Israel’s large-scale Operation Pillar of Cloud against militants in the Gaza Strip is in response to rocket attacks originating from the Strip, Ambassador Yosef Shagal told reporters in Minsk on Tuesday.
As many as 1,200 rockets have been fired at Israel since the current conflict started 12 years ago, Mr. Shagal noted. "About one million citizens of Israel live in constant danger of a rocket attack," he said. "Israel has the right to defend its citizens from attacks. It defends the right of its people to be invulnerable. For this purpose, we are destroying the offensive potential of the terrorist organization Hamas, arms depots, underground tunnels used to supply weapons and communications centers through which orders are given."
Mr. Shagal noted that Israel had withdrawn from the Gaza Strip as far back as 2005. "We received rocket attacks in return," he said. "We blockaded the Gaza Strip for the only purpose of preventing weapons from getting there. We did not blockade building materials, food and medicines. But what do we have now? Where do rockets come to Gaza from? They come from all possible and impossible sources."
According to Mr. Shagal, representatives of Israel and Palestine are holding truce talks. "The main condition for a truce is the disarmament of Hamas and guarantees that it will not be rearmed," he said. "If this condition is not met, the operation may be expanded to include a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, which we would like to avoid."
There is no connection between Israel’s operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the forthcoming parliamentary elections, Mr. Shagal said.
A recent opinion poll has found that 90 percent of Israelis support this operation, the ambassador noted.
"Israelis want all this to be over as soon as possible," he said. "Our children have been hurt. The people are tired. Operation Pillar of Cloud and the elections have nothing in common."
According to Mr. Shagal, talks with Hamas would yield no result "because this terrorist organization does not recognize Israel as a state and denies it the right to physical existence."
"In this regard, there can be only one solution: to liquidate Hamas by force," he said. "We don’t need the Gaza Strip. We don’t need that West Bank. We need for them to leave us alone so that we will be able to live our lives."