A member of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society gets out of an ambulance as smoke rises from a building after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Jerusalem, July 31: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said today that he would not agree to any ceasefire proposal that does not allow the Israeli military to complete its mission of destroying Hamas’s tunnel network in Gaza.
“So far we have neutralised tens of terror tunnels,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks at the start of a government meeting at military headquarters in Tel Aviv. “We are determined to continue to complete this mission with or without a ceasefire,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman, the chief of the Israeli military’s southern command, said yesterday that it would take “a few more days” to destroy the tunnels that Israel had already located, many of which run beneath the border into Israeli territory.
As the Israeli operation extended into its 24th day, and in the absence of any quick progress in international efforts to forge a ceasefire deal, the Israeli military said it had called up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers, bringing the total number of those called up to 86,000.
A military official said the move was meant “to maintain the army’s preparedness and flexibility” and to allow other reservists to take a break. He said it did not signify plans for any immediate broadening of the ground invasion.
Hamas’s military wing in Gaza has so far indicated that it would reject any ceasefire that allows
Israel’s forces to continue operating inside the Gaza Strip. Israeli analysts say that if no deal is reached by the time Israel has completed its work on the tunnels, the government will have to decide between unilaterally withdrawing the ground forces or expanding the goals of the operation and going deeper into Gaza.
At least nine Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes and shelling early today, according to health officials in Gaza, bringing the Palestinian death toll to 1,370, with many civilians among the dead. Israel began its aerial offensive on July 8 and sent in ground forces on July 17, with the stated goals of quelling heavy rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and severely damaging Hamas’s fortified tunnel network in the Palestinian coastal enclave.
On the Israeli side 56 soldiers have been killed in the ground war and two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have been killed by rocket and mortar fire. Rocket fire into southern Israel continued today.
The Israeli military also said its forces spotted a militant emerging from a tunnel shaft in the northern Gaza Strip this morning and killed him, and that another force spotted a squad of five militants who were then targeted in an airstrike.