Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he will not bow to mounting international pressure to call off assault on Gaza Strip until rocket fire into Israel is stopped.
Israeli vows to continue strikes as death toll passes 100
GAZA CITY // Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday said he would not stop a military offensive in the Gaza Strip, despite mounting international pressure as the Palestinian death toll crossed 100.
Israel’s assault will continue until rocket fire out of Gaza is halted, Mr Netanyahu said.
“No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he said.
Mr Netanyahu said Israel had attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza in the four-day operation and was using twice the force it used in a similar offensive in 2012.
Israeli attacks killed at least 13 Gazans since midnight on Thursday, including one in the southern city of Rafah, which left five people dead and injured 15, the unofficial Palestinian Maan news agency reported.
Another attack in central Gaza killed two Hamas municipal workers and a five-year-old boy.
At least 103 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, have been killed so far, the Palestinian health ministry in Gazasaid on Friday.
The head of emergency medical services in Gaza, Ashraf Al Qedra, said 660 people had also been injured since Operation Protective Edge was launched on Tuesday to stop militants firing rockets into Israel.
Calling on both sides yesterday to stop fighting, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, indicated that the Israel’s attacks violated international law banning the targeting of civilians.
“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” Ms Pillay said.
Two physicians at Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital said about two-thirds of the patients injured in the Israeli attacks were children. Speaking on condition of anonymity, they also said they had treated a relatively high number people suffering from severe burns and severed limbs.
“We’re seeing these kind of wounds much more than the other wars,” said a paediatric surgeon at the hospital.
The other wars he was referring to was Israel’s three-week assault on Gaza that began in December 2008 and killed as many as 1,400 Palestinians, as well as its eight-day war on the territory in 2012 that killed roughly 180 Palestinians and six Israelis.
“It seems the Israelis are using different weapons in this war because the injuries are different and in many cases, severe.”
Israel’s military chief, Lt Gen Benny Gantz, said Israeli strikes on Gaza were carried out “not without reasoning, not without thinking, not without taking into account there are civilians in Gaza”.
Israel was also targeted yesterday by a rocket fired from Lebanon. The army said it hit an open area near Metula at Israel’s northernmost tip without causing casualties or damage.
The Israeli military said on Friday that it had struck 1,002 sites in Gaza and that 426 Gaza-launched rockets had hit Israeli soil since Tuesday. Another 121 rockets were intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome missile-defence system, it said.
Israel has mobilised about 30,000 troops to augment its forces for a potential ground invasion of Gaza, which the country’s leaders have threatened if rocket fire from the area does not stop.
World leaders have urged the Israeli prime minister not to commit to a ground assault. In a telephone call late on Thursday, the US president Barack Obama warned against such a move and said Washington would help to bring an end to hostilities.
“The United States remains prepared to facilitate a cessation of hostilities, including a return to the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” Mr Obama told Mr Netanyahu, according to a White House statement.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, also requested intervention by Egypt, which brokered the ceasefire that the 2012 war .
“Part of the secretary’s effort has been reaching out to countries in the region, including Qatar, including Egypt,” Jen Paski, the State Department spokeswoman, said.
Egypt’s military considers Hamas an enemy and has reinforced Israel’s siege on Gaza, destroying most the tunnels that brought goods and weapons to the territory’s 1.8 million residents.
Egyptian security forces on Friday said that they had seized 20 Grad rockets being smuggled in from the Gaza Strip through a tunnel by militants in northern Sinai.
It is not clear how interested Cairo is in helping to end the crisis, and on Friday it once again closed its sole border crossing with Gaza after temporarily opening it on Thursday to allow wounded Palestinians through for treatment.
Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Friday that the government was finding it difficult to resolve the latest violence.
“Egypt has communicated with all sides to halt violence against civilians and called on them to continue with the truce agreement signed in November 2012,” the ministry said.
“Unfortunately, these efforts over the past 10 days have met with stubbornness, with only innocent civilians paying the price.”
Meanwhile, militants in Gaza have kept up barrages of rocket attacks on Israel.
The armed wing of Hamas, Ezzedine Al Qassam Brigades, said it had fired rockets at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport and warned international airlines not to fly there because of the risk.
An airport official said activity at the airfield was halted for 10 minutes, although the sirens that had sounded were part of a general alert issued by nearby Tel Aviv.
Rockets fired from Gaza have reached as far as the northern Israeli port city of Haifa.
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the Fatah faction, on Thursday urged the Islamist group to halt its rockets attacks.
That signalled aggravated tensions between the factions bodes ill for the joint Hamas-Fatah government that the rival groups agreed to last month as part of their long-stalled reconciliation process.
Speaking on the official Palestine TV, Mr Abbas, who opposes using violence to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, said in comments aimed at Hamas: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets? We prefer to fight with wisdom and politics.”
* With reporting from Associated Press, Bloomberg News and Agence France-Presse