Tel Aviv / Gaza (dpa) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defended the continuation of the hard-led military operation in the Gaza Strip against criticism.
The point is to give the state of Israel and its citizens as long a period of rest as possible and to decisively weaken the Islamist Hamas organization in Gaza, Netanyahu told about 70 diplomats at military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. “We are trying to maximize the rest time for Israel.” Hamas and Israel also denied that the guns could be stopped from 5:00 a.m. on Thursday morning.
Given the deteriorating situation in the Middle East, US President Joe Biden is now taking tougher action against Israel to de-escalate the situation. The White House announced on Wednesday that Biden had called Netanyahu again. The US president told Netanyahu that he expected a “significant de-escalation … towards a ceasefire” later in the day. With this, Biden changed his – previously noticeably reserved – pitch. Recently, Biden expressed support for a ceasefire in a conversation with the Israeli prime minister on Monday.
The White House defended its own approach to criticism on Monday, stressing that the government believes it can do the most at this point with “quiet, intense diplomacy.” A spokeswoman for the US government headquarters also stressed on Wednesday that this remains the right approach.
The suffering of the civilian population in the Gaza Strip is reaching dramatic proportions. In the Rimal district, which has been particularly badly hit by Israeli bombing, residents would only leave their homes for urgent messages, a reporter from the German news agency in Gaza reported. Death can be smelled in view of the bombed-out houses, which are often nothing more than rubble dumps, and the corpses often buried beneath them. The buzz of Israeli drones and the explosions of Israeli missiles would ring in the ears of a sleepless population around the clock.
Rimal is considered one of the affluent neighborhoods in the more poverty-stricken Gaza Strip, home to just over two million people. The Israeli army justified the attacks on the district by the fact that many high-ranking Hamas commanders had their homes there. They would use these as command centers and weapon depots. The extensive tunnel system of the Hamas fighters – the so-called “metro” – also extends far underground beneath Rimal, it is said. The stated goal of the Israeli army in this campaign is to destroy most of the tunnel system and kill as many Hamas commanders as possible.
Media reports say Mohammed Deif, Hamas’s influential military chief, recently escaped two targeted assassination attempts. Israeli media reported that the air force attempted to bomb him. However, he fled twice at the last minute. The military declined to comment on that. Deif has been the number one “top terrorists” on Israel’s list for years. He has been nicknamed “the cat with nine lives”. His wife and son were killed in an Israeli air strike in August 2014. He himself lost an arm, both legs and an eye in several attacks.
The victims of the armed confrontations are mainly children. Israeli airstrikes damaged 50 schools in the Gaza Strip during the nine-day operation, Save the Children organization said Wednesday. About 42,000 school children are affected. In Israel, at least three schools and many homes have reportedly been damaged by rockets fired from the Gaza Strip.
According to the Israeli army, missiles were fired again on the north of the country from Lebanon on Wednesday. One of the four missiles intercepted the missile defense, two hit the Schfaram area, according to police. Israel’s artillery then fired at targets in Lebanon from which the missiles were fired, the Israeli military said.
According to reports from health authorities, 63 children and young people have died in Gaza and two in Israel so far. Schools in Gaza and those in Israel near the Gaza border are currently closed due to the fighting. More than 40,000 civilians in Gaza are also seeking shelter in school buildings managed by the UN aid agency UNRWA. “We call on all parties to the conflict to ensure that civilians and civilian infrastructure are protected from attack,” said Jason Lee, Save the Children’s country director in the occupied Palestinian territories. “The attacks must be stopped immediately.”
A senior army representative spoke to journalists on Wednesday about “very, very important successes” that will help stabilize the south of the country in view of the military operation. It is now being checked whether these are sufficient. “We know we have to fight from time to time.”
UN human rights experts on both sides see signs of war crimes that should be investigated by the International Criminal Court in The Hague. They accuse Israel of firing rockets and grenades into densely populated areas of the Gaza Strip, while Palestinian armed groups similarly “deliberately or ruthlessly” fire rockets into Israeli urban areas. The medical peace organization IPPNW called for an immediate halt to all military attacks.
Since a new escalation began nine days ago, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 3,700 missiles at Israeli cities, according to the military. According to military sources, the Israeli Air Force then fired at about 1,000 targets in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Ministry of Health estimated the death toll at 219 and the wounded at 1,530. According to the Israeli army, at least 160 of the dead were militant fighters. According to official figures, 12 people in Israel died from shelling from the Gaza Strip and hundreds were injured.