WASHINGTON (CBS News/CBSDC/AP) — A top Israeli official wants President Barack Obama to stop meddling with the Jewish state during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
Speaking to Israel’s Army Radio, Housing and Construction Minister Uri Ariel criticized Obama telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there should be an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
“Leave us alone,” Ariel told Army Radio, directing his words at Obama. “Go focus on Syria.”
Obama spoke with Netanyahu Sunday about the rising number of Palestinian deaths in Gaza and the worsening humanitarian crisis.
“Building on Secretary Kerry’s efforts, the President made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement,” the White House said in a statement, adding that the president reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Hamas.
Ariel told Army Radio that Israel’s offensive should be more aggressive.
“It was obvious that international pressure would mount eventually,” Ariel stated. “We should have acted faster, harder and with more determination. The rocket threat needs to be tackled. The tunnel threat is being addressed, but it is not enough.”
Ariel claimed that the pressure from the White House for an immediate ceasefire was “outrageous” and would “help Hamas,” according to Breitbart News.
“[W]e never thought it would be the Americans who would lead the pressure,” Ariel told Army Radio.
The Obama administration pushed back Monday against a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.
“It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
Her comments were echoed by the White House, where officials said they were disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease-fire as more favorable to Hamas.
Israel had accepted an Egyptian call for an unconditional cease-fire early in its Gaza campaign, but Hamas rejected the idea.
Netanyahu said Monday that Israel won’t end its offensive until Hamas’ network of tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border has been neutralized. “We need to be ready for a prolonged campaign,” he said. “We will continue to act aggressively and responsibly until the mission is completed to protect our citizens, soldiers and children.”
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded defiantly. “His threats do not scare Hamas or the Palestinian people, and the occupation will pay the price for the massacres against civilians and children,” he said.
Israel’s last major Gaza invasion ended in January 2009 after 23 days, one-third of that time with troops on the ground. Already, the current ground operation, which began 11 days ago, has lasted longer than the one in 2009.
In recent days, Israeli leaders have debated whether to withdraw from Gaza after the tunnels are demolished, or to expand the ground operation to deliver a more painful blow against Hamas. Those in favor of an escalation have argued that unless Hamas is toppled and disarmed, a new round of Israel-Gaza fighting is inevitable. Opponents say attempting to reoccupy densely populated Gaza, even if for a short period, could quickly entangle Israel politically and militarily and drive up the number of dead.
In his remarks Monday, Netanyahu didn’t let on which way he is leaning. However, he insisted that “preventing the arming of terror groups and demilitarizing Gaza must be part of any solution,” indicating that Israel’s aims are broader than initially stated.
For now, ground forces have largely operated on the edges of Gaza.
The Israeli military has said it has located 31 tunnels, is aware of the existence of 10 more and has so far demolished close to 20.
Gaza militants have repeatedly used the tunnels to sneak into Israel, including on Monday when several infiltrated into southern Israel.
The army said five Israeli soldiers and one Hamas militant coming through a tunnel were killed in a firefight, but that searches in the area were continuing, the Reuters news agency reports.
The Hamas military wing said nine of its fighters infiltrated and attacked an army post.
After three weeks of battle, “our fighters still have a lot of surprises in store for the leaders of the occupation and their elite soldiers,” the group said in a statement.
The blast at the Gaza park occurred within minutes of a separate strike Monday afternoon on nearby Shifa Hospital, Gaza City’s largest medical facility. Several people were wounded in the blast near one of the hospital’s outpatient clinics, Hamas health officials said.
Lerner, the army spokesman, denied Israel was involved in the two attacks. “This incident was carried out by Gaza terrorists whose rockets fell short and hit the Shifa Hospital and the Beach (Shati) camp,” he said, adding that the military had identified 200 “failed launchings” so far.
Early Tuesday, the military released aerial photographs that it said showed the paths of two misfired Hamas rockets it said hit the park and Shifa Hospital. It said the rockets were detected by Israeli military radar and sensors.
Gaza’s police operations room and civil defense department blamed the attacks on Israeli airstrikes.
Gaza’s Interior Ministry spokesman Eyad al-Bozum said he believes that shrapnel found in the dead and wounded is evidence of Israel’s role in the incident.
More than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed during the conflict, along with 53 Israeli soldiers. Two Israeli citizens were also killed from Hamas rockets.