Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday accused Hamas of violating a ceasefire that it had itself called and vowed that Israeli operations to destroy tunnels in Gaza would continue.
“They are violating their own ceasefire. Under these circumstances, Israel will do what it must do to defend its people,” Netanyahu told the news network CNN as part of a series of interviews with US media.
Netanyahu hit the Sunday talks shows in the US, granting interviews to Fox News, NBC, CBS and CNN in what has become part of a near-weekly media blitz by the prime minister.
Israel accepted five different ceasefire proposals and truce offers, which were all rejected by Hamas, Netanyahu noted.
“And now Hamas breaks the ceasefire it itself had asked for, and continues to fire at Israeli civilians,” he said. “Israel will do whatever is necessary to guarantee the security interests of Israeli citizens.”
The prime minister also highlighted how Hamas has used international funding for military rather than civilian purposes.
“The money from the international community given for the building of kindergartens for Gaza residents has been used for the construction of tunnels intended to blow up Israeli kindergartens,” he said.
Earlier, the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas agreed to halt firing from 2 p.m. in response to a request from the United Nations. AFP reporters in Gaza, however, said explosions could still be heard. Rockets also continued to streak out toward Israeli territory.
Israel had endorsed a ceasefire plan promoted by Egypt which was not accepted by Hamas. But Netanyahu dismissed Sunday’s latest call for a truce, alleging Hamas would exploit any lull in the fighting.
In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” Netanyahu said that Palestinians are using their civilians as “human shields” against Israel’s military campaign into Gaza.
Netanyahu insisted Israel does not deliberately target Palestinian civilians, accusing Hamas of provoking conflict in residential areas, and said the long-term goal was to prevent attacks on Israel.
He added that Israel would not allow “a ruthless terror organization… to decide when it’s convenient for them to stop for a moment, rearm, and continue firing on our citizens and our people.”
The prime minister said Israeli forces will continue operations to dismantle Hamas’ cross-border tunnel network and to destroy its rocket arsenal.
“I would say we want to stop firing rockets for sure. We want to dismantle the tunnel, the terror tunnel network we uncovered. I don’t know if we’ll have 100 percent success,” he said. “Our soldiers are dealing with it now.”
The premier said the country’s efforts to secure itself will not yield despite growing concern about deaths at the hands of Israel’s lethal force. The prime minister admitted he realizes world opinion might be shifting away from his nation with every Palestinian civilian’s death, but added that the public relations battle cannot supersede Israel’s security.
“I hope we achieve a sustainable quiet that will enable us to address the issue of demilitarizing Gaza,” he told CBS. “And if Hamas is weak and discredited and demilitarized then we may have a chance to work something with the more moderate forces and get a better future for all of us.”
Since July 8 more than 1,050 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza fighting, while another 6,000 have been injured, Palestinian sources claim. A total of 43 Israeli soldiers, two civilians and a Thai migrant worker have died as a result of Gazan hostilities.