their position that there is no point in pursuing cease-fire negotiations after Hamas violated the previous one by capturing an IDF soldier on Friday. According to the officials, the ministers also agreed that the captured soldier will not change Israel's overall strategy. In other words, the IDF will continue its operations to destroy the tunnels and the ground operation will not be significantly expanded at this stage.
The cabinet also decided that instead of efforts to reach a cease-fire through negotiations, Israel will focus on restoring Israel's deterrence against Hamas. The senior officials said that in light of the failed cease-fire efforts, Israel will consider ending the operation and unilaterally leaving Gaza, relying on deterrence.
"We think there is still enough international legitimacy for an operation in Gaza," said a senior Israeli official. "In the coming days the destruction of the tunnels will be complete, and then a decision will be made as to how to continue from there." The official added that "if we feel that deterrence has been restored, we will leave the [Gaza] Strip on the basis of the 'quiet for quiet' principle. If we feel deterrence has not yet been achieved, we will continue the operation inside the Gaza Strip or exit and continue with the aerial bombardment."
The senior officials said Israel will also try to reach an understanding with Egypt, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the international community on the issue of reconstructing the Gaza Strip, preventing Hamas from re-arming itself and monitoring material entering Gaza.
"On the issues concerning demilitarization we will reach understandings with Egypt and the international community without a need for any negotiations with Hamas," the officials said. "The issue of the Rafah Crossing is Egyptian-Palestinian Authority matter, and the issue of the rest of the crossings is between us and the PA and the international community."
Israel's aim to end the operation unilaterally also stems for its interest in stopping the severe deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and in preventing the collapse of essential infrastructure. The senior officials also said that a deeper entry into Gaza would result in a dramatic rise in civilian Palestinian casualties, which would in turn increase the pressure and international condemnation of Israel while serving Hamas' interests.
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Hamas' spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Sami Abu Zuhri, responded to the reports and said a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip will not commit Hamas to anything, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an reported.