herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Israel vows to destroy Hamas attack tunnels

Israel pressed ahead with its Gaza offensive saying it was days from achieving its core goal of destroying all Islamist guerrilla cross-border attack tunnels, but a soaring Palestinian civilian toll has triggered international alarm.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's security cabinet approved continuing the assault launched on July 8 in response to a surge of rocket attacks by Gaza's dominant Hamas Islamists. Israel also sent a delegation to Egypt, which has been trying, with Washington's blessing, to broker a ceasefire.

A military source said some 16,000 reservists were being called up at short notice in the coming hours to relieve a similar number who would be stood down.

Gaza officials say at least 1,361 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered enclave and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed in Palestinian shelling in Israel.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was incensed on yesterday at the deaths of at least 15 Palestinians among thousands sheltering at a school whose UN administrator said appeared to have been hit by Israeli artillery.

"It is outrageous. It is unjustifiable. And it demands accountability and justice," Ban said.

Israel said its forces were attacked by guerrillas near the school, in northern Jabalya, and had fired back. It did not comment immediately on another incident, in nearby Shejaia, in which Palestinian officials said 17 people were killed by Israeli shelling near a produce market.

Rolling Israeli ground assaults on residential areas, prefaced by mass warnings to evacuate, have displaced more than 200,000 of Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians. The tiny territory's infrastructure is in ruins, with power and water outages.

Both sides have voiced openness to a truce but their terms diverge dramatically. Israel wants Gaza stripped of infiltration tunnels and rocket stocks. Hamas rules that out, and seeks an end to a crippling Gaza blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt,which view the Palestinian Islamists as a security threat.

In the absence of a deal, Israel has ordered its ground forces to focus on locating and destroying a warren of tunnels through which Hamas has menaced its southern towns and army bases.

Major General Sami Turgeman, chief of Israeli forces in Gaza, said on Wednesday they were "but a few days away from destroying all the attack tunnels". The army said 32 of the secret passages had been found so far and half of them blown up.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed on Wednesday by a booby trap detonated as they uncovered a tunnel shaft.

hnews@herald.ie

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