Despite international criticism of Israel’s recent air strikes on the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that he would not bow to pressure to end the offensive, pledging instead to carry on.
In remarks to reporters, Netanyahu brushed off the question of a possible ceasefire in the four-day old conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 100 people.
“I will end it when our goals are realised. And the overriding goal is to restore the peace and quiet,” he said.
Israel has said it launched the offensive on Tuesday in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire out of Gaza. The Israeli military says it has hit more than 1,100 targets, mostly what it identified as rocket-launching sites, bombarding the territory an average of every five minutes.
Latest footage from Gaza Strip as Israeli air strikes continue
FRANCE 24's reporter in Gaza, Gallagher Fenwick, said Saturday morning that the death toll compiled by the Palestinian Health Ministry had topped 120.
Yet militants kept firing rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. "The first goal of the Israeli so far has not yet been achieved – putting a halt to rocket attacks from Gaza," Fenwick said.
"Hamas and Islamic Jihad seem to have improved their tactics, triggering their rockets remotely. That is why none of their leaders have been killed: they were prepared and have gone underground," he added.
Meanwhile, Palestinian militants have fired more than 600 rockets at Israel.
One rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a gas station and set it ablaze in southern Israel earlier on Friday, seriously wounding one man. The Israeli army also said that the condition of a soldier wounded by shrapnel on Thursday had worsened. But there have been no deaths on the Israeli side, in large part because of its “Iron dome” defence system, which has intercepted more than 100 incoming projectiles.
Netanyahu said he has been in touch with numerous world leaders, including US President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, France, Germany and Canada.
He said he had “good discussions” with his counterparts, telling them that no other country would tolerate repeated fire on its citizens.
“No international pressure will prevent us from acting with all power,” he said.
Israel’s allies have backed the country’s right to self-defence, but have also called for restraint. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern over the heavy civilian casualties in Gaza, and on Friday, the UN’s top human rights official said the air campaign may violate international laws prohibiting the targeting of civilians.
“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” said Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights. “Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
Netanyahu dismissed such criticism, saying Israel’s aerial campaign is aimed at military targets.
He blamed the militant group Hamas for causing civilian casualties by hiding in residential areas and criticised the group for targeting highly populated areas in Israel.
Possible ground invasion
Israel, meanwhile, has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.
Netanyahu was evasive when asked about the odds of a ground operation, saying only, “We are weighing every possibility.”
FRANCE 24's Irris Makler reports from Jerusalem
Rocket fire continued in earnest from Gaza toward various locations in southern and central Israel. The commercial centre of Tel Aviv and Ben-Gurion airport, Israel’s main international gateway, also heard warning sirens on Friday, but these rockets were intercepted and there was no disturbance to Israel’s air traffic. Hamas says it intends to fire rockets at the airport and warned foreign airlines to stop flying to Israel.
In a worrying turn of events, militants in Lebanon also took aim at northern Israel with rockets for the first time in the conflict. Rocket fire struck near the border between the two countries and the military responded with artillery fire toward the source in southern Lebanon, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said.
The Lebanese military said militants there fired three rockets toward Israel and the Israelis retaliated by firing about 25 artillery shells on the area.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said that one of the militants firing the rockets was wounded and rushed to a hospital. The Lebanese military said troops found two rocket launchers and dismantled them.
Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, which has battled Israel numerous times. However, recent fire from Lebanon has been blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah has not been involved in the ongoing offensive.
A pair of Lebanon-based al Qaeda-linked groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has claimed responsibility in the past for similar rocket attacks on Israel.
Lerner said that the military was doing its utmost to prevent civilian casualties, calling inhabitants ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks. He said Israeli forces also fire “non-explosive munitions” at roofs as a warning and looks for people to leave before destroying a structure.
He also blamed Hamas for the death of innocent bystanders by firing from heavily populated areas.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
Date created : 2014-07-11