Jerusalem/Gaza, July 31 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday said Israel will continue to destroy underground tunnels in Gaza regardless of any possible cease-fire agreement even as the toll in the coastal enclave touched 1,363.
“We are determined to complete this mission with or without a ceasefire,” Netanyahu said at the beginning of a cabinet meeting held at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, according to a statement from his office.
“I will not agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to complete this important task for the sake of Israel’s security,” Xinhua quoted Netanyahu as saying in the statement.
“(Islamist movement) Hamas’s capabilities could have enabled it to abduct and murder civilians and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers while attacking from the tunnels, penetrating our territory,” the prime minister said.
Israel’s Operation Protective Edge commenced July 8, following rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip at southern Israeli communities and a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.
Israel said the offensive was launched to halt the rocket fire but later stressed on demolishing the tunnels.
As the operation progressed and Israeli forces embarked on a ground incursion to the strip on July 17, IDF personnel focused their attention on underground tunnels making their way into southern Israel, through which suspected militants allegedly planned to launch attacks against Israelis.
The IDF said it has found several dozen tunnels and tunnel shafts and is currently focused on uprooting them. Several soldiers have been killed in altercations with militants who exited the passageways.
Earlier Wednesday, the IDF summoned 16,000 more reserve soldiers amid the ongoing Gaza fighting, bringing the total number of reserve soldiers to around 86,000.
According to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, 1,363 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since July 8.
The victims include 315 children and 166 women.
About 7,600 Palestinians have been injured, including 2,307 children and 1,529 women.
More than 240,000 Palestinians, or one out of every eight Gazans, have been displaced.
The ministry said that 15 of its staff members have been killed and 16 others wounded during the offensive.
Thirteen hospitals, seven care centres and nine ambulances were damaged.
Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have died since Israel’s ground incursion to the strip commenced July 17 and more than 100 soldiers are hospitalised across the country with wounds of varying degrees.
Three Israeli civilians have been killed in the past three weeks from rocket attacks, as Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 2,800 rockets and mortars into south, south central, central and northern Israel.