Minister Insists Israel Will Not Abandon Gaza Belt
The State of Israel will not sanction the organized evacuation of the Gaza Belt region, Finance Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) insisted Monday night, despite the rocket fire pelting the communities near Gaza on a minute-by-minute basis.
"Just because someone says to himself, 'I do not want my children in the line of fire, I will get into the car and drive to where it's safe,' does not mean we will evacuate these communities," Lapid said, in an interview with Walla!.
"It's his right and we'll help him find alternative arrangements, but Israel will not forsake entire communities, we will not see here an organized abandonment of settlements and we will not give this victory for Hamas," he continued.
"Because then, where will it end? Will we evacuate Ashkelon? And then Ashdod? The State of Israel does not run off and evacuate communities due to terrorist organizations firing on their residents," declared Lapid.
Lapid's comments surface mere hours after the parents of four year-old Daniel Tragerman, hy"d, who was killed by a Hamas mortar shell Friday, announced that they would be permanently leaving their home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz after the incident.
The announcement highlights a mass exodus among Gaza Belt residents, with some 80% of families leaving their homes on a semi-permanent or permanent basis since Operation Protective Edge broke out on July 8, according to some reports.
Truce or no truce?
Lapid evaded questions on a possible ceasefire, hours after reports surfaced that Israel was weighing a deal.
"We are waiting to hear from the international community [on the ceasefire], so we do not know," Lapid said. He indicated that Israel would take the ceasefire deal if it offered a chance for negotiations, but not under any other conditions.
"We will not negotiate under fire," he stressed, asldo denying reports that Israel may have already accepted a ceasefire.
"I suggest not to rely on Palestinian media, but to wait for the official Israeli version of events, which will come at the right time," he said.
Sources told the news outlet Monday morning that Israel accepted an indefinite ceasefire with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and that it was already in effect.
According to that report, in the first stage of the ceasefire Egypt will open the Rafah Crossing with Gaza, in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. If the ceasefire holds, the second stage will see Israel extend the Gaza fishing zone - currently restricted to 0-3 miles from the coast for security reasons - first to six, and later 12 miles.
Israel will also open the Kerem Shalom Crossing, which has been shelled by terrorists on numerous occasions during Operation Protective Edge, and allow goods for trading to pass through, including food and, at a later stage, building materials.
'Determination and patience the key to the campaign'
Lapid also addressed his visit to the Tragerman family home earlier Monday, after which he remarked that "Hamas would pay" for the death of four-year old Daniel and for laying waste to the South.
"I see communities where residents are determined to stay," he said. "But the loss is painful. This death is painful. They understand, however, that this is a just war."
"This campaign should be fought, and it should be run with determination and patience - there is no other way to mount a campaign [like this]. So they understand."
Lapid added that he spoke with the mayors in the South about the potential for government aid due to the prolonged war.
The aid would apparently be in addition to the 13.5 million shekel aid plan that was already approved several weeks ago for the long-term reconstruction of the Gaza Belt, as well as Tourism Minister Uzi Landau's request that the region be made VAT-free (an 18% discount on sales tax) for one year.