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Saturday 20 September 2014

Israel 'set for prolonged campaign'

Published 28/07/2014 | 01:29

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An Israeli armoured vehicle stirs up dust near the Israel-Gaza border (AP)
A Palestinian woman inspects the damage of her destroyed house during a 12-hour ceasefire in Gaza City's Shijaiyah neighbourhood (AP)
Archbishop Alexios of Gaza during the funeral of Christian woman Jalila Ayyad, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike (AP)

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel must be ready for a "prolonged" military operation in the Gaza Strip and will "act aggressively and responsibly" until the mission is completed.

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Israel launched the operation against Gaza's Hamas rulers three weeks ago, initially from the air and then on the ground. Israel has said it wants to decimate Hamas's ability to fire rockets at Israel and to destroy a network of Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.

However, Mr Netanyahu indicated in a televised speech that he is widening the objectives, saying that a demilitarisation of Gaza must be part of any future solution for the territory of 1.7 million people.

"There is no war more just than this," Mr Netanyahu said.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed over the past three weeks, Palestinian health officials say. According to the United Nations, about three-quarters of them were civilians. Israel has lost 43 soldiers and two civilians, as well as a Thai worker.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel will "not end the operation without neutralising the tunnels whose only purpose is" to kill civilians.

"We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign," he said. "We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children."

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a defiant tone in response to Mr Netanyahu's warnings.

"His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children," he said.

Earlier today, the army announced that Gaza militants had infiltrated into Israel through a tunnel and opened fire on soldiers. Israeli media said five militants were apparently killed in a firefight and that searches in the area were continuing.

In a sign that Israel's operation is expanding, the army urged residents of three more Gaza districts to evacuate their homes and head towards the centre of Gaza City.

Meanwhile, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people, nine of them children. Israeli and Palestinian authorities traded blame over the attack as fighting in the Gaza war raged on despite a major Muslim holiday.

A truce between the sides remained elusive as diplomats sought to end the fighting at the start of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon reinforced the Security Council's call for "an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire" in the Gaza war and demanded that Israel and Hamas end the violence "in the name of humanity".

The UN chief accused Mr Netanyahu and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal of being irresponsible and "morally wrong" for letting their people get killed in the conflict. He urged them to demonstrate "political will" and "compassionate leadership" to end the suffering of war-weary citizens.

He said "Gaza is in critical condition" after pummelling by Israeli forces that has killed helpless civilians and raised "serious questions about proportionality".

Mr Ban said there must be accountability and justice for actions committed by all sides.

The secretary-general said he had a long talk with Mr Netanyahu and urged the Israeli leader to accept a ceasefire, and then address the root causes of the conflict. He said he has been in indirect contact with Mashaal through Qatar and Turkey which have good relations with Hamas, the Palestinian faction that controls Gaza.

The Security Council issued its strongest statement yet on the Gaza war at an emergency meeting just after midnight, but it was not a resolution and therefore not legally binding - a point strongly criticised by the Palestinians, who said they will keep pressing the UN's most powerful body to adopt a strong resolution.

The presidential statement urged Israel and Hamas "to accept and fully implement the humanitarian ceasefire" and said this would allow for the delivery of urgently needed assistance.

The council also called on the parties "to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected ceasefire, based on the Egyptian initiative".

Press Association

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