Israel girds for long conflict

Netanyahu tells citizens that Gaza offensive aims to neutralize infiltration tunnels

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JERUSALEM — Israel will press its air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, preparing his country for a longer and bloodier campaign and dashing hopes that the 3-week-old conflict would end soon.

Rebuffing appeals from President Barack Obama, the United Nations and others for an immediate cease-fire, Mr. Netanyahu said in a televised address, “We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels” through which Hamas fighters have sought to infiltrate Israel. The tunnels, he said, “have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children.”

Israel’s antagonist, the Islamist militant organization Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, continued to unleash deadly mortar and rocket fire, triggering air raid sirens across Israel.

In Gaza City, explosions Monday rocked a neighborhood and left at least 10 people dead, including children playing on a street, as a brief lull on one of Islam’s holiest days gave way to fresh attacks and tragedy. Palestinian health officials said the deaths were among 18 reported in Gaza on Monday, the start of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday capping the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. They said 70 people were injured.

Hamas officials blamed Israeli airstrikes for the blasts at the al-Shati camp, also called Beach Camp. An Israel Defense Forces spokesman denied firing at the neighborhood and attributed the explosions to failed rocket launches from Gaza militants.

Reporters said a shell or rocket also crashed into a medical facility in the Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, but that there was no serious damage, and that it was unclear whether there were any deaths or injuries from that strike. Hamas and the Israeli military each denied responsibility for the hit.

In a text message to journalists, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the strike on Beach Camp “a massacre” and vowed that “this crime will not break our will, and the occupation will pay a price.” Later, Hamas militants fired three rockets into southern Israel, as revenge, they said.

Five Israeli soldiers were also killed Monday — four on the Israeli side of the border who were hit by mortar shell fire from Gaza and a fifth who was fighting Gaza militants east of Khan Younis.

The latest bloodshed occurred as international efforts to end the devastating war had been intensifying. Early Monday, the U.N. Security Council called for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.”

The conflict has killed more than 1,060 people in Gaza, more than 70 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations. Israel has lost 48 soldiers, the largest toll since its 2006 war with Lebanon. Hamas mortar and rocket attacks from Gaza have slain two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel.

There were signs of rising hostilities Monday evening. Israeli media reported that militants had sneaked into southern Israel via a tunnel. The reports said there was an exchange of fire, and that five militants were killed.

In an emergency meeting that stretched into early Monday, the U.N. Security Council urged Israel and Hamas to “accept and fully implement the humanitarian cease-fire into the Eid period and beyond,” allowing for delivery of urgently needed assistance to Palestinians, who cannot leave the territory.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again appealed to Israel and Hamas to end the bloodshed. But Mr. Netanyahu heaped scorn on the U.N. statement, saying it focused on “the needs of a murderous terrorist organization that is attacking Israeli civilians and does not address Israel’s security needs, including the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.” In a phone conversation, Mr. Netanyahu told Mr. Ban that the United Nations had ignored Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians and the group’s use of civilians as human shields.


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