JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked a government panel to put off final approval of 2,500 new apartments in East Jerusalem, an official said yesterday — a reflection of the intense international pressure Israel is under to avoid friction with the Palestinians.
The move came just as tensions were easing along Israel’s border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, where a fragile quiet appeared to be taking hold after several days of escalation that raised fears of another major eruption of violence.
Amid reports of an unofficial, foreign-mediated cease-fire, Palestinian militants appeared to be stilling their rocket and mortar fire yesterday, and Israel was refraining from retaliating for previous attacks.
However, Israel’s controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, voiced concerns that any lull would merely allow Hamas to strengthen and regroup. He told Israel Radio that restraint was “a grave mistake’’ and that Israel’s main objective should be “the toppling of the Hamas regime.’’
Weeks of mortar and rocket fire at southern Israel — met by increasingly harsh Israeli reprisals — snowballed by last week into the most intense confrontation since Israel’s war in the Palestinian territory more than two years ago.
When rocket fire hit a school bus on the Israeli side of the border on Thursday, Israelis were outraged and the attack could have sent the two sides hurtling into another war. But the bus was nearly empty, no one died, and neither side seemed interested in a major face-off.
There was no confirmation yesterday that cease-fire conditions had been nailed down. But life in southern Israel returned to normal, and both sides expressed readiness to halt their fire if the other would.
The easing of tensions along the Gaza border came as the Palestinian Authority moved forward with plans to gain global recognition for an independent state. The Palestinians hope to take their case to the United Nations in September and sidestep talks with Israel.