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Netanyahu says Israel aims to deter but could ‘conquer’ Hamas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel's bombing of Gaza targets aims to deter Hamas but he did not rule out a campaign to "conquer" the enclave's Islamist rulers.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he shows a slideshow during a briefing to ambassadors to Israel at the Hakirya military base in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, May 19, 2021. – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that Israel’s aerial bombing campaign on the Gaza Strip was aimed at deterring Hamas, but did not rule out conquering the enclave’s Islamist rulers. “There are only two ways that you can deal with them (Hamas): You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything,” Netanyahu told a group a foreign ambassadors in Tel Aviv. (Photo by Sebastian Scheiner / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel’s bombing of Gaza targets aims to deter Hamas but he did not rule out a campaign to “conquer” the enclave’s Islamist rulers.

Deafening air strikes and rocket fire once more shook Gaza in the conflict that has claimed 219 Palestinian lives according to the Gaza health ministry and killed 12 people in Israel according to Israeli police.

While an international diplomatic push aims to end the worst bloodshed in years, Netanyahu issued another tough threat against the armed group that has fired thousands of rockets at Israel since May 10.

“There are only two ways that you can deal with them,” Netanyahu told a group of foreign ambassadors.

“You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything.”

The goal is to “degrade Hamas’ capabilities, their terror capabilities, and degrade their will,” Netanyahu said.

An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, however said in a separate briefing that Israel is now assessing at what stage it may stop its military campaign.

“We are looking at when is the right moment for a ceasefire,” said the source.

Israel was evaluating whether its objective of degrading Hamas’ capabilities had been achieved, the military source said, and “whether Hamas understands the message” that its rocket barrages towards Israel cannot recur.

Warplanes hit Gaza City again in the pre-dawn hours, as the Israeli military kept targeting militant leaders and infrastructure in the crowded enclave which has been under Israeli blockade for nearly 15 years.

Gaza mother-of-seven Randa Abu Sultan, 45, recounted how her family crowded into one room to sit out another night of fear.

“We’re all terrified by the sound of explosions, missiles and fighter jets,” she said. “My four-year-old son tells me he’s scared that if he falls asleep, he’ll wake up to find us dead.”

– ‘Blows they didn’t expect’ –
The United States, a key Israel ally, has repeatedly blocked adoption of a joint UN Security Council statement calling for a halt to hostilities.

US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu on Monday that he backs having a ceasefire but stopped short of openly demanding a truce.

A UN Security Council meeting broke up without issuing a statement late Tuesday, but France then said it had proposed a resolution calling for a ceasefire, in coordination with Egypt and Jordan.

Beijing’s ambassador to the UN, Zhang Jun, told reporters his team had heard the French ceasefire proposal and China was “supportive”.

Another diplomat said the proposal would seek to end hostilities, but also “allow humanitarian access”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has also backed mounting calls for a ceasefire and urged the Israeli military to act in a “proportionate” manner.

Humanitarian crisis
Hamas has launched around 3,700 rockets at Israel since May 10, prompting many people living in communities near the border to hide in bomb shelters virtually around the clock.

Palestinian rocket fire has killed 12 people in Israel, including one Indian and two Thai nationals, and injured 333, Israeli authorities said.

Overnight, armed groups fired 50 rockets towards southern Israel, 10 of which fell short and struck inside Gaza, the Israeli military said.

The Israeli army meanwhile said it had attacked “40 underground Hamas targets” overnight in the southern Gaza Strip.

Israeli air strikes have killed at least 219 people in Gaza, including 63 children, and wounded 1,530, according to health ministry figures.

In the enclave’s north, a journalist working for Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa radio was killed when an Israeli strike hit his home, authorities said.

Israel’s bombing campaign has also left Gaza’s two million population desperate for relief.

Hospitals have been overwhelmed by patients, there are frequent blackouts and sewage from broken pipes has flooded some areas.

Some 72,000 civilians have fled their homes, seeking refuge in UN-run schools and other public buildings, the United Nations says.

‘Day of anger’
The latest escalation was sparked after clashes broke out at East Jerusalem’s flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

This followed violence over the planned evictions of Palestinian families from homes in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah district.

The conflict has since sparked mob violence between Jews and Israeli Arabs, and sharply heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank.

Palestinians clashed with police in multiple towns and in annexed east Jerusalem Tuesday after Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement had called for a “day of anger”.

The Palestinian health ministry said Israeli forces shot dead four Palestinians, including one the Israeli army said had attempted to attack soldiers.

The death brought to 24 the Palestinians killed in the West Bank since May 10.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said its teams had treated more than 150 people in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including 35 with bullet wounds.

The Israeli army said troops came under fire north of Ramallah, and two of its soldiers were wounded.