Netanyahu: Gaza op will expand until quiet guaranteed

Hours after 10 Hamas gunmen killed exiting tunnel en route to attack kibbutz, PM cites success beyond expectations in tackling terrorist tunnels

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (center) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (right) in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) meets with then-IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz (center) and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (right) in southern Israel on July 21, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Israel’s ongoing military campaign in the Gaza Strip to uncover terrorist tunnels will continue and even be broadened until it achieves its goal of bringing a prolonged quiet to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday. He spoke hours after 10 Hamas gunmen were killed exiting a tunnel en route to attack Kibbutz Nir Am, the army said.

During a visit to the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division — known as the Steel Division — in the south of the country, Netanyahu held a security meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and Southern Region Commander Sami Turgeman.

Netanyahu declared that Israel is determined to achieve its goal of an extended lull in hostilities.

“The operation will continue and be expanded until the goal is achieved — the restoration of quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period,” Netanyahu said.

The statement came a day after a heavy battle in Gaza City left 13 Israeli soldiers and scores of Palestinian dead, and many more on both sides injured.

On Sunday, Ya’alon promised in a nationally televised address that most of the tunnels used by Hamas “will be destroyed in the next two or three days.”

Speaking on the visit to the base Monday, the prime minister asserted that the ground operation, aimed at destroying cross-border tunnels dug by Palestinian terrorists to infiltrate Israel from Gaza, was proceeding better than planned.

“The IDF is advancing in the field according to plan,” he said. “The combat achievements are significant. I am impressed by the actions to hit the tunnels; they are achieving results beyond our expectations.

“Every hour there are achievements, every day there are achievements,” Gantz added.

Ya’alon noted that the extensive tunnel infrastructure destroyed so far was an indication of the danger it represented.

“When we see the achievements of the southern command in uncovering the tunnels we can see the threat that was posed to the country,” he said.

The declared gains have come at a price for the IDF, which has seen 18 soldiers killed and dozens injured since the ground operation in Gaza began four days ago.

Netanyahu praised the motivation of those who have taken the place of fallen soldiers.

““We are proud of the army,” he said.

“The Southern Command and the rest of the army are making progress hour by hour,” Gantz said. “There are sometimes casualties. Every colleague of those who fell wants us to carry on.”

“Unfortunately, soldiers and commanders have been killed,” Ya’alon commented. “We’ll continue to work in the coming days to counter this [Hamas] threat.”

Earlier in the day IDF forces killed 10 terrorists who had infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel under the border. The gunmen were wearing Israeli army uniforms and were intending to carry out an attack at nearby Kibbutz Nir Am, the army said. It was the latest in a series of five attacks launched from the subterranean passages.

On Saturday two IDF soldiers were killed after a group of terrorists emerged from another tunnel and ambushed their patrol vehicle inside Israel.

Operation Protective Edge began on July 8 with the aim of stemming rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza aimed at Israel’s towns and cities, restoring sustained security for Israel, and setting back Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure. After several days of intensive airstrikes, during which terrorists fired rockets across the length of Israel as far north as Haifa, the IDF began an ground operation last week.

Military sources said the IDF has uncovered and destroyed 18 full-scale “attack tunnels,” and found another 45 tunnel openings. In a series of battles inside Gaza, IDF soldiers have killed 20 gunmen emerging from tunnel openings, including 10 in a mosque, the army said. In all, forces have killed some 160 terrorists since the start of the incursion into Gaza late last Thursday night.

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