Amid mounting diplomatic pressure on Israel to agree to a ceasefire, the security cabinet on Wednesday instructed the IDF to continue to “forcefully hit Hamas and the other terrorist organizations in Gaza,” and to conclude its mission to destroy the tunnels leading from the Strip into Israel, diplomatic sources said.
The army’s actions in locating and destroying these terror tunnels have brought about significant strategic achievements in an area in which Hamas has invested much effort over the years, the sources said.
There were no indications that the cabinet, which met for several hours on Wednesday afternoon, had ordered the much expanded ground offensive aimed at smashing Hamas that key ministers such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman have been demanding.
The US is pressing Israel to halt the fighting. On Sunday, in a phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Barack Obama urged an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The UN Security Council also urged a ceasefire. On Wednesday, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond warned: “Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the West.” Netanyahu on Monday told Israelis to be braced for what he called a prolonged operation.
The Israeli diplomatic sources noted: “The IDF also has significant achievements in damaging the terrorist infrastructure of Hamas and additional terrorist groups and will continue to act and expand these operations.”
The army will continue to enact local and temporary humanitarian truces, like one observed on Wednesday in areas where there is no fighting, “without endangering the lives of Israeli soldiers and the operation to destroy the tunnels,” the sources added. “The purpose of these truces is to help the civilian population of Gaza.”
The full cabinet will meet on Thursday at noon in Tel Aviv for an update on the progress of Operation Protective Edge.
On Wednesday Chile, El Salvador, and Peru recalled their ambassadors in protest of Israel’s actions in Gaza that, according to Palestinian sources, have killed over 1,300 people. Israel says that hundreds of those were armed fighters and combatants.
The IDF began Operation Protective Edge on July 8 with the goal of halting rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli towns and destroying a network of tunnels, dug by Hamas under the border into Israel, from which terrorists have launched lethal ambushes on Israeli forces.
On Wednesday three IDF soldiers were killed and another fifteen injured by a booby-trapped UNRWA health clinic building in the Gaza Strip. The deaths brought to 56 the number if IDF soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge, which began on July 8.
On Wednesday afternoon, the IDF’s Southern Command chief, Sami Turgeman, said “many hundreds” of Hamas operatives had been killed, and that the IDF had destroyed hundreds of weapons storage facilities, and significantly compromised Hamas’s terror infrastructure.
He said the IDF was “days away” from completing the military goal of destroying all of the tunnels, though the process is complex. Four tunnels have been destroyed in the past 24 hours, he added.
Turgeman said the IDF expanded its operation Tuesday night, targeting new sites in the north and center of the coastal enclave.
With the amount of concrete Hamas poured into the tunnel project, two hospitals, twenty schools, twenty healthcare centers, and 100 kindergartens could have been built, he said.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.