Israel will destroy all of the tunnels that lead from Gaza to southern Israel, with or without a cease-fire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Israeli troops have destroyed dozens of tunnel branches so far during the 24-day operation in Gaza, Netanyahu said Thursday at the start of a special Cabinet meeting to discuss the security situation.
“We are determined to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire, and therefore I will not agree to any proposal that does not allow the IDF to complete this work which is important for the security of Israel’s citizens,” Netanyahu said.
The tunnels would have allowed Hamas to kidnap and murder Israeli soldiers and civilians, and to infiltrate Israeli territory to commit terrorist acts, Netanyahu said. adding, “We are destroying that capability now.
Netanyahu called on the public and government ministers to remain unified during this time of crisis.
“Do not harm the special unity that we have. Mind your words and be careful with your deeds. And, more than anything, government ministers must serve as personal examples for the public at large,” Netanyahu said.
“At this time, the nation expects all of us, especially government ministers, to unite behind the goal. When our soldiers are fighting the enemy and endangering their lives on behalf of us all, we owe them this. The more we are united, the stronger we are,” he said.
The prime minister stressed that the Israel Defense Forces is working to avoid hurting civilians in Gaza, calling the IDF “a moral army unlike any other.”
Some 10 rockets were fired at the southern Israeli city of Sderot during Netanyahu’s address.
IDF officials confirmed to Israeli media on Thursday morning that the military would call up an additional 16,000 reservists, bringing the total call up of reserve soldiers so far during Operation Protective Edge to 86,000.
On Wednesday, three Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed while uncovering the entrance to a tunnel shaft in a home in Gaza.
The house and the tunnel shaft were booby trapped with explosive devices that were detonated against the soldiers on Wednesday, the IDF said in a statement. Several soldiers also were injured in the incident.
The Israeli death toll in the current operation in Gaza stands at 53 soldiers and three civilians, including one foreign worker.
Also Wednesday, following the end of a five-hour Security Cabinet meeting, Israeli media cited unnamed diplomatic sources as saying that the Cabinet instructed the IDF to continue its action against Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza and to work to destroy the tunnels leading from Gaza to Israel.