The death toll in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood could have been lower had Hamas allowed residents to leave when they were requested to do so by the IDF, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told BBC Arabic on Sunday.
Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that 60 Palestinians were killed and hundreds injured in the neighborhood overnight Saturday, as IDF soldiers entered the neighborhood in search of Hamas operatives, rockets, and terror tunnels. Sixty-five IDF soldiers were hurt in the battles in Gaza, but no details were available on their injuries at time of publication. Hamas has displayed photos of mangled bodies lying on the streets of the neighborhood and of the injured being taken to the city’s Shifa hospital.
Days ago, Israel distributed fliers and sent text messages calling on residents of Shejaiya to leave their homes. But Hamas, Netanyahu told the British news channel, forced them to stay home, effectively using them as human shields.
“I would use this opportunity to speak to the people of Gaza,” Netanyahu told the BBC. “Heed the warnings of the IDF. Leave your homes through the places where you’re told to go. Leave. Don’t stay there, because Hamas wants you to die and you shouldn’t die for Hamas. They don’t care about you, but we want you to be safe,” he said.
Israel has heeded a request by the International Red Cross for a humanitarian ceasefire to evacuate the dead and injured from Shejaiya. The ceasefire, which began at 1:30 p.m. and extended until 5:30 p.m., was broken by Hamas an hour after it started, Israel claimed. Hamas, for its part, accused Israel of breaking the ceasefire.
Israeli diplomatic sources told Israel Radio on Sunday that since the start of Operation Protective Edge, 130 rockets were fired from Shejaiya, which also housed weapons workshops and large rocket caches. Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Netanyahu, said that about 10 terror tunnels leading into Israel were dug under the neighborhood.
This is Shuja'ia: a neighborhood turned by Hamas into a terror fortress that has tunnels, bunkers & rocket launchers. pic.twitter.com/L4nN4sdGTD
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) July 20, 2014
Meanwhile, the high death toll in Shejaiya has increased international and Arab calls for an immediate ceasefire and for an international investigation into the fighting.
Arab League Secretary General Nabil Elaraby said Israel had perpetrated “war crimes against civilians” in Gaza. That description was echoed by veteran Egyptian politician Amr Moussa, who called for an international investigation into the events.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning across the Palestinian territories and called for international intervention in Gaza.
Hamas’s Interior Ministry spokesman called on Palestinians in the West Bank to “massacre” Israeli settlers in the West Bank to avenge the citizens of Gaza killed by Israel.
“We do not request our people in the West Bank to hold candlelight solidarity processions. Leave that to the people of Europe,” wrote Iyad El-Bozom. “You, o men and boys of the West Bank are now requested to take to the streets and slaughter the Zionist settlers in Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus and Jerusalem. Avenge the blood flowing in Gaza. There are no excuses, no matter what.”