Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Friday that Hamas would pay a “heavy price” for a mortar attack that resulted in the death of a 4-year-old boy near the Gaza border. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for an escalation of the Israel's campaign against Hamas.
The young boy, a resident of a small farming village named Nahal Oz, was killed when a mortar struck two cars in a parking lot, the Associated Press reports. He is the first child and the fourth Israeli civilian to die since the fighting between Israel and Hamas escalated on July 8.
Initially, the Israel Defense Forces accused Hamas of firing the mortar shell from the protection of a school used as a shelter by United Nations relief workers. Israel has repeatedly charged Hamas with using schools and other civilian-heavy areas as cover from which to conduct attacks without fear of reprisal.
However, the IDF later confirmed that Hamas operated the shelter in question. “After further review, the school the mortar was launched near from is not being used as a shelter by [United Nations Relief and Works Agency], but rather a shelter maintained by Hamas authorities in Gaza,” IDF spokesman Peter Lerner said in a statement.
As rockets and mortar attacks continue to menace Israelis after 46 days of fighting, the Israeli government has called on the military to accelerate its campaign against Hamas. To achieve an adequate victory, Foreign Minister Lieberman said, the IDF would have to utterly destroy Hamas’ capacity to fire rockets, create new projectiles or rebuild its tunnels into Israel, Haaretz reports.
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"There is no doubt that the Hamas can be defeated," Lieberman said. "The operation needs to end with the Hamas waving a white flag and begging for an unconditional cease-fire. In a cabinet meeting I presented a model for the defeating of the Hamas, and it doesn't have to take a month and a half nor even a week and a half. This is a model that I believe can be implemented."
In Gaza, Hamas-led militants executed 18 Palestinians who were accused of collaborating with Israel. The individuals, whose identities were not readily available, were killed in public as a warning against collaboration with the enemy -- an offense punishable by death under Palestinian law, the New York Times reports. The executions occurred just one day after intelligence obtained by Israeli operatives facilitated an airstrike that killed three of Hamas’ top military commanders.
“I think this has provoked, and let’s say triggered, this process,” said Hamdi Shaqqura, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, regarding the executions. “If you speak to any regular citizen in Gaza, nobody is looking with mercy on these people. Why? Because people are being bombarded. A lot of the blame for bombardment of specific places is being put on collaborators.”
Nearly 2,100 Palestinians and 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed during the fighting in Gaza. Some 500 of the Palestinian dead were children.