Saturday 29 November 2014

Israel 'to continue Gaza offensive'

Published 11/07/2014 | 04:13

Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City (AP)
Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was hit by an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City (AP)

Israel's prime minister has vowed to press forward with a broad military offensive in the Gaza Strip, insisting international pressure will not stop an effort to halt rocket fire by Palestinian militants as the death toll from the four-day-old conflict rose above 100.

Addressing a news conference, Benjamin Netanyahu brushed off a question about possible ceasefire efforts, signalling there was no end in sight to the operation.

"I will end it when our goals are realised. And the overriding goal is to restore the peace and quiet," Mr Netanyahu said.

Israel says 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 on average every five minutes.

At least 106 Palestinians, including dozens of civilians, have been killed, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, including 21 today.

Palestinian militants have fired more than 600 rockets at Israel.

One rocket fired from the Gaza Strip struck a petrol station and set it ablaze in southern Israel, seriously wounding one man, and the army said the condition of a soldier wounded by rocket shrapnel yesterday had worsened.

But there have been no deaths on the Israeli side, in large part because of a new rocket-defence system that has intercepted more than 100 incoming projectiles.

Mr Netanyahu said he has been in touch with numerous world leaders, including 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 they have called for restraint. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has expressed concern about the heavy civilian casualties in Gaza, and today 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 of 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," she said.

Mr Netanyahu brushed aside such criticism, saying Israel's aerial campaign is aimed at military targets.

He blamed Hamas for causing civilian casualties by hiding in residential areas and criticised the group for targeting Israeli population centres.

Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion. Mr Netanyahu was evasive when asked about the odds of a ground operation, saying only: "We are weighing every possibility."

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 today 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.

Israel has shot down at least 128 incoming rockets thus far with its "Iron Dome" defence system.

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 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 Qaida-linked groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, has claimed responsibility in the past for similar rocket attacks on Israel.

Mr Lerner said 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.

Mr Lerner blamed Hamas for the death of innocent bystanders by firing from heavily populated areas.

Israel's military "uses its weapons to defend its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to defend its weapons," he said.

Press Association

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