Israel will not stop its military operation in Gaza until “total silence” is achieved, the country’s defense minister said, as air strikes and rocket fire continued throughout Wednesday.
The Israeli army said it had killed four senior Hamas commanders and a dozen more Hamas operatives in a series of attacks. It said it had undertaken a “complex and first-of-its-kind operation” together with the Shin Bet security service.
The dead included Bassem Issa, the commander of the Gaza City Brigade, the head of the cyber command and the head of the Hamas production network, a statement from the security agency said.
“We eliminated the top Hamas commanders and this is just the beginning,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We will give them blows that they could not even dream of.”
The Israeli army would use “more and more force,” he added.
The Hamas armed wing later confirmed the deaths of a senior commander and several fighters. “The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades are proud of … the martyrdom of Commander Bassem Issa,” a statement said.
The killings are likely to toughen Hamas’s resolve to continue its rocket attacks on Israel. After the Israeli military operation, Hamas fired 50 rockets at Ashdod, a city near the Gaza border. Sirens sounded every few minutes Wednesday afternoon in towns and communities near the border.
As the death toll rose from the gravest conflict between Israel and the Palestinians for nine years throughout the day, international leaders called for restraint amid fears of a full-scale war.
But Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, bucked the trend by demanding in a phone call with Russian leader Vladimir Putin that the international community “teach Israel a strong and dissuasive lesson” about its conduct toward the Palestinians.
Amid reports that Egyptian mediators were trying to negotiate a deal to end the fighting, Benny Gantz, the Israeli defense minister, said: “Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve total silence can we speak of calm. “
He added: “We will not listen to moral preaching against our duty to protect the citizens of Israel.”
Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israeli army, said he expected the fighting to intensify. When asked about a possible ceasefire, he said: “I don’t think my commanders are aware or particularly interested.”
Israel’s cabinet was due to meet Wednesday night to discuss the worsening situation, and an Egyptian delegation was expected to enter Gaza for the ceasefire talks. Egypt has been a key player in mediating ceasefires in previous conflicts between Israel and Gaza.
Since Monday, the Israeli army has carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Gaza and Palestinian militant groups have fired multiple rocket shells at Israeli cities. Two high-rise buildings containing apartments and offices have been attacked in Gaza City.
The death toll in Gaza has risen by 48, including 14 children, according to the Health Ministry. More than 300 people have been injured. Six Israelis, including a child, were killed by rocket fire and dozens were injured.
Cities in Israel with mixed Jewish and Arab populations have also experienced violent clashes. In Lod, a city south of Tel Aviv, the mayor warned of a “civil war” and called on the Israeli army to restore calm. Police units moved from the West Bank to Lod as people threw stones and set fire to cars and buildings, including synagogues.
Tor Wennesland, the UN envoy for the Middle East, said leaders of all parties must “take responsibility for reducing escalation.”
Before briefing the 15-member UN security council on the crisis on Wednesday, their second such meeting in three days, Wennesland warned: “The cost of the war in Gaza is devastating and is being paid by ordinary people. . Stop fire immediately. We are escalating into a full-scale war. “
The security council session is likely to be a test of the Biden administration’s position on an issue it has tried to downplay. On Tuesday, he blocked a security council statement calling for a ceasefire.
In the UK, Boris Johnson urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders to “step back.” Calling on both sides to show restraint, the prime minister said: “The UK is deeply concerned about the increasing violence and civilian casualties and we want to see an urgent reduction in tensions.”
In parliament, Foreign Minister James Cleverly said that Israel had an absolute legitimate right to self-defense, but that its actions must be proportionate, cautious and dedicated to avoiding civilian casualties.
Urging an end to the cycle of violence and any kind of provocation, he described Hamas’s attacks on Israel as “acts of terrorism”, adding that “they must permanently end their incitement and firing of rockets against Israel.”
The UK government was in contact with the Israeli and Palestinian ministers in an attempt to defuse the crisis, he said.
Conservative MP Richard Graham said the Israeli army had “effectively attacked the al-Aqsa mosque, the center of Islamic worship in Jerusalem for hundreds of years.” Although the Hamas attacks were unacceptable, “one of the main causes of the increase in discontent was the number of illegal convictions in East Jerusalem,” he added.
In recent weeks, anger has risen over Israel’s half-century occupation, its deepening military grip on Palestinian life, and a wave of evictions and demolitions. In Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in near-night protests that escalated over the weekend and spread to other areas of Israel and the occupied West Bank.
Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, which were largely viewed as failures by both sides, with Hamas still in power and Israel continuing to maintain a crippling blockade.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism