Netanyahu vows to press Gaza offensive in face of criticism, casualties

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Saturday to press on with a military offensive in Gaza despite mounting civilian casualties and criticism.

Netanyahu pledged to wage the battle as long as necessary to stop Hamas, the ruling Palestinian authority, from launching rockets indiscriminately into Israel.

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Critics, including several American celebrities, have raised concern over the rising civilian death toll, especially among women and children.

"We promise the citizens of Israel to bring back calm and order, and we will continue to operate until this goal is reached no matter how much time it takes,'' Netanyahu said at a press conference.

He said Israeli defense forces would also continue to search for 2nd Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, who disappeared Friday morning during a deadly clash that broke a 72-hour ceasefire and left two Israeli soldiers dead.

Netanyahu told reporters that Hamas has paid “an extremely heavy price” in the fighting, which has targeted its strongholds and attempted to close underground tunnels that militants have used to launch surprise attacks in Israeli territory.

Earlier this week, an Israeli missile leveled the home of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Israeli forces have also destroyed Gaza’s only power plant, creating an electricity shortage for tens of thousands of residents.

“I’m interested to reach the goals of this operation militarily or politically. Of course I prefer to reach those goals in a political way but if it is not possible we will implement all the means we have at our disposal,” he said.

President Obama on Friday endorsed Israel’s right to defend itself but also voiced concern about innocent casualties. 

“I have been very clear throughout this crisis that Israel has a right to defend itself.  No country can tolerate missiles raining down on its cities and people having to rush to bomb shelters every 20 minutes or half hour,” he said.

“We've also been clear that innocent civilians in Gaza caught in the crossfire have to weigh on our conscience and we have to do more to protect them,” he added.

United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon this week criticized Israel for “pummeling” Gaza and described the collateral damage as “indiscriminate.”

Hollywood celebrities have also weighed in against the offensive. Actor Javier Bardem called it a “genocide. 

"In the horror that is happening in Gaza, there is no room for distance or neutrality," Bardem wrote in a letter to Spanish newspapers. "It is an occupational war and an extermination one against a town with no means, confined to minimum territory, without water and where hospitals, ambulances and children are targets and alleged terrorists.”