Operation Protective Edge could continue into September, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday, as he warned Hamas that it would pay dearly for attacking Israel.
“Hamas is paying and will yet pay a heavy price for the crimes that it has perpetrated,” Netanyahu told his cabinet at its weekly meeting.
“In recent days we have proven there is no immunity for those who fire at Israel’s citizens.”
The prime minister called on civilians in Gaza to evacuate any building used by Hamas for terrorist activity.
“Any such place is a target for us,” he said.
The prime minister spoke on the 48th day of the Gaza conflict, after Hamas had broken 11 cease-fire attempts. A 12th Egyptian attempt to broker an end to the hostilities has yet to gain any traction.
Israel has insisted that it will not negotiate under fire. On Sunday, Hamas fired more than 100 rockets and mortars at Israel, including one that struck the Erez crossing into Gaza, wounding three. The attack closed the passage for pedestrians and medical cases for the rest of the day.
In Gaza City, an Israeli strike on a car killed Muhammad al-Aoul, described by the IDF as a Hamas official responsible for “terrorist funding transactions.” US dollars were found in the wrecked vehicle, witnesses said.
Netanyahu told the cabinet that “Operation Protective Edge will continue until its goals are achieved. I said on the first day of the operation that it could take time, and we are prepared that this campaign might continue even after the start of the school year.”
Education Minister Shai Piron said last week that school would start as scheduled, but Israel’s southern communities, particularly those along the Gaza border, protested that this decision endangers their children.
Netanyahu then instructed staff members from his office, the Home Front Command, and the Education and Defense ministries to review each school in the country on a case-by-case basis to decide if they should open.
He also promised residents of southern Israel that the government would approve a generous financial assistance package at its weekly meeting next Sunday.
“We are with you and we will stay with you until quiet is achieved, and afterwards as well,” Netanyahu said, adding that the IDF would not stop its activities in Gaza until it has ensured quiet and security for Israel’s citizens.
“The more determined and patient we are, the more our enemies will understand that they will not succeed in wearing us down,” Netanyahu said.
Support for Israel’s battle against Hamas is growing in the region and among Western nations, as they understand that this terrorist group is akin to ISIS, Netanyahu said.
“Many states in the region and in the West are beginning to understand that this is a single front, that Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas. Both movements are, in effect, making an effort to establish Islamic rule, caliphates, without human rights, across wide areas, by slaughtering minorities, by not respecting the human rights of anyone – neither women nor men, nor children, nor Christians – nobody,” Netanyahu said.
At the cabinet meeting Netanyahu also extended his condolences to the family of Daniel Tragerman, 4, who was killed by a mortar shell outside his home in the Eshkol region on Friday.
“Like you, I have seen the pictures of four-and-a-half-year-old Daniel, a sweet and innocent boy who was murdered by the firing of reprehensible Hamas terrorists,” Netanyahu said.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the projectiles fired by Hamas, which besides killing Daniel Tragerman in Nahal Oz severely wounded a man near Ashdod, were part of “an attempt by Hamas to drag Israel into a war of attrition.”
“If Hamas’s leaders think they’ll wear us out, or if they believe we are working according to a timetable, they’re wrong. We’re not in any hurry. We have patience,” Ya’alon said.
“Operation Protective Edge will stop only when there is complete quiet in the South, and when rockets and mortars are no longer fired at Israel. Until then, we will continue pounding Hamas and its infrastructure, at this stage, from the air. We don’t plan to stop there, and we have a range of options to continue harming Hamas in other ways,” he added.
The Shin Bet and IDF have killed many terrorists in recent days, including senior members of Hamas’s military wing, the defense minister noted. “We take advantage of every intelligence and operational opportunity to harm terrorists and their commanders, even when they are in hideouts and surround themselves with women and children. We know how to get to them.”
Reuters contributed to this report.