EU condemns UN shelter shelling, Netanyahu vows tunnel destruction

The European Union Thursday condemned strikes on a UN shelter and a crowded market in Gaza, as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy underground tunnels in the coastal enclave regardless of any possible ceasefire agreement.

The conflict in Gaza has killed 1,363 Palestinians since it began 24 days ago, Xinhua reported.

“It is unacceptable that innocent displaced civilians, who were taking shelter in designated UN areas after being called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes, have been killed,” the EU’s European External Action Services said in a statement Thursday.

The EU also called for an immediate investigation into “unacceptable” deaths of civilians in Gaza.

At least 20 people were killed Wednesday when the UN-run school, serving as a shelter in northern Gaza, was hit by Israeli air strikes, triggering outrage from around the world.

Also, 17 civilians were killed in Israeli strikes at an overcrowded market in Gaza Wednesday after Hamas rejected an Israeli four-hour truce offer.

Earlier, in a cabinet meeting held at the defence ministry in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said: “We are determined to complete this mission with or without a ceasefire.”

“I will not agree to any proposal that will not enable the Israeli military to complete this important task for the sake of Israel’s security,” Xinhua quoted Netanyahu as saying in the statement.

“(Islamist movement) Hamas’s capabilities could have enabled it to abduct and murder civilians and Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers while attacking from the tunnels, penetrating our territory,” he said.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge commenced July 8, following rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip at southern Israeli communities and a crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank.

Israel said the offensive was launched to halt the rocket fire but later stressed on demolishing the tunnels.

As the operation progressed and Israeli forces embarked on a ground incursion to the strip July 17, IDF personnel focused their attention on underground tunnels making their way into southern Israel, through which suspected militants allegedly planned to launch attacks against Israelis.

The IDF said it has found several dozen tunnels and tunnel shafts and is currently focused on uprooting them.

On Wednesday, the IDF summoned 16,000 more reserve soldiers amid the ongoing Gaza fighting, bringing the total number of reserve soldiers to around 86,000.

According to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, 1,363 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed since July 8.

The victims include 315 children and 166 women.

About 7,600 Palestinians have been injured, including 2,307 children and 1,529 women.

More than 240,000 Palestinians, or one out of every eight Gazans, have been displaced.

Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have died since Israel’s ground incursion to the strip commenced July 17 and more than 100 soldiers are hospitalised across the country with wounds of varying degrees.

Three Israeli civilians have been killed in the past three weeks from rocket attacks, as Hamas and other militant groups fired more than 2,800 rockets and mortars into south, south central, central and northern Israel.