JERUSALEM, Israel (PNN) - July 28, 2014 - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday his country must prepare for a long conflict in the Gaza Strip, squashing any hopes of a swift end to fighting that has already cost more than 1,000 lives.
In a televised address, a grim-faced Netanyahu said that any solution to the crisis would require the demilitarization of the Palestinian territory, which is controlled by Hamas Islamists and their militant allies.
“We will not finish the mission, we will not finish the operation without neutralizing the tunnels, which have the sole purpose of destroying our citizens, killing our children,” Netanyahu said, adding that it had been a “painful day”.
More than 1,000 Gazans, most of them civilians, have died in the three-week-old conflict. Israel has lost 52 soldiers to Gaza fighting and another three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling.
Hamas and Israel blamed each other for an explosion at a Gaza park Monday that killed at least 10 Palestinians - including nine children playing on a swing - in a horrific scene that underscored the heavy price civilians are paying in the conflict.
Israel’s military said rockets misfired by Gaza militants were responsible, while Gaza officials blamed Israeli air strikes.
The blast took place on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Earlier, the Israeli army said Palestinian fighters had slipped across the border from the Gaza Strip, with media reporting casualties in an ensuing gun battle.
Israel says four soldiers were killed in a mortar attack earlier Monday. It says another five soldiers were killed in combat in Gaza.
Israel’s military said it struck two rocket launchers and a rocket manufacturing facility in central and northern Gaza after a rocket hit southern Israel earlier in the day. The rocket caused no damage or injuries.
Amid a slowdown in the fighting, rescue teams uncovered five bodies in a village east of Khan Younis, said Saed al-Saoudi, the commander of the Civil Defense in Gaza. Earlier Monday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said it deployed 15 ambulances to the area to search for bodies amid the rubble.
The Israeli military also said it dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Monday afternoon, warning Palestinian residents in the coastal strip that Israel “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli civilians, and the consequences will be severe.”
In New York, an emergency meeting of the U.N Security Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.” While it was the Council’s strongest statement yet on the Gaza war, it was not a resolution and therefore not binding.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to a statement from his office, in which he voiced his dismay with the announcement. “It does not include a response to Israel’s security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip,” he said.
Palestinian UN ambassador Riyad Mansour also did not hide his disappointment.
He said the Council should have adopted a strong and legally binding resolution a long time ago demanding an immediate halt to Israel’s aggression, providing the Palestinian people with protection and lifting the siege in the Gaza Strip so goods and people can move freely.
“You cannot keep 1.8 million Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip in this huge prison,” Mansour told reporters. “That is a recipe for disaster. It is inhumane, and it has to be stopped and it has to be lifted.”
Israeli U.N ambassador Ron Prosor also criticized the statement, though from a very different perspective: He said it lacked balance because it didn’t mention Hamas, the firing of rockets into Israel or Israel’s right to defend itself.
The Security Council’s presidential statement called on Israel and Hamas “to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire, based on the Egyptian initiative.”