Israel-Gaza conflict: Benjamin Netanyahu blames Hamas for civilian casualties in Gaza Strip

 

Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended his country’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip saying Israel will do “what is necessary” to defend itself.

Asked if a ground invasion was imminent, he said Israel would use any means necessary to accomplish its goal of degrading Hamas’s rocket-launching capability. “Whether we’re at the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning I’m not going to tell you that right now,” he told Fox News Sunday.

On Sunday, Israel’s security cabinet met as the air force appeared to be preparing for intensive bombardments of northern Gaza.

But Mr Netanyahu took pains to absolve Israel of responsibility, claiming the blame lay with Hamas, the Islamist movement that governs Gaza. “We are hitting Hamas with increasing strength,” he said. “It must be understood that our enemy hides in mosques, puts weapons stores under hospitals and situates command posts next to kindergartens. The enemy uses the residents of Gaza as a human shield and inflicts disaster on them. The responsibility for harm to the citizens of Gaza lies on the shoulders of Hamas and Israel regrets every harm to them.”

 

He added: “The difference between Israel and Hamas is that we use missiles to defend the citizens of Israel while they use the civilian population to defend the stores of their missiles.”

In the face of the mounting casualty rate, the army has distributed a video with English subtitles of a pilot cancelling an air strike in Gaza because he sees civilians in the target range. “There are people close to our target. It looks like there are people, maybe children,” the pilot says. Another voice can be heard responding: “We won’t attack this target now, let’s go on.”

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Militant groups in Gaza kept up their missile barrages against targets in central and south Israel and sirens sounded in Nahariya near the Lebanese border.

In the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, a 16-year-old boy was seriously wounded by shrapnel and a 50-year-old man was lightly wounded in the same attack, media reported. Eighty-seven missiles were fired at Israel on Sunday, bringing to 896 the number launched since the fighting began, an army spokeswoman said. There have been no Israeli fatalities due in part to the Iron Dome aerial defence system which intercepted two missiles over the Tel Aviv area on Sunday.

The Internal Security Minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, said at the scene of the Ashkelon attack that no end date has been set for the operation. Regarding the possibility of a ceasefire, he said: “We are not dealing with it now. We are hitting Hamas. We are not counting hours or days. They still have capability. We have to continue hitting them till in the end it finishes.”

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But Yossi Beilin, architect of the 1993 Oslo Agreement with the Palestinians, told The Independent last night that Israel should “immediately” give Hamas a chance to stop firing. “Rather than search for mediators, we should declare that we accept the security council’s call for a ceasefire. We should stop the air strikes for 48 hours and if they stop too, then fine. If they do not, we can consider upgrading the air strikes or a ground operation as a last resort.’’

Palestinian families travel to a UN school in Gaza City to seek shelter Palestinian families travel to a UN school in Gaza City to seek shelter “There are more and more victims on the Palestinian side, more difficult pictures and we are paying a high diplomatic price,” Dr Beilin said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to Mr Netanyahu by telephone, telling him the US was prepared to broker a ceasefire, a senior State Department official said.

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