Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu Calls Conflict With Gaza a 'Just War,' Intensifies Assault

( [email protected] ) Jul 30, 2014 03:34 PM EDT
Prime Minster Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a conference (AP)

Israel's call for a four hour cease fire abruptly came to a halt on Tuesday as Palestinian authorities claim Israeli rockets bombarded a crowded shopping mall in Gaza, killing 16 people and wounding 150.

Earlier Wednesday, Palestinians claimed that United Nations school was hit by Israeli tank shells, resulting in 15 deaths. However, the Israeli military said it fired after its soldiers were targeted by mortars operating from nearby the school.

"In response, soldiers fired toward the origins of fire. And we're still reviewing the incident," the military said in a statement.

This latest shelling came during the heaviest air and artillery assault by Israel against targets in Gaza since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge in early July.

Later on Wednesday, Israel's military declared a four-hour cease-fire in some areas of the Gaza Strip citing humanitarian reasons. The cease-fire began at 3 p.m. local time and did not apply to areas of Gaza where the military is searching for tunnels used by Hamas militants, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz announced, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Associated Press reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that there is no planned end to the fighting, saying in a nationally televised address that Israeli forces will act "aggressively" and must be prepared for a "prolonged campaign," and calling the conflict a "just war."

In a speech given to the nation on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel intends to dismantle the tunnels between Gaza and Israel to prevent infiltration by Hamas.

"Bravery and determination are needed to fight a terror group which seeks our destruction," Netanyahu said, asserting that the operation would not end before the tunnels from the Gaza Strip are neutralized.

"We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign," Netanyahu said. "We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children."

There is no war more just than this," he added.

In New York Sunday, the U.N. Security Council adopted the presidential statement calling for an "immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire."

Drafted by Jordan, the Arab League's representative on the Security Council, the statement's text calls for both Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond." It said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance. It is the council's strongest statement yet on the Gaza war, but it was not a resolution and therefore not binding.

Netanyahu told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that it is focusing on the needs of a "murderous terrorist organization," and not Israeli militia.

During a phone conversation with Ban, Netanyahu said the statement ignores Israel's demands for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, a condition" already established by previous interim agreements with the Palestinians," The Jerusalem Post reported.

"The statement did not deal with the harm done to Israeli civilians, nor to the fact that Hamas turned Gaza civilians into human shields," Netanyahu said. He also commented that the statement made no mention of the fact that Hamas used U.N. facilities to attack Israeli civilians.

Israel accepted a UN request for a humanitarian cease-fire three times, he argued, while Hamas violated each one.

Netanyahu also told Ban that the international community should "work to demilitarize Gaza," instead of having its money used by Hamas to build terror tunnels to attack Israel.

"They are continuing to fire even now at Israel citizens," he said. "Israel will continue to deal with the terror tunnels, which is only the first step in demilitarization."

Israel's U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor also stressed that it had agreed to five cease-fires since the conflict began.

"Every single time the international community called for a cease-fire, we ceased and Hamas fired," he said.

The Israeli military announced Monday night that five soldiers were killed in two separate incidents today. Staff Sergeant Moshe Davino, 20, of Jerusalem was killed in action inside Gaza, Haaretz reported. Four others, who were not yet identified, were killed in a mortar attack in Eshkol.