IDF calls up additional 16,000 reservists • Three IDF troops killed in booby-trapped UNRWA clinic in Khan Younis, raising IDF death toll to 56 • Defense minister: We will reach all tunnels, even if it means going into areas not previously entered.
Lilach Shoval, Yael Branovsky, Daniel Siryoti, Yoni Hirsch, Shlomo Cesana, Israel Hayom Staff and News Agencies
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that the Israel Defense Forces will dismantle the Hamas tunnel network in the Gaza Strip "with or without a cease-fire."
Speaking at the start of an emergency cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv as Operation Protective Edge entered its 24th day, Netanyahu said that "the IDF will continue to operate in Gaza with full force. The soldiers are completing their mission to neutralize the terror tunnels."
"Using their tunnel capability, Hamas could have kidnapped and murdered civilians and soldiers by simultaneously attacking from multiple tunnels. It is this capability that we are destroying," the prime minister said.
"As I said at the start of the operation, there are no 100 percent guarantees, but our forces are making impressive gains in the field. The operation is moving ahead at full speed as we speak. So far we have neutralized dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire.
"I will not agree to any proposal that would prevent the IDF from completing this important mission. Hamas has sustained tough blows from the IDF and the Shin Bet security agency, which are working in close coordination with one another. We have debilitated thousands of terror targets.
"These gains are only the first step in the demilitarization of Gaza. The United States, the European Union and others in the international community have now accepted our position, but I have to say that it wasn't easy to do. It took a lot of hard work, but we achieved it," Netanyahu said.
On Wednesday, the Diplomatic-Security Cabinet approved continuing the military operation in Gaza. The IDF is calling up an additional 16,000 reservists, joining around 70,000 reservists already mobilized.
Meanwhile, three Israeli soldiers were killed and 14 others were wounded in an explosion in a booby-trapped building in the Khan Younis neighborhood of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. The incident raised the IDF death toll in Operation Protective Edge to 56.
The soldiers, from the elite Maglan unit, had discovered a tunnel shaft inside a building used as a United Nations Relief Works Agency health clinic. They were inside the building when there was an explosion, which caused the building to collapse onto the soldiers.
Those killed were identified as Staff Sgt. Matan Gotlib, 21, from Rishon Lezion, Staff Sgt. Omer Hay, 21, from Savyon, and Staff Sgt. Guy Algranati, 20, from Tel Aviv.
"They were on the second floor of the building when they heard an explosion and the floor simply collapsed. After the collapse, there was also an exchange of fire. It is unclear what caused the explosion, but apparently the terrorists knew they were there," the father of one of the wounded soldiers said.
In a separate incident on Wednesday, an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israeli tank in the Nahal Oz area near the Gaza border. One soldier was lightly wounded.
Also on Wednesday, two Combat Engineering Corps soldiers were lightly wounded in Gaza when an anti-tank missile struck an IDF D9 bulldozer.
Over the past day, the IDF has blown up five tunnels in Gaza. The IDF also struck around 100 other targets in Gaza and ground forces advanced into a number of areas that had not been entered previously.
From 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, the IDF observed a humanitarian truce in areas of Gaza where no operational activities were taking place. Nevertheless, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel during the four-hour truce.
GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Sami Turgeman said on Wednesday, "We're nearing the completion of the task. We're only a few days away from destroying the tunnels we knew about before the operation and I promise that we will destroy the tunnels we've uncovered during the operation."
Turgeman said it had taken the IDF two weeks to destroy tunnels that Hamas has worked on for four years.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said on Wednesday that the military operation in Gaza was continuing "at full strength."
"We are both continuing to make satisfactory progress in dealing with the terror tunnels and we are adding to the very heavy price exacted from Hamas," Ya'alon said.
Ya'alon said hundreds of Hamas terrorists have been killed and much Hamas infrastructure -- weaponry, institutions, command centers, tunnels and terrorists' homes -- has been destroyed.
"We're not limiting ourselves in terms of time or place, we're reaching every place where we know there are tunnels or shafts, even if this requires us to go into areas we have not previously entered. All operational options are on the table. The operation is being carried out and managed responsibly and judiciously, with the purpose of restoring quiet and security to the south in particular, as well as the other parts of Israel."
The Palestinian death toll in Operation Protective Edge has risen to more than 1,300. On Wednesday, IDF tank fire killed at least 16 Palestinians at a UNRWA school in the Jabaliya neighborhood of Gaza. The facility had been turned into a shelter for Gaza residents who have fled their homes due to the fighting in recent weeks.
Bernadette Meehan, a spokeswoman for the White House's National Security Council, condemned the shelling, saying, "We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N. designated shelters in Gaza."
Later on Wednesday, an Israeli strike killed at least 17 Palestinians at a market in the Shujaiyya neighborhood of Gaza.
The IDF said both incidents were being investigated.
Meehan also condemned "those responsible for hiding weapons in the United Nations facilities in Gaza," a reference to the repeated incidents during Operation Protective Edge in which rocket caches have been found at U.N. schools in Gaza.
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