Middle East

Israel PM Netanyahu: Gaza operation to go on

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Media captionIsraeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "Israel will do whatever it must do to protect its people"

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has said the operation in Gaza will continue according to Israel's security needs, even after Hamas tunnels are destroyed.

Mr Netanyahu said the militant group would pay an "intolerable price" for attacks on Israel.

His words came as hopes faded for talks on a truce going ahead in Egypt.

Some 1,670 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 65 Israelis, all but two soldiers, have died since the conflict began more than three weeks ago.

A Thai worker was also killed in Israel. Some 8,900 Palestinians have also been injured, the health ministry in Gaza says.

Exchanges of fire are continuing in Gaza, as Israel continues to hunt for a soldier, Hadar Goldin, who went missing on Friday.

Meanwhile thousands of people protested against the Israeli offensive outside the White House in Washington, chanting slogans such as "End US aid to Israel" and "Israel out of Palestine".

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Media captionThe BBC's Jon Donnison in Gaza: "Nobody's smiling now"

Israel began an aerial campaign on 8 July with the intention of halting rocket attacks from Gaza.

It later launched ground operations to target rocket launching sites and tunnels used by militants to infiltrate Israel.

There have been numerous attempts to arrange ceasefires, but none have lasted.

Both sides have repeatedly accused the other of breaking truce agreements.

Israel's military said earlier on Saturday that it was close to its objective of destroying the Hamas tunnels.

And unnamed Israeli officials suggested that Israel might make a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza after the tunnels were destroyed.

But speaking at a televised news conference, Mr Netanyahu said that this would not be the end of the Gaza campaign.

"After completing the anti-tunnel operation, the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) will act and continue to act, in accordance with our security needs and only according to our defence needs, until we achieve our objective of restoring security to you, Israel's citizens," he said.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Missing soldier Hadar Goldin's sister and fiancee appealed for his return
Image copyright AFP
Image caption A Palestinian man inspects damage from an Israeli air strike in Jabalia, northern Gaza
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Israeli tanks were involved in Gaza operations on Saturday
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Several people have been killed in air strikes around the southern town of Rafah
Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters called for an end to the Israeli offensive

He said Israel would not accept continued attacks on its citizens from Gaza.

"Hamas again mistakenly believes that the people of Israel do not have the will and determination to fight them and Hamas again will learn the hard way that Israel will do whatever it must do to protect its people," he said.

However, in an apparent response to Mr Netanyahu, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the Islamist movement would "continue our resistance until we achieve our goals", reports said.

Palestinian health officials say that about 200 people have died since a humanitarian truce broke down within just a few hours on Friday, many of them in a series of air strikes on the southern town of Rafah.

Israel blames Hamas for the breakdown of the ceasefire, saying militants ambushed its troops leading to the capture of 2nd Lt Goldin. Hamas maintains the incident happened before the ceasefire began.

Israel is searching for the missing soldier, but Hamas military wing the Qassam Brigades said it believed he had been killed.

In a news conference on Saturday Lt Goldin's family appealed to the military not to leave Gaza without finding him.

The Israeli military said that 74 rockets were fired into Israel on Saturday, including at Tel Aviv.

Analysis: Mark Lowen, BBC News, Cairo

Image copyright Reuters

The Cairo talks had been billed as the best chance yet to bring warring parties in Gaza to the table for a sustainable solution. But in the end, Israel will not send a delegation to Cairo.

Even without Israel's attendance, talks will be complicated by a host of conflicting sympathies and regional tensions.

Since the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown and Mohammed Morsi deposed last year, the Egyptian government of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi sees Hamas, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, as a terrorist organisation.

Turkey and Qatar, the two regional negotiators, now have poor relations with Egypt due to their support for the Brotherhood.

And of course the US refuses to talk directly to Hamas. Amidst this complex atmosphere full of animosity, it's unsurprising that there's little optimism here about a diplomatic end to this crisis.

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