Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday issued a strong defense of his country’s military operation inside Gaza and blamed Hamas for civilian casualties.
“I think it was justified, I think it was proportionate. That doesn’t in any way take away from the deep regret of loss we have for a single civilian,” Netanyahu said at a press conference in Jerusalem for foreign news media.
“Every civilian casualty is a tragedy — a tragedy of Hamas’ own making,” he added. “Hamas must be held accountable for the tragic loss of life.”
Netanyahu explained that the cease-fire currently in effect was identical to a proposal Egypt offered in mid-July, which Israel had accepted and Hamas rejected.
When that proposal was first floated, Netanyahu said about 185 people had died in the conflict. If Hamas hadn’t rejected it then, Netanyahu argued, 90 percent of casualties could have been avoided.
The high Palestinian death toll led to strong international criticism, including from the Obama administration, which urged Israel to do more to prevent civilian deaths.
Israeli officials accused Hamas of using schools and hospitals to hide fighters and weapons. But critics said Israel had used disproportionate force in Gaza.
Netanyahu on Wednesday said “disproportionality” is “not acting to defend your people and giving the terrorists the license to kill.”
“Let’s imagine your country being attacked by 3,500 rockets. Your territory is infiltrated by death squads. What would you do? What would you demand that your government do to protect you and your family?”
Netanyahu first said he appreciated those who support Israel’s right to defend itself, but then blasted those who don’t allow Israel to exercise that right. He said Israel’s critics have said it doesn’t need to respond to these attacks from Hamas.
“That’s obviously a mistake. It’s a moral mistake. It’s an operational mistake. Because that would validate and legitimate Hamas’ use of human shields and it would hand an enormous victory to terrorists everywhere,” he said, comparing Hamas to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, al Qaeda and Boko Haram.
On Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian delegations are expected to hold indirect talks in Cairo. Egypt will mediate the negotiations, which will aim to both extend the three-day cease-fire that’s set to expire Thursday and to strike a more permanent agreement. A delegation from the United States is also expected to participate.
Netanyahu’s comments come a day after Israel Defense Forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip after officials said they had completed their operation to destroy Hamas-built tunnels that led into Israel. The ground operation lasted about three weeks.