By Kristina Wong - 07/22/14 11:09 AM EDT
The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. on Tuesday defended Israel's military campaign in Gaza against critics who point to the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties.
Israel is at the two-week mark of a military ground campaign against Hamas to destroy tunnels in Gaza. Officials say Hamas is using those tunnels to target Israel.
The Gaza Health Ministry reported on Monday that 576 Palestinians have been killed so far, and the United Nations has estimated that about 70 percent of those killed were civilians. Israel said 27 of its soldiers have been killed.
Dermer said Israel did not deliberately target civilians, but that Hamas was using civilians as human shields and turning schools into weapons depots and hospitals into military command centers.
Dermer said many operations are called off when civilians are seen as coming into harm's way.
"I was amazed being in the war room how much the legal officials of our military play a role in the real-time decisionmaking," he said.
"We should earn the admiration of the international community for the restraint we have shown," he added. "No military has done what the Israelis have done to avoid civilian casualties."
Dermer said the Iron Dome missile defense system, funded by the U.S., has actually saved Palestinian lives, because it helped destroy rockets headed toward Israel, allowing Israel to show greater restraint in its military operations.
"It's given Israeli leadership time and space to make more calibrated decisions," he said.
Meanwhile, U.S. and international diplomats are in the region to pursue a cease-fire. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Egypt, and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Israel.
Hamas is demanding that Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza, and that Israel release several hundred Palestinians detained last month during a search for three Jewish teenagers that were later found dead.
Dermer said the goal of the military operation is "peace and quiet for the people of Israel."
"Quiet would be met with quiet," he said, quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Dermer demurred when asked if there was a chance that a cease-fire would end the military campaign before the tunnels are destroyed.
"If we can achieve a sustained peace and quiet for Israel, then that's what we're looking to do," he responded.