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Netanyahu vows to destroy tunnels 'with or without ceasefire'

July 31, 2014 4:34 P.M. (Updated: July 31, 2014 10:13 P.M.)
GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that no ceasefire could stop Israel's army from continuing to destroy cross-border tunnels used by militants in the Gaza Strip.

"Until now, we have destroyed dozens of terror tunnels and we are determined to finish this mission -- with or without a ceasefire," Netanyahu said at the start of a special cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv.

"So I will not accept any (truce) proposal that does not allow the (army) to complete this work for the security of Israel's citizens."

His remarks came two days after Hamas released a video of its fighters climbing up through a tunnel into Israel and attacking a military base in a raid Israeli officials say claimed the lives of five soldiers.

Meanwhile, Palestinian resistance factions said they had carried out attacks on military targets throughout the Strip and in southern Israel.

Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades said its fighters targeted a group of Israeli forces who were inside a house in the Shujaiyya neighborhood of Gaza City that Israeli forces confirmed killed three, while Islamic Jihad's al-Quds Brigades said it had fired 107 rockets at soldiers in Kerem Shalom.

Additionally, the Popular Resistance Committees said its militants injured Israeli soldiers in a firefight, and the Popular Front for the Liberation for Palestine said its military wing, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, had targeted a military site in Eshkol with rockets.

Some 56 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the beginning of the ground invasion in Gaza, and the army called up 16,000 reservist soldiers Thursday as it planned to expand its attacks on militant groups in Gaza.

The extra 16,000 brought the total number of reserve troops called up to 86,000. Israel has not said how many troops are currently engaged in the fighting inside the Gaza Strip.

US restocks Israeli ammunition despite civilian death toll

And Washington said it had agreed to restock Israel's dwindling supplies of ammunition, despite increasing international concern over the death toll in Gaza, where more than 1,400 people have been killed in 24 days of violence.

According to figures from the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, some 85 percent percent of the victims are civilians. Of the civilian dead, some 345 were children.

Following the Israeli shelling of a UN school in northern Gaza on Wednesday which killed 16, UN human rights chief Navi Pillay slammed Israel for its attacks on homes, schools, and hospitals, accusing it of "deliberate defiance" of international law.

"None of this appears to me to be accidental," she told reporters.

"There appears to be deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel."

The shelling of the school also drew sharp condemnation from UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who described it as "reprehensible," as well as from Washington.

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

The Israeli offensive began on July 8 with the aim of ending militant rocket fire, but expanded on July 17 with a ground operation aimed at destroying a sophisticated network of tunnels leading under the border, which Israel has vowed to dismantle.

Despite a heavy death toll in Gaza on Wednesday when 111 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, including 17 who died in a strike on a crowded market place and another 16 at the UN school, the Pentagon confirmed it had granted an Israeli request for ammunition, including some from a stockpile stored by the US military on the ground in Israel for emergency use.

Rights group Amnesty International had urged Washington to halt arms supplies to Israel.

Meanwhile, there was no letup in bloodshed with over 24 Palestinians killed on Thursday, raising the overall Palestinian toll to 1,395, medics said.

Despite the loss of life, there appeared to be little Israeli appetite for a truce, with a senior official telling Haaretz newspaper that a ceasefire was not even close.

Nevertheless, an Israeli delegation traveled to Cairo late Wednesday to discuss a possible ceasefire with Egyptian officials, an official at the airport told AFP.

Cairo, a key mediator in previous truce negotiations between Israel and Hamas, was also expected to host a Palestinian delegation later this week.

AFP contributed to this report.
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