Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed acute pain at the loss of 13 Israeli soldiers in the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City on Sunday and said that the battle was yet another phase in the ongoing onslaught against the Jewish national home in Israel.
Netanyahu, in a press conference at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, described a unified front waging “the battle against terror, which is part of the historic campaign to harm us since the founding of the state.”
He went on to say that Israel had had good reason to believe that Hamas would refuse the initial Egyptian ceasefire agreement and that this “rather highly probable” assumption was part of the calculus that enabled Israel, which accepted the ceasefire, to garner widespread international legitimacy to act and allow the army the opportunity to deal with the “strategic effort” of tunnel attacks.
Netanyahu confirmed that he was in touch with a wide array of regional leaders, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and asserted that, while the conflict was still very much ongoing and might last many more days, it would “open new channels” in terms of future peace talks.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon addressed the press alongside Netanyahu. Asked if, in light of the tunnel threat, Israel would agree to a ceasefire in the coming days, he said that while there were likely many days of fighting ahead, “the lion’s share” of the counter-tunnel work would be done within the next two to three days.
The press conference, the second in which Netanyahu has taken questions — a rarity in recent years — during the current operation, came on the heels of a fierce battle in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shejaiya.
The facts of the battle in Shejaiya were partially cleared for publication on Sunday evening. Shortly after 1 a.m. on Sunday, an armed personnel carrier transporting seven Golani Brigade soldiers was struck by an anti-tank mine and then pinned under machine gun fire, the army said.
All seven soldiers were killed. Six more soldiers were killed in a series of confrontations, including three men from the Orev platoon, who were hit by an anti-tank missile. At least 67 Palestinians were killed, according to Hamas government figures.
“The IDF was forced to respond to heavy resistance by Hamas fighters, who had deployed within homes and tunnels in the town,” said Capt. Eytan Buchman, an active reservist in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.
“Our operation is against terrorist targets. In Shejaiya there’s production, storage, and launching of rockets at Israel,” a senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Sunday afternoon. “You also have there the terror tunnels used by Hamas terrorist operatives to infiltrate Israel in order to maim and to murder.”
The Israeli army knew for quite a while that it would have to enter Shejaiya, the official continued. “We urged the civilian population to evacuate for days, through leaflets, broadcasts, telephone calls. We urged them to evacuate, because we didn’t want to see innocent civilians caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas. But it is Hamas that ordered the civilians to stay put. It is Hamas that wanted those civilians to stay, so it would have a human shield for its terrorist machine.”
“We’re making efforts not to harm the residents of Gaza, and Hamas is making every effort that Gaza residents be harmed,” Netanyahu said. Thus, responsibility for harm to Gazans is “on Hamas, and Hamas alone.”