Israel hopes to extend Gaza ceasefire

By Yaakov Katz, December 2, 2008

Despite a mortar attack that wounded eight Israeli soldiers last week and almost daily Kassam rocket fire from the Gaza Strip since, Israel is hoping to extend the ceasefire with Hamas that is scheduled to expire later this month.

On December 19, the six-month truce with Hamas which went into effect in June will officially expire. Defence officials said this week that the IDF assessment is that Hamas will want to extend the truce under which the crossings — which have been closed most of the last month due to the rocket attacks — will be opened. In addition, Egypt has told Hamas that it would be willing to open the Rafah Crossing between the Sinai and Gaza if the ceasefire is extended.

Last week, Defence Minister Ehud Barak dispatched former general Amos Gilad, one of his top aides, to Egypt for talks with Intelligence Minister Omar Suleiman about the possibility of extending the cease-fire.

“Our interest is to extend the cease-fire but we also need to be prepared for the possibility that Hamas will not want to and will prefer to renew hostilities,” an official in Mr Barak’s office said this week. “There is definitely a possibility that violence will escalate.”

Last Friday, eight IDF soldiers were wounded, two seriously, after a mortar shell landed inside a base along the border with the Gaza Strip. One of the soldiers, 21-year-old Noam Nakash, lost his right leg. On Sunday, a Kassam rocket landed in Sderot for the first time in several months, sending one person into shock and reminding the ciy’s residents of the rocket threat.

Following the attack, Deputy Defence Minister Matan Vilnai vowed retaliation if attacks continued, saying that “we are getting close to launching a wide-scale operation in Gaza.”

Also this week, Israel refused to allow a Libyan ship carrying humanitarian aid to sail into the Gaza Strip.

The boat, flying under a Libyan flag, approached the Gaza Strip early Monday morning but was turned away by the Israeli Navy.

The Libyan boat was the first attempt by a government to break the blockade and came after Israel had allowed three ships carrying international activists to dock in Gaza.

Last updated: 4:01pm, December 2 2008