Israel plans to “expand and continue” its operations in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned, while also saying “we can’t do what the Russians did in Chechnya”.
Netanyahu’s statements, made on Thursday lunchtime at a meeting of Knesset (parliament) on foreign affairs, come as the official death toll in Gaza reached 81 since the start of Operation Protective Edge early on Monday.
According to Haaretz, Netanyahu was asked repeatedly whether the government had certain political goals and if it had contacted with Egypt or other countries on a cease-fire.
“I am not talking to anybody about a cease-fire right now,” Netanyahu told the committee. “It’s not even on the agenda.”
Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon has also backed a further escalation, saying that Israel will “continue to systematically attack Hamas and terrorist organization and strike them and their assets hard”.
“We’ll continue until they realize escalation is not worth it, and that we won’t tolerate fire toward our communities and citizens,” Yaalon added.
Rockets have continued to fly between Israel and Gaza today, following a heavy night of Israeli shelling which killed more than 25 Palestinians since midnight. The official death toll in Gaza has continued to rise at now stands at 81. Nearly half of the casualties so far have been confirmed as women and children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
According to Israeli army sources, there have been more than 320 strikes on Gaza in the last 24 hours, which is almost double the number of missiles launched in the same period the day before.
Gaza has now been hit with more than 750 rockets – the equivalent to 800 tons of explosives – as part of Operation Protective Edge, according to sources quoted in the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
Hamas has also launched an increasing number of rockets into Israel, including several long-range devices, two of which have struck open land near Tel Aviv. Rockets have also continued to fall on southern Israel where they have caused some minor damage and injuries, with alarm sirens heard periodically throughout the day.
However, the Iron Dome system, which is designed to intercept rockets entering Israel, has proved extremely effective, neutralizing 90 percent of all rockets fired from Gaza, Haaretz newspaper reported.
The fighting is now the worst since Operation Cast Lead in 2008 – 2009 when 1,166 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis, mostly military, were killed.
Tensions have been high ever since three settler teenagers were abducted in the West Bank on 12 June and later found dead outside Herbon on 30 June. They reached boiling point a day later when a Palestinian teenager was apparently abducted and burnt alive by Israeli settlers near East Jerusalem.
The incident sparked mass protests in Arab towns and neighbourhood throughout Israel, while Israeli security services continued to crackdown on the West Bank. Since the teenage settlers first went missing, some 600 Palestinians have been arrested, thousands of homes have been raided and several Palestinians killed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed Hamas for the killing of the three Israeli teens, and said he held Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responsible.
No one has as yet claimed responsibility for the killing. A group of ultra-nationalist Israeli settlers have been arrested for the murder of the Palestinian teen Mohamed Abu Khdeir although three of them have since been released.
(Middle East Eye – http://www.middleeasteye.net)