Prime minister tells U.K. foreign secretary: We will do whatever it takes to protect Israel's citizens • As PM speaks, Hamas fires rockets into central Israel, aiming for airport • IDF death toll rises to 32 • Yaakov Peri: Truce unlikely by weekend.
"The IDF is continuing to hit Hamas and terror organizations," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at the start of their meeting on Thursday."We launched this operation to restore calm for the citizens of Israel, and we will restore it. We launched a ground invasion first to address the threat of terror tunnels, and that threat has been addressed. There is no 100 percent guarantee, but the IDF has made impressive gains and we are moving ahead with this operation."
"We will do whatever it takes to protect the citizens of Israel," Netanyahu added, thanking the citizens of Israel for their support. "It warms all of our hearts and gives us the strength to complete our mission," he said.
Credit: Benny Pleban
While Netanyahu spoke, Gaza terrorists fired a barrage of rockets into central Israel. The Hamas military wing claimed responsibility for the rockets, and said that the rockets were aimed at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, where flights were beginning to resume after a 36-hour Federal Aviation Administration flight ban and consequent wave of cancellations.
No injuries or damage were reported as the Iron Dome prevented the rockets from striking populated areas. Rocket parts and shrapnel did however land in various spots in Petach Tikva and Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile, a cease-fire agreement remained elusive despite intensive mediation bids.
Israel says it needs more time to eradicate cross-border tunnels used by Hamas for attacks, while Hamas is demanding the blockade on the Gaza Strip be lifted.
With Washington's encouragement, Egypt has been trying to mediate a limited humanitarian cease-fire. One Cairo official said on Wednesday that it could go into effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam's biggest annual celebration, which follows the fasting month of Ramadan.
But a senior U.S. official described any truce by the weekend as unlikely, as did an Israeli cabinet minister who said the hunt for tunnels would take at least four days to complete.
"I do not see a cease-fire in the coming days where the Israel Defense Forces leave," Science and Technology Minister Yaakov Peri, a former security chief who advises Israel's top strategic decision-makers, told Israeli news site Walla. "Even if there is a humanitarian truce, we will continue tackling the tunnels."
The death toll in Gaza reached 718 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire and other pre-dawn operations killed 26 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal enclave, including six members of the same family, Palestinian health officials said.
Israel has lost 32 soldiers in clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas attackers who have crossed into Israel via tunnels. Rocket and mortar shelling by Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas has killed three civilians in Israel.
Though the Iron Dome has shot down most of the rockets fired from Gaza that threatened populated areas, one that came close to Ben-Gurion International Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to bar American flights there.
The ensuing wave of cancellations by foreign airlines emptied Israel's usually bustling international gateway and hurt its hi-tech economy at the height of summer tourist season. It was hailed as a victory by Hamas, and prompted an appeal by Netanyahu for the Obama administration to intervene.
The FAA said that after reviewing the security situation it had canceled the ban late on Wednesday.
In what appeared to be let-up in Palestinian attacks, the Israeli military said on Thursday only one rocket had been launched from Gaza overnight. It fell wide, causing no damage.
Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said his fighters had made gains against Israel and voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza's 1.8 million people, who are also under an embargo by next-door Egypt.
"Let's agree first on the demands and on implementing them, and then we can agree on the zero hour for a cease-fire. ... We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade. ... We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not be broken by it," Mashaal said on Wednesday in Qatar.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry returned to Egypt on Wednesday after meeting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah and with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
"We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done," said Kerry, on one of his busiest regional visits since Netanyahu called off U.S.-sponsored peace talks over Abbas' power-share deal with Hamas in April.
Gaza has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.
Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist, balked at Egypt's proposal for an unconditional truce, saying its conditions had to be met in full before any end to the conflict. Israel briefly held fire last week at Cairo's behest.
The current war is exacting a heavy toll on Gaza. Palestinian officials say at least 475 houses have been destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals have also suffered varying degrees of damage.
Israel says one of its soldiers is missing in Gaza, but the military presumes he is dead. Hamas says it has captured him, but has not released a picture of him in their hands.
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