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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that all the civilian deaths in the Gaza Strip ‘fall on [Hamas’s] shoulders,’ as the death toll rises and Israeli forces increase firepower in the territory.
Netanyahu deflected criticism that Israel was acting too heavy-handedly and called actions by Hamas a “double war crime.”
“What Hamas is doing, very cynically, is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket caches, its terror tunnels in homes, hospitals and schools. When we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use civilians as human shields,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
“All civilian deaths, as regrettable as they are, fall on their shoulders,” he added.
Many of the more than 400 deaths in the Gaza Strip have been civilians, according to media reports.
Netanyahu said that Israel has been reaching out to people in Gaza with text messages, calls to cell phones and leaflets asking them to leave the territory. Hamas, he said, tells the civilians to stay.
“They want to have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions,” he told George Stephanopoulos, who had asked if the prime minister worried about Israel’s image in the world.
“They'll always look at the last reel of the movie, they won't see the fact that our forces are coming and they're trying to ferret out the rocketeers, trying to shut the tunnels at their source,” Netanyahu said.
Stephanopoulos mentioned that Israel had been attacking the territory from all sides, asking where people could flee.
“They have paths to leave, that's not an issue,” Netanyahu replied.
Images of dead and bloodied children in Gaza have gone viral on the Internet, with some suggesting that Israel is going too far in its effort to combat Hamas.
As the fighting waged into its 14th day, three Israeli soldiers and two civilians have died.
Several attempts at a ceasefire have failed, mostly triggered by Hamas fighters firing rockets into Israel.
“We didn't seek this escalation. Hamas forced it on us. They started rocketing our cities, steadily increasing the fire,” Netanyahu said on CNN on Sunday. “I called for de-escalation. They refused. I accepted an Egyptian cease-fire proposal backed up by the Arab League and the U.N. They refused.”
However, the Red Cross requested a two-hour "humanitarian window" in an eastern Gaza neighborhood on Sunday morning so that wounded could be treated and dead could be removed. The battle waged on in other areas of the territory.
Netanyahu told Wolf Blitzer on CNN’s “State of the Union” that officially reoccupying the Gaza Strip – which Israel had given to the Palestinians in 2005, while maintaining a heavy blockade around the territory – is still an option.
“I support taking whatever action is necessary to stop this insane situation,” Netanyahu said.