Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Saturday to use as much military power as needed and fight “as long as it will take” against terror group Hamas to restore peace in his country.
In a TV speech in Jerusalem that appeared in part directed at Israelis beleaguered by the fighting’s destruction and death toll, Netanyahu gave no indication of moving toward a cease-fire with Hamas, the Islamic militant group.
Netanyahu promised to “bring back the quiet” and use “as much power as needed.” He said the timeframe is only “as long as it will take.”
The 26 days of fighting were sparked by the killing in June of three Israeli teens apparently at the hands of Hamas-backed Palestinians, which resulted in the killing of three Arab Palestinians teens. Hamas then fired rockets into Israel from Gaza, which prompted Israel to respond with land, sea and air attacks.
On Saturday, Netanyahu also warned Hamas that it will “pay an intolerable price” for continuing to fire rockets at Israel. And he suggested that the Israeli military will reassess its Gaza operation once troops complete the demolition of Hamas’ military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.
Netanyahu also praised the efforts of Israeli fighters, calling them “heroes” and expressing sorrow for the families of the innocent victims of the fighting.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel won’t send a delegation to proposed truce talks in Cairo, Egypt.
An Israeli official told The Associated Press that troops will remain in Gaza to wrap up the tunnel demolition but the effort is not expected to take “much more time.”
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to discuss internal government deliberations with reporters.
Israeli media reported that 31 tunnels have already been demolished and that the mission was close to being complete.
In other signals of a Israeli troop redeployment within Gaza, the military told residents of the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya that it would be safe for them to return to their homes. The area, from which Gaza militants had fired rockets at Israel in the past, had come under heavy tank fire during Israel’s ground operation, forcing thousands of residents to flee the area.
Since the fighting began on July 8, more than 1,650 Palestinians — mostly civilians — have been killed and more than 8,000 wounded, according to Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra.
Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians, its highest death toll since the 2006 Lebanon war. Hundreds of other soldiers have been wounded.
Israel on Saturday bombarded the southern Gaza town of Rafah, where Goldin was last seen.
The Hamas military wing on Saturday tried to distance itself from the soldier’s alleged capture, which has prompted widespread international condemnation.
President Obama, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and others have accused Hamas of violating the cease-fire and have called for the soldier’s immediate and unconditional release.
At least 35 Palestinians were killed in the bombardment and shelling in and around the city of Rafah early Saturday, said Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra, adding that the area’s main hospital was evacuated because of the strikes, which killed dozens of people on Friday.
Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials reported more than 150 air strikes including one against the Hamas-linked Islamic University in Gaza City. Heavy shelling continued along the border areas.
The Israeli military said it struck 200 targets over the previous 24 hours. It said it attacked five mosques that concealed weapons and that the Islamic University was being used as a research and weapons manufacturing site for Hamas.
Gaza militants, meanwhile, have fired 74 rockets at Israel since midnight, according to the Israeli military. Seven of them were intercepted by Israel’s rocket defense system, it said.