JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister declared victory Wednesday in the recent war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, saying the military campaign had dealt a heavy blow and a cease-fire deal gave no concessions to the Islamic militant group.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments, delivered in a prime-time address on national television, appeared aimed at countering critics of the seven-week war that killed more than 2,200 people.
Both hard-liners in his governing coalition, as well as residents of rocket-scarred southern Israel, have said the war was a failure because it did not halt Hamas’ rocket attacks or oust the group from power.
“Hamas was hit hard,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israel “didn’t agree to accept any of Hamas’ demands” under the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire deal.
The ambiguous cease-fire delivered an immediate halt in the fighting and has promised an easing of Israel’s blockade of Gaza to allow humanitarian aid and construction goods to enter for the rebuilding of the territory. All goods are to go in under international supervision.
But Hamas’ key demands are only to be addressed in a future round of talks expected next month in Cairo. Hamas is seeking an end to the Israeli blockade, including the reopening of Gaza’s sea and airport. It also wants Egypt to reopen its Rafah border crossing, the territory’s main gateway to the outside world. Israel, meanwhile, wants Hamas to be disarmed.
Netanyahu said Israel “will not tolerate” any more rocket fire, and if the attacks resume, “we will respond even harder.”
Israel carried out thousands of airstrikes and other attacks on Hamas targets in the war. More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed, most of them civilians, according to U.N. and Palestinian figures. On the Israeli side, 70 people were killed, all but six soldiers.
Israel says Hamas is responsible for the heavy Palestinian civilian death toll, noting that militants carried out attacks from residential areas and often used apartment buildings, mosques or schools for cover. The Israeli attacks destroyed or damaged thousands of buildings, leaving an estimated 100,000 people homeless.
Despite the heavy damage, Hamas also has claimed victory, saying the Israeli assault failed to stop its rocket and mortar fire. It has boasted that it forced thousands of Israelis living in border communities to evacuate their homes, and that it controlled when the people could come home.
In Gaza, masked militants gathered on the rubble of destroyed homes in the Shijaiyah neighborhood, site of some of the heaviest fighting, to declare victory. The men displayed heavy machine guns, mortar shells, rockets and anti-tank missiles. Hundreds of residents gathered around the militants, taking pictures with them and their weapons.
Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Hamas military wing, stood over an Israeli flag as he addressed the crowd.
“Gaza achieved victory because it has done what major armies failed to do. It forced the enemy to retreat,” he said. “We must know that no voice is louder than the voice of the resistance.”