Washington — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday defended his country's continuing, arguing Israel will do "whatever it takes to restore order" in the region and bring an end to rocket attacks by Hamas.
"I think any country has to defend itself. It has a natural right of self-defense," Netanyahu said in an interview with "Face the Nation" on Sunday. "We'll do whatever it takes to restore order and quiet and the security of our people and deterrence. We're trying to degrade Hamas' terrorist abilities and to degrade their will to do this again. So it'll take some time. I hope it won't take long, but it's not immediate."
Hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians are at their most deadly in years, with the most recent outbreak of violence starting in east Jerusalem earlier this month.
The Palestinian Ministry of Health reports more than 180 Palestinians have been killed in the clashes, including 52 children, with another 1,200 wounded. Eight Israelis have been killed, including two children. Hamas and other militant groups have fired roughly 2,900 rockets into Israeli territory, and the Israeli military said its air defenses intercepted 1,150 of those rockets.
While diplomatic efforts are underway to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, with the Biden administration sending an envoy to urge de-escalation, Netanyahu said Israel will not allow the militant group to "just fire rockets and then sit back and enjoy immunity."
"We are targeting a terrorist organization that is targeting our civilians and hiding behind their civilians, using them as human shields," he said. "We're doing everything we can to hit the terrorists themselves, their rockets, their rocket caches and their arms. But we're not going to just let them get away with it. Neither would you. I mean, just imagine what would have happened if you had 2,900 rockets fired on Washington and New York and others. I think you would understand our position."
This weekend saw the deadliest attacks in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, with Israeli airstrikes on Saturday targeting several office and residential buildings in Gaza City, including one tower that housed offices for The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, as well as apartments. The Israeli military said the building contained Hamas military assets, and journalists received warnings ahead of time, allowing them to evacuate. Israeli airstrikes in Gaza on Sunday killed more than three dozen people and flattened three buildings.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Saturday that Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt and "offered his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world." President Biden also spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday, as well as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the White House said.
The Jerusalem Post reported Sunday that Israeli officials showed the U.S. a "smoking gun" proving Hamas worked out of the building, though CBS News has not confirmed that report. Netanyahu told "Face the Nation" that Israel passed the information to the U.S. through intelligence services.
"We share with our American friends all that intelligence and here's the intelligence we had — it's about Palestinian terrorist, an intelligence office for the Palestinian terrorist organization housed in that building that plots and organizes the terror attacks against Israeli civilians. So it's a perfectly legitimate target," he said. "And I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure that there were no civilian injuries. In fact, no deaths, no injuries whatsoever."
Netanyahu said Israel is trying to target Hamas with "as great precision as we can" to limit the civilian casualties and accused Hamas of attacking Israel from civilian neighborhoods, schools, homes and office buildings.
"They're happy with their own civilian casualties because it gets the international community to focus their attacks on Israel instead of Hamas," he said. "That's wrong. It's both wrong and unproductive. Because actually what it does is prolong the conflict and escalate and increase the number of casualties that happen as a result of the continuation of the conflict."
Still, Blinken has said Israel has an "extra burden" to avoid civilian casualties. Netanyahu said he believes Israel is meeting that responsibility.
"There has to be a measure of fairness. There has to be a measure of reasonableness in projecting this kind of criticism against the Israeli army that is second to none in seeking to minimize civilian casualties while protecting our own civilians," he said.
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