Netanyahu Says Israel Must Destroy Hamas Tunnels in Gaza

Israel won’t sign up to a truce that curtails its ability to destroy tunnels Hamas dug to launch attacks from Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as the country called up an additional 16,000 reservists.

“We are determined to complete this operation, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said in remarks broadcast by radio before a meeting of the cabinet today. “We won’t agree to any proposal that doesn’t let the Israeli army complete this important job.”

Diplomatic efforts to end the third major conflict in Gaza in less than six years have come up short, defying appeals by President Barack Obama and United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon for an immediate cessation of hostilities. A bid by the U.S., UN and Egypt to broker a truce last week between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, failed to win agreement on anything deeper than an hours-long humanitarian halt.

The Palestinian death toll today reached at least 1,418 since July 8, officials said. The conflict has left 56 Israeli soldiers dead and three civilians, the army said. Yesterday was one of the bloodiest days in more than three weeks of fighting, with at least 119 people reported dead, including 19 killed in a strike on a UN refuge.

The UN Relief and Works Agency accused Israel of violating international law with the attack. U.S. officials today also criticized Israel over the incident.

‘Totally Indefensible’

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there’s little doubt about the source of the firing. “The shelling of a UN facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” Earnest told reporters. “We need our allies in Israel to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.

The school may have been hit by Hamas fire, Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Moti Almoz said in comments broadcast on Army Radio. Troops were responding to fire launched at them from near the building, he said, accusing Hamas of using civilians as human shields for its attacks.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, told a meeting of the Security Council today that the agency is now sheltering 220,000 displaced people in Gaza, four times more than during the 2009 war between Hamas and Israel. Among the dead are 251 children, while more than 9,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, Valerie Amos, the UN’s humanitarian relief coordinator, said at the same briefing.

Civilian Threat

Foreign pressure ‘‘shouldn’t affect our activities,” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said in an interview with Channel 2 television today. Israel is acting in accordance with international law, she said.

Kraehenbuehl said his staff had found rockets stored at three of the agency’s schools in Gaza. Chris Gunness, a spokesman for UNRWA, yesterday condemned “the group or groups” responsible, saying the practice endangered civilians.

Israel’s army also said it was looking into reports of an air strike on a market yesterday in which Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qedra said 20 people died.

Eight Israelis were injured today in a mortar attack in a border area east of Gaza, the police said, without specifying whether the wounded were military or civilian.

Even as casualties mount, a poll showed 91 percent support for the Gaza offensive among Israeli Jews, with 85 percent saying the army should continue until all tunnels are destroyed and rocket fire is stopped. The survey of 1,007 adults, conducted by Midgam Research & Consulting Ltd. for the University of Haifa, had a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

Rocket Attack

Netanyahu spoke today after rockets fired from Gaza set off sirens in southern Israel, adding to the more than 146 launched in the past 24 hours. Israel carried out about 110 strikes in the same period, the army said.

One rocket hit an apartment in the southern city of Kiryat Gat, injuring one person, police said. A rocket fired at the Tel Aviv area was intercepted by Israeli defense systems. Some 2,830 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since July 8, and armed militants have staged attacks inside Israel via tunnels and by sea. The army says its operation is intended to destroy tunnels and rockets.

Israel says a cease-fire would require Gaza to be disarmed, while Hamas seeks an end to an Israeli blockade in force since 2006 and joined by Egypt. Israel, like the U.S. and European Union, labels Hamas a terrorist organization.

The U.S. agreed to provide additional ammunition to Israel in response to a request from the country’s Ministry of Defense, the Pentagon said in a statement yesterday. It didn’t provide details of the request.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said yesterday the army is ready to broaden its incursion further. The most recent call-up brings the number of reservists drafted to 86,000, and will “preserve flexibility,” Almoz told Army Radio today.

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