Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu emerged from a marathon security cabinet meeting on Thursday at the end of Operation Protective Edge’s third day, saying the campaign would continue and expand.
Netanyahu issued a statement saying the operation was progressing as planned, and that “more stages were expected.” Hamas and the other terrorist organizations operating from the Gaza Strip had been hit hard by the IDF attacks, and would be hit even harder as the operation continued, he said.
The prime minister gave no indication of when or whether ground troops would be committed to the campaign, nor what steps needed to be taken by the other side for Israel to halt the operation.
One official said it was clear that what Israel might have accepted two weeks ago in terms of “quiet for quiet,” it would not accept now. Netanyahu, the official said, would not agree to a situation whereby yet another cease-fire would be declared, which Hamas would then take advantage of to “tend to its wounds” and restock missiles for the next round.
Barkat: Hamas rockets don’t discriminate The official refused to say what exactly Israel was demanding in order to halt the operation. Rather than having a grocery list of demands, Israel has parameters, one of which is ensuring Hamas will be unable to rearm after the campaign, which is aimed at severely depleting Hamas’s rocket stockpile and degrading its ability to manufacture projectiles.
While neither Netanyahu nor Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon nor IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz gave any indication of a decision being made to commit ground troops, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared Thursday that Israel was about to launch a ground operation.
He called for an unconditional cease-fire, saying that all his efforts to end the violence had failed.
Abbas claimed that the government had already approved a ground operation, which – he added – would begin in the coming hours late Thursday evening.
He pointed out that the IDF had asked Palestinians living close to the border with Israel to leave their homes and move deeper into the Gaza Strip.
Abbas told residents of east Jerusalem who visited him in his office in Ramallah that Israel was seeking to expel Palestinians from their lands and homes.
“But we say to them that we’re not leaving,” he said. “We don’t have weapons, but we will remain steadfast and fight with words. If Israel has missiles and weapons, this doesn’t mean that we will surrender. We will fight in a civilized way that disturbs others.”
The two sides should agree to an unconditional truce, Abbas added. “The most important thing now is to avoid bloodshed,” he said. “The Egyptians have held contacts with the two sides, but these efforts have unfortunately failed.”
Abbas said he spoke with American officials and demanded that Israel halt its military operations unilaterally so that he could persuade Hamas to stop its attacks. These efforts also failed to end the fighting, he said.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, who earlier this week broke with Netanyahu partly over his unhappiness that the prime minister was not responding more forcefully to the rocket fire from Gaza, cited that restraint positively in a letter sent on Thursday to his colleagues from around the world.
The letter, part of Israel’s diplomatic campaign to garner understanding and support for Operative Protective Edge, said that since the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens on June 12, Hamas has fired nearly 300 rockets at Israeli cities, “putting millions of Israeli lives at risk. Families have been forced into shelters, summer camps for children closed, and all normal daily activities have been impacted.
This is unacceptable.”
Israel, said Liberman, who has advocated taking over Gaza, has “shown great restraint prior to this operation. Our intention was to restore the calm without a major military operation.
However, Israel’s repeated efforts to achieve calm were met with increased rocket fire by what is becoming a Hamas terrorist state.”
As part of the effort to explain Israel’s actions, Netanyahu continued speaking with world leaders on Thursday, holding a conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The prime minister, his office said, told Putin that Hamas was hiding behind civilians, and was responsible if they were unintentionally harmed.
During a meeting Netanyahu held with the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Thursday, he was asked why the government did not cut off Gaza’s water and electricity, and replied that Israel could not take measures like “the Russians did to the Chechens.”
Over the past two days, Netanyahu has also spoken to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President François Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, British Prime Minister David Cameron and US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The purpose of these conversations, one official said, was to create an atmosphere of understanding for what Israel was doing. For the most part, he said, that understanding exists in the West, though that atmosphere could change as the media broadcast more and more pictures of casualties in Gaza.
Liberman, in his letter, said Hamas “is a recognized terror organization... motivated by the most radical ideology, including a charter that calls for the murder of all Jews. Hamas is responsible for 80 suicide bombers that have killed nearly 1,000 Israeli civilians.”
This group, he wrote, “seeks to establish an Islamist state characterized by human rights violations, violent repression of minorities, women and non-Muslims.” He called on the PA government to immediately dissolve its partnership with Hamas, and on the international community to “take action to dismantle the Hamas terrorist infrastructure” and to “demonstrate understanding for Israel to exercise its legitimate right to self-defense.”
As part of the campaign to explain Israel’s position to the world, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi held a briefing for foreign ambassadors stationed in Israel.