Israel PM Netanyahu says Hamas will pay heavy price for more attacks
Israel will go on fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip even after the army completes its core mission of destroying the cross-border tunnels used by Palestinian militants to attack its territory, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
As Israeli television showed live footage of some tanks withdrawing from Gaza in an apparent winding down of the 25-day campaign, Netanyahu said Hamas would pay an "intolerable price" if it continued to attack Israel.
Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas, later escalating into ground incursions.
Shelling exchanges continued earlier today, pushing the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials up to 1,675, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 63 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian shelling has also killed three civilians in Israel.
Netanyahu's comments came as Israel signalled it was taking action to withdraw on its own terms, saying it would not attend talks in Cairo this weekend aimed at achieving a new truce.
In some areas of Gaza, witnesses saw Israeli tanks pulling back towards the border, while the Israeli military gave Palestinians who had fled one town the all-clear to return.
Israel's main goal in its incursion into Gaza last month was to destroy Hamas's network of tunnels, and the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) said they were close to achieving that.
More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up, the military said.
"Our understanding is that our objectives, most importantly the destruction of the tunnels, are close to completion," a military spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner, said.
Netanyahu said in a televised speech that military action would continue even after that goal is achieved.
"After completing the anti-tunnel operation, the IDF 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.
"PAY FOR EVERY MINUTE"
Hamas said it was absurd for Israel to claim to have destroyed all the tunnels. "Netanyahu will pay for every minute he spends carrying out more aggression against our people," a spokesman said.
Several ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that dominates the Gaza Strip, have failed to take hold or quickly collapsed, most recently on Friday after two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third went missing in an ambush.
Israel accused Hamas of seizing Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and the United States blamed the group for a "barbaric" breach of the truce. The United Nations was more guarded in its censure of Hamas but demanded Goldin's release.
Israeli forces have been searching for Goldin in southern Gaza, but his family expressed alarm at reports of an Israeli pull-out.
"I demand that the State of Israel not leave Gaza until it brings my son home," Goldin's mother, Hedva, told reporters.