Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has canceled a scheduled trip to Colombia in order to oversee developments in Israel’s south, the prime minister’s office reported Thursday. The premier had been scheduled to attend the inauguration of incoming Colombian President Iván Duque and to hold meetings with several Latin American leaders.
The decision comes amidst reports that Netanyahu wants to monitor the visit of Saleh al-Arouri, the founding commander of Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades armed wing who is believed to be the organization’s commander in Judea and Samaria. Al-Arouri will travel to Gaza in the coming days reportedly to participate in Egyptian-sponsored talks to cover a range of Gaza issues, including a ceasefire agreement with Israel and a reconciliation deal with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority.
Netanyahu’s announcement also followed an announcement by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman that Israel would begin targeting Palestinian leaders who instruct young people to launch arson kites at Gaza Belt communities, rather than at the launchers themselves.
“We have to hit those who give the orders to launch the balloons, not the underlings who do the actual launching,” Liberman said Thursday morning during a tour of air defense systems in the north of the country.
Liberman also said that last week Hamas leaders ordered Gazans, including children, to launch balloons from populated homes and announced he would reinstitute a ban on fuel and gas being transferred into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing until further notice.
“The decision was made in light of the recent balloon and kite terrorist attacks,” Liberman said in a statement Wednesday.
“The residents of Gaza must understand that as long as there are incendiary balloons on our side and fires, their life will not return to normal,” he said.
Some 600 kites have been launched at Israel since late April, causing 198 separate brush fires and burning about 7,500 acres of forest and farmland.
Referring to the tensions on the northern border, Lieberman also said that Israel is ready for every possible development
“We are prepared, ready and at the moment of truth, we will show what we’ve got. We will not make any concessions on our security interests,” he said.
Referring to the return of Syrian forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad army to the Syrian Golan Heights, near the border with Israel, Liberman underlined that Israel will maintain a policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of Syria.
“As far as we are concerned, the situation has reverted to the way it was before the (Syrian) civil war. I think that is in Assad’s interest (to keep the border quite); I have made clear that we will not compromise our security interests but also that we have no intention of intervening in their internal affairs if we do not need to.”