Israel-Gaza conflict: We have to prepare for a long campaign, warns Benjamin Netanyahu

Meanwhile, Ban Ki-moon says those who attacked UN school should be held accountable

Jerusalem

Israel warned its people today they faced a long campaign in the Gaza Strip as more Israelis and Gazans were killed in separate incidents.

Speaking after the news of the death of 10 children in Gaza City, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, said: “We have to be prepared for a prolonged campaign. We will continue to act aggressively and with judgement until the completion of our mission: defending our citizens, soldiers and children.”

Nine Israeli soldiers were killed in two separate incidents. Four were believed killed in a mortar attack while five more were killed by Hamas gunmen who crossed the border via a tunnel. The five gunmen were also killed.

The political fallout of the soldiers’ deaths will probably encourage those calling for Israeli military operations to be stepped up, since the deaths have highlighted that Israel has failed to eliminate threats from Gaza, which was the initial purpose of the three-week-old campaign.

 

Earlier the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said that the people who carried out an Israeli attack on a UN school in Gaza in which 16 civilians were killed should be held accountable.

“We were sheltering families – women and children – who had sought refuge from the fighting. Ongoing hostilities have prevented establishing conclusive responsibility. It is imperative to do so and to have accountability for this outrageous crime. There must be accountability and justice for crimes committed by all sides,” he said in New York on Monday.

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Mr Netanyahu rejected a UN Security Council statement issued overnight for not including Israeli security demands. The statement called on Israel and Hamas to “accept and fully implement” a humanitarian ceasefire that would stretch beyond the three-day Moslem holiday. It voiced “grave concern” about the deterioration of the situation and the loss of civilian life and called on Israel and Hamas to respect international law.

In a telephone conversation with Mr Ban, Mr Netanyahu said that the statement, which does not have the power of a resolution, “relates to the needs of a murderous terrorist organisation that is attacking Israeli civilians and does not address Israel’s security needs including the demilitarisation of the Gaza Strip”.

Mr Netanyahu’s former ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, meanwhile, advised that the Jewish state ignore President Barack Obama’s call on Sunday for an unconditional ceasefire, a stance that was echoed by legislators in the ruling Likud party. Mr Obama, who also voiced concern about rising civilian fatalities, said Israel’s demands that Hamas be stripped of its weapons should be handled in future Middle East peace talks, not immediately.

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Mr Oren told the Ynet news agency that there is no need to rush to heed Mr Obama since American power is on the wane. “The time has passed when the American President can dictate. That he told the Prime Minister yesterday that it is necessary to stop the fire and reach a ceasefire doesn’t mean you have to respond immediately.’’

Zeev Elkin, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, added: “You can’t forget that the government of Israel is obligated first of all to its citizens and not to any partner, no matter how strategic. It is a mistake to stop now. Hamas must emerge weakened and not strengthened. You have to continue striking it. At the moment it really breaks, it will beg for a ceasefire.”

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Uri Avnery, a veteran peace activist, predicted there would be “no consequences” for rejecting the US President. “Israelis are close to not taking Obama seriously. The Americans preach and don’t exert any pressure. They don’t threaten to limit arms to Israel and they don’t abstain in the UN Security Council. Who cares about preachers? Without valid pressure Israel will not listen to anyone.”

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