Islamic Jihad says not ready for ceasefire; PM: Israel will do what’s needed
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to continue targeting Palestinian Islamic Jihad on Wednesday, as the terrorist group announced that it was far from ready to engage in ceasefire talks.
"We are not talking of mediation, it's not appropriate to talk about it,” A spokesperson for PIJ said. “When we complete our response that we want to send, it will be possible to talk about calming things down."
Over 220 rockets have been fired at Israel by PIJ terrorists in the Gaza Strip, in response to Israel's targeted killing of its leader, Bahaa Abu al-Ata. Earlier in the day, there were reports in the Arab press that Israel had conveyed a message via the United Nations to Islamic Jihad that it was prepared to assassinate its leaders in Syria if the rocket fire did not immediately cease.
During an address at the Knesset, Netanyahu argued with Arab MKs from the Joint List, who accused him of war crimes.
“We will not tolerate attacks on our citizens,” Netanyahu said. “In the last year, we accumulated a mass of these attacks.”
Al-Ata “was ready to carry out more and more terrorists attacks, including in these days," the prime minister added. "We thwarted him when we were not heading for an escalation, but we will do all that we need to defend our citizens.”
“We are not bent on escalation, but we will respond to every attack against us, and respond very sharply," Netanyahu said. "Islamic Jihad would do well to understand this right now, instead of when it will be too late. I believe that Islamic Jihad is starting to internalize this message. They understand that we will continue to strike them without mercy. They understand that Israel is very strong and that our will is very great.”
The rockets that Islamic Jihad have fired into Israel, the prime minister said, constituted war crimes.
“The central principle is simple: On one side, there are fighters, and on the other side, civilians,” he said. “You can cross this line accidentally, but not intentionally. Every army, [even] among the most moral armies in the world, accidentally hits innocent people, but that is not a war crime.
“A war crime is what the terrorists in Gaza do when they shoot at us… They intentionally aim at civilians, at residential neighborhoods. When they shoot a residential neighborhood in Ashkelon, what do they think, that the army is there? It's nonsense,” he added..
Netanyahu said that he repeatedly denied requests from the defense establishment to attack, because he wanted to minimize harm to people who are not involved in attacking Israel.
“That is completely different from what those terrorists do – and there are MKs here who are defending them,” he stated.
MK Ahmed Tibi of the Joint List was removed from the plenum for repeatedly interrupting Netanyahu. As he was escorted out, he shouted: “Because of you, my family is threatened. Liar!”
Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman wrote on Twitter: "Netanyahu stood in the Knesset and said that the IDF doesn't commit war crimes and does not strike civilians. What about the wife of the senior Islamic Jihad commander who was killed while she was sleeping in bed with him? What about the thousands of civilians killed in our repeated rounds of war with Gaza? They're not civilians?"
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday said that any terrorist who plans to attack Israel during the day will not survive the night.
Earlier Wednesday, Israel struck the home of one of the commanders of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military arm of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Sources say the house belongs to the Abu Hadaid family.
PIJ confirmed that 38-year-old Khaled Moawad Faraj, a field commander with the terror group, and 32-year-old Alaa Ashtyawu were killed. It said that Faraj was the group's central brigade commander, and threatened retaliation. Gaza’s Health Ministry said that the number of Palestinian casualties since Tuesday morning is 22. The IDF said that the majority were PIJ operatives.
Later in the morning, another three terrorists were killed following an IAF airstrike while attempting to launch rockets into Israel, Palestinian media outlets reported on Wednesday.
At a cabinet meeting earlier in the day, Netanyahu publicly addressed Israeli citizens and warned them that the battle against the Islamic Jihad "could take time."
“In the last 24 hours, we have destroyed important Islamic Jihad targets," Netanyahu said. "We targeted terrorist cells that planned to launch rockets at the territory of the State of Israel, several of which were caught in the act."
Israel does not want to escalate the violence, but is determined to protect its citizens, the prime minister said, and as such will "respond very sharply."
"Islamic Jihad would do well to understand this right now, instead of when it will be too late," Netanyahu continued. "I believe that Islamic Jihad is starting to internalize this message. They understand that we will continue to strike them without mercy. They understand that Israel is very strong and that our will is very great."
The prime minister said that the country is determined to "fight to defend our country," and if they think that these barrages or these strikes will weaken us or lessen our determination, they are mistaken.
"Therefore, they have but one choice – to stop these attacks or take more and more blows. The choice is theirs,” he added.
Netanyahu thanked the IDF soldiers manning the Iron Dome anti-missile systems, which has shot rockets out of the sky above Israel in the last two days. He also urged Israeli citizens to follow the instructions of the Home Front Command.
“When there are casualties, in almost all cases, they are people who did not listen to IDF Home Front Command. These instructions are simple and clear, and I ask that you all follow them,” Netanyahu said. “Together we will continue to do everything that needs to be done to defend the security of the State of Israel and its citizens. Together we will be victorious."