Israel’s deputy foreign minister has denied knowing who was responsible for the shelling of a UN-run school in Gaza, claiming the damage could have been caused by a Hamas rocket.
Tzachi Hanegbi said Israel regretted all deaths in the escalating conflict, but continued to lay the blame at the door of Hamas.
A UN school in Gaza crowded with hundreds of Palestinians seeking refuge from fierce fighting came under fire yesterday, killing at least 15 civilians.
Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Mr Hanegbi said: “We have the knowledge about 2,000 rockets shot at us, most of them from the midst of Palestinian civilian concentrations.
“Whilst we have to take precautions to defend ourselves, sometimes there are mistakes.
“I don’t know who has caused this mistake – some say it is an Israeli mistake, maybe it was a Palestinian mistake, because, you know, every six rockets Hamas is shooting at us falls in Gaza, unfortunately for them.
“I don’t have any knowledge about the specific bomb that fell. We are very sorry for each and everyone’s life paying the price for this tragedy.”
It was put to Mr Hanegbi that Israel’s actions were not making the country more secure, but he insisted the military action had left Hamas more isolated than ever before.
He said: “We are losing our boys in this crazy, stupid, unjustified confrontation. Israel left the Gaza strip, completely, in 2005. Since then there has been no Israeli presence – not even one.
“We took 10,000 Israelis that had lived there for decades, we took them out because we wanted them to have their freedom and independence.
“What was the result? Hamas just took over, killed the people of the Palestinian Authority… shot them in the knees, threw them from the 17th floor of the houses of Gaza and made it into an Iranian kingdom of terrorism.
“Since then, for so many years, they are shooting at us without any need, without any provocation.
“Israel showed great restraint, we begged them not to shoot, and we did not have any other option. Israeli leaders must protect the people.”
Mr Hanegbi said Israel had a series of demands which could be negotiated like “normal, sane” countries do to resolve conflicts.
“But the firing must stop,” he insisted.
“If they stop firing rockets at Israeli civilians, we will immediately put an end to our retaliation.”
Yesterday, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called for a swift ceasefire between Israeland Hamas as he joined international diplomatic efforts to end the conflict in Gaza amid growing concern at the rising civilian death toll.
At a joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mr Hammond put the blame for the latest outbreak of fighting firmly on Hamas while reiterating Britain’s support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
He said: “Britain has also been very clear that Israel has the right to defend itself and its citizens, but we are gravely concerned by the ongoing heavy level of civilian casualties. We want to see a ceasefire quickly agreed.”