Netanyahu vows to destroy Hamas tunnels in Gaza ‘with or without a cease-fire’

Israel calls up 16,000 more reservists as Washington agrees to restock Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition, despite rising concerns over the death toll in Gaza

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 31 July, 2014, 6:56pm

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday the army would continue working to destroy tunnels used by Gaza militants for cross-border attacks with or without a ceasefire, after Israel mobilised 16,000 additional reservists to bolster forces fighting in Gaza

“Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission – with or without a ceasefire,” he said in a live address at the start of a cabinet meeting.

“So I will not accept any [truce] proposal that does not allow the IDF (army) to complete this work for the security of Israel’s citizens.”

Israel mobilised 16,000 additional reservists on Thursday to bolster forces fighting in Gaza as Washington gave its ally the go-ahead to raid stocks of emergency US weapons stored on Israeli soil.

The call-up, which raised the total number of Israeli reservists to 86,000, came shortly after Washington said it had agreed to restock Israel’s dwindling supplies of ammunition, despite rising concern over the death toll in Gaza, where more than 1,360 people have been killed.

Israel began its military offensive in Gaza on July 8 with the aim of stamping out persistent militant rocket fire on southern Israel, but expanded the operation by sending in ground troops on July 17 to destroy a sophisticated network of tunnels used by militants.

Since the operation began, Netanyahu has called for the Gaza Strip to be demilitarised and he said destroying the tunnels was a first step towards that.

“This is only the first stage in the demilitarisation of Gaza,” he said, indicating that Israel’s position on the need to destroy the tunnels had been accepted by Washington, Brussels and other key diplomatic players.

Even as troops have worked to destroy the tunnels, some of which have been booby trapped, militants have managed to use them to infiltrate southern Israel five times, Haaretz newspaper reported on Thursday.

This comes after the UN and the US sharply condemned the shelling of a UN school in Gaza, which killed 16 people and wounded scores, in an attack blamed on Israel.

Despite rising international calls for a halt to the bloodshed, the Israeli security cabinet decided on Wednesday to press on with the operation in Gaza just hours after troops had made a significant advance into the narrow enclave.

And the full cabinet was being briefed on the progress of the military operation on Wednesday morning in its first meeting since Israel sent ground troops in to Gaza on July 17, officials said.

Major General Sami Turgeman, head of the army’s southern command, said troops were “just days” away from completing a mission to destroy a network of tunnels used by militants for infiltrating southern Israel, media reports said .

At least 111 Palestinians were killed in Gaza on Wednesday, among them 17 who died in an Israeli strike on a crowded market place in the battered Shejaiya district as Israel observed a four-hour humanitarian lull in other parts of the crowded coastal strip.

Sixteen people were killed when at least two shells slammed into a UN school in Jabaliya refugee camp which was sheltering some 3,300 homeless Gazans, drawing a furious response from the United Nations.