Israel yesterday said it would not pull troops from Gaza until they finish destroying a network of cross-border tunnels, despite sharp UN criticism over the civilian death toll.
Speaking at the start of a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would not accept any ceasefire that did not allow troops to continue destroying tunnels used by militants to attack Israel.
“Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission — with or without a ceasefire,” he said at the start of the meeting.
“So I will not accept any [truce] proposal that does not allow the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] to complete this work for the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.
Netanyahu’s remarks came after the army confirmed mobilizing another 16,000 additional reservists, hiking the total number called up to 86,000. Israel does not say how many troops are currently engaged in the fighting inside the Gaza Strip.
Meanwhile, the US said it had agreed to restock Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition, despite increasing international concern over the death toll in Gaza, where more than 1,374 people have been killed in 24 days of violence.
UN figures indicate that two-thirds of the victims were civilians. Of that civilian dead, nearly half were women and children.
Following the shelling of a UN school in northern Gaza on Wednesday that killed 16, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay slammed Israel for its attacks on homes, schools and hospitals, accusing it of “deliberate defiance” of international law.
“None of this appears to me to be accidental,” she told reporters. “There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel.”
The shelling of the school also drew sharp condemnation from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who described it as “reprehensible,” as well as from Washington. However, the Israeli army suggested the deaths may have been the result of a misfired Palestinian rocket.
“What happened is still not clear at this stage,” Israeli military spokesman General Moti Almoz told army radio. “It is not clear if the school was hit by fire from IDF soldiers or from Hamas terrorists.”
Despite rising international calls for a halt to the bloodshed, the Israeli security Cabinet decided on Wednesday to press on with the operation in Gaza.
There was no letup in bloodshed with at least 10 Palestinians killed yesterday, among them two women, raising the overall Palestinian toll to 1,374, medics said.
Another 15 people sheltering in the UN school in the Jabaliya refugee camp that was struck on Wednesday were wounded when Israeli warplanes attacked a mosque next door, medics said.
In Israel, 56 soldiers have died and Hamas rocket fire has killed three civilians, two Israelis and a Thai national.
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