Gaza: Netanyahu says ‘we don’t rule out anything’ as calls for ceasefire grow

‘We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence,’ prime minister claims

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 19 May 2021 12:59
10-year-old Palestinian girl reflects on Gaza destruction

Israel wants to keep all its options open in the conflict against Hamas and militant groups in Gaza, Benjamin Netanyahu has said.

The Israeli prime minister said on Wednesday that his country was pursuing "forceful deterrence" against fighters in the enclave and that further escalation remained a possibility, despite growing calls internationally for a ceasfire in the nine day conflict.

Meeting with foreign ambassadors on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu said: “You can either conquer them, and that's always an open possibility, or you can deter them.

“We are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say, we don't rule out anything.”

He added: “We’re not standing with a stopwatch. We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

Israel has carried out hundreds of airstrikes against what it claims are militant targets in Gaza since fighting between the two sides broke out earlier this month.

Hamas and other militants have fired more than 3,700 rockets at Israel, killing 12 people in Israel, including a five-year-old boy and a soldier.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel hoped to restore quiet “quickly” and was trying to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza.

At least 219 Palestinians have been killed in airstrikes since the conflict broke out on 10 May, including 63 children and 36 women, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Some 1,530 people have been wounded.

Israeli attacks have also damaged at least 18 hospitals and clinics and destroyed one health facility, the World Health Organization said. Nearly half of all essential drugs have run out.

Egyptian and UN mediators are trying to broker a ceasefire, and on Tuesday France asked for a Security Council resolution to address the violence. Diplomats said, however, that the US had told the group of powerful nations a “public pronouncement right now” would not help.

Germany also said it wanted a ceasefire and offered more aid to for Palestinians ahead of emergency European Union talks.

On Wednesday, Russia warned Israel’s ambassador in Moscow that any further increase in civilian casualties in Gaza was unacceptable.

Notably though the US has not demanded a ceasefire, only calling for attacks to be scaled back. US president Joe Biden has spoken on the phone to Mr Netanyahu on several occasions in the past few days.

And Washington has also blocked UN Security Council efforts to draft a joint statement urging an end to the fighting.

Despite the diplomatic efforts, in a 25-minute attack overnight, Israel bombarded targets including what its military said were tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used by Hamas.

Some 50 rockets were fired from the enclave, the Israeli military said, with sirens sounding in the coastal city of Ashdod, south of Tel Aviv, and in areas closer to the Gaza border. There were no reports of injuries or damage overnight but days of rocket fire have unsettled many Israelis.

Nearly 450 buildings in densely populated Gaza have been destroyed or badly damaged, including six hospitals and nine primary-care health centres, and more than 52,000 Palestinians have been displaced, the U.N. humanitarian agency said.

The damage has left large craters and piles of rubble across the coastal enclave, and deepened long-running concerns about living conditions in Gaza.

“Whoever wants to learn about the humanity of the (Israelis) should come to the Gaza Strip and look at the houses that got destroyed on top of those who lived in them,” said university lecturer Ahmed al-Astal, standing by the rubble of his house in Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

The UN General Assembly is due to discuss the conflict on Thursday.

Additional reporting by agencies