Israel vows to ‘expand, intensify’ Gaza campaign
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Tuesday to ramp up Israel’s military campaign against Gaza, after an Egyptian truce plan failed to end eight days of cross-border fire.
“This would have been better resolved diplomatically, that’s what we tried to do when we accepted the Egyptian truce proposal today,” he said, referring to Cairo’s call for a mutual “de-escalation” which was set at 9 a.m. (0600 GMT) Tuesday, with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.
“But Hamas leaves us no choice but to expand and intensify the campaign against it,” Netanyahu said.
“That’s how we will act till we achieve our goal of bringing quiet to Israel’s citizens, while significantly harming the terror group,” he said of the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza.
Netanyahu’s remarks came shortly after the army and emergency services announced an Israeli civilian was killed by a projectile that hit near the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip, the first in the conflict in which 194 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli strikes since July 8.
Israel resumed aerial bombardment of Gaza Strip on Tuesday shortly after agreeing to the Egyptian-proposed ceasefire. Hamas also continued firing rockets into Israel.
Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the cease-fire deal, a proposal that addressed in only general terms some of its key demands, and said its battle with Israel would “increase in ferocity and intensity.”
But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a top Hamas political official who was in Cairo, said the movement, which is seeking a deal that would ease Egyptian and Israeli border restrictions throttling Gaza’s economy, had made no final decision on Cairo’s proposal, according to Reuters.
The Israeli military said that since the cease-fire deal was to have gone into effect, Hamas had fired 76 rockets at Israel. It said the Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted nine of the projectiles and the rest caused no damage or casualties.
Meanwhile, Hamas said that Israel never actually stopped the bombardment of Gaza and reported airstrikes shortly after Israel said it had agreed to the Egyptian proposal.
The Israeli army denied that, saying: “We have resumed our operation against Hamas in Gaza. Here’s why: for six hours, the IDF suspended strikes in Gaza. In that time, Hamas fired 50 rockets at Israel.”
The military said it targeted at least 20 of Hamas’s hidden rocket launchers, tunnels and weapons storage facilities.
“We have exposed and damaged Hamas’ tunnel network and long-range rocket program,” the Israeli army said in a Twitter statement.
In televised remarks, Netanyahu also addressed criticism from members of his cabinet earlier in the day, when Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman slammed the Israeli acceptance of the Egyptian truce and Netanyahu’s “hesitance,” saying Israel should conquer Gaza and expel Hamas from it.
Shortly after Netanyahu’s remarks, his bureau announced he had fired deputy defense minister Danny Danon, a firebrand member of his Likud party, who became a vocal critic of Netanyahu during the operation, calling him a “failure” and saying Hamas was controlling the conflict.
Israel began “Operation Protective Edge” before dawn on July 8 in an attempt to halt cross-border rocket fire by militant groups.