Netanyahu: Israelis cannot be exposed to the threat of death from above and death from below

Israeli leaders vow to keep up Gaza operation until tunnels destroyed

Blasting Hamas for refusing ceasefires, PM, Ya’alon, Gantz urge patience for ‘lengthy campaign,’ seek demilitarized Gaza

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C), and IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz seen during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C), and IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz seen during a meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on July 26, 2014. (Photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/Ministry of Defense/Flash90)

Hours after a mortar shell fired from the Gaza Strip killed four soldiers in the Eshkol Region Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz took to the podium with a somber air to warn of a long campaign ahead as the struggle against terrorists in the Gaza Strip continues.

As the operation entered its fourth week, the three praised the Israel Defense Forces soldiers, but said Israelis would have to brace for difficult days as the military continues to clash with Hamas and other Gaza terror groups.

They said the IDF was still rooting out terror tunnels and damaging the terrorist infrastructure and command structure in the Gaza Strip — all the while making efforts to secure continued international approval for the operation and reach a ceasefire, despite Hamas’s rejection of all the frameworks suggested so far.

“We will not complete our mission without neutralizing the tunnels, whose sole purpose is the annihilation of our people and the killing of our children. This is a clear objective of the state of Israel, and the need for it became apparent again today,” Netanyahu, who spoke first, said at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He added that no ceasefire agreement would be possible without the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and the disarming of Hamas.

“The operations against the tunnels are a first and necessary step toward the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, and the international community should demand this firmly,” he said.

The prime minister also berated the international community for allowing funds to be channeled to the Gaza Strip and into the hands of Hamas, which used them to purchase concrete and cement with which they build tunnels, undeterred.

“There has to be supervision and monitoring,” continued Netanyahu, adding that when Israel had raised the issue in the past, it was not taken seriously by the international community.

“That has to change,” Netanyahu added. “The citizens of Israel can’t live under the death threat of rockets and infiltration through death tunnels — death from above and death from below.”

He continued that Hamas’s cruelty was not reserved only for Israeli citizens, but also for the people of Gaza, who were being used by the terrorist organization to rack up more casualties.

“I say again: We must be prepared for a lengthy campaign,” Netanyahu said, stressing that Operation Protective Edge would not end until the mission of “protecting our civilians, soldiers and children” was accomplished.

Hamas’s reaction was not long in coming; Israel Radio’s Gal Berger quoted the organization’s spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, as saying Netanyahu’s comments were but an “expression of his defeat at the hands of the resistance.”

Zuhri added, “His threats don’t scare Hamas or the Palestinian people.”

Ya’alon, for his part, echoed Netanyahu’s warning that the operation would continue, saying that the IDF would continue to “strike Hamas” and “destroy terror targets” in the coming days as well.

“If Hamas thinks it can hold a constant dialogue of rockets, terrorists and terror tunnels with us, it is making a grave mistake,” Ya’alon said, vowing that the tunnels, as well as buildings used by Hamas as its infrastructure, would be destroyed.

Ya’alon said that the tunnels leading from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory had been almost completely neutralized, but, like Netanyahu, urged patience and restraint ahead of an extended operation. The defense minister said that despite the casualties suffered on the Israeli side, there was more work to be done to restore calm on the Gaza border. He said the current reality was “disastrous” for Hamas — and the people of the Gaza Strip as well.

“We regret every civilian who is hurt and any civilian infrastructure that is damaged on the other side, but our citizens come first,” he said, adding that Hamas used its people as human shields by shooting at Israel out of schools and hospitals, then hiding underground when Israel retaliated.

“They sacrifice their children and civilians,” added Ya’alon.

He continued that Israel was operating in a “complex reality” in which it required international legitimacy to be able to continue to act against Hamas and prevent it from continuing to arm itself.

“The struggle may go on for many more days, until the quiet and security of Israel are restored,” he warned.

Benny Gantz’s statement was more technical, describing the Israeli strikes against Hamas on every level — command structure, rocket-launching infrastructure, fighters, manufacturing facilities, and tunnels.

He said the IDF was successfully disrupting Hamas’s ability to shoot rockets at Israel, saying its mission was made all the more complex by Hamas’s tactic of shooting out of urban areas “in a way that draws the fire to them,” booby-trapping civilian homes once their occupants, warned in advance by the IDF, vacate them.

“I have no doubt that the reality in the south will be better” once the operation is complete, Gantz concluded.

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