JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday launched a vigorous defence of Israel’s month-long conflict in Gaza as “justified” and “proportionate”, blaming Hamas for the heavy Palestinian civilian death toll.
“I think it was justified. I think it was proportionate and that doesn’t in any way take away the deep regret we have for the loss of a single civilian casualty,” he told a news conference in Jerusalem in response to a question from the US news channel CNN.
He said it would have been disproportionate to not “defend your people and giving the terrorists a licence
In his first public remarks since a 72-hour ceasefire came into effect on Tuesday, Netanyahu told local and foreign journalists that the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas was to blame for the heavy destruction and civilian casualties.
“The tragedy of Gaza is that is it ruled by Hamas,” he said.
Netanyahu showed reporters aerial images of homes and of a UN-run school, from which he said Hamas fired mortars and rockets during the conflict.
Israel lost 67 people during the fighting — 64 soldiers and three civilians, one of them a Thai worker. Palestinian medics said 1,875 Gazans died, including 430 children and 243 women. Netanyahu said Hamas fighters deliberately increased the death toll by hiding behind human shields, and firing rockets towards Israel from civilian areas.
He said it would have been a “mistake” not to allow Israel to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks because the Palestinian fighters allegedly fired from mosques and schools.
“If this were to happen, more and more civilians will die around the world because this is a testing period,” he said.
“Can a terrorist organisation fire thousands of rockets at the cities of a democracy?”
Netanyahu called on the international community, much of which has been critical of Israel over the devastation and human suffering in Gaza, to ostracise Hamas “for its callous abuse of civilians.”