By Tovah Lazaroff and Herb Keinon

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday night during a televised address that “Operation Protective Edge is not over.”

He said his main priority at this time is to protect the citizens of Israel and keep them safe. He added that the fight against terror, including international terror organizations, is Israel’s biggest challenge. “This is the hardest that Hamas has ever been hit since it was founded. I promise that we will not stop until the goal of security for our citizens is achieved.”

Netanyahu warned Hamas: “If you shoot, you will be hit back seven-fold.”

When asked if Israel had attempted to assassinate Hamas military leader Muhammad Deif, Netanyahu said, “The leaders of Hamas are legitimate targets; no one is invincible.” Netanyahu compared Hamas to the Islamic State, saying that the organizations were “branches of the same tree.”

The prime minister’s comments came following a long security-cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv discussing the developments in Gaza and how to go forward. The meeting came amid an escalation of the fighting in Gaza, with Hamas firing dozens of rockets at Israel throughout the day. The meeting also took place amid growing public criticism among some of the key ministers of the way Netanyahu is managing the Gaza crisis.

For instance, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in a posting on his Facebook page a few hours before the meetings, said, “I hope that it is now clear to everyone that the policy of ‘quiet will be met with quiet’ means that Hamas is the one that takes the initiative and the one that decides when, where, and how many rockets it fires on Israeli civilians, while we make do with reacting. Even if our reaction is strong it is still a reaction.”

“Hamas controls the intensity of the flames when it is convenient for it, it interrupts the daily routine of Israeli civilians, particularly those living in the South,” the foreign minister wrote. “It happened on [Tuesday], it’s happening today, and it is liable to happen on September 1 and also on the eve of Rosh Hashanah.”

“The proposals we have heard up until now, whereby there is no deal, no agreement, and no unequivocal commitment by the Palestinians to halt their fire forever means that we are in for a war of attrition, which is something that the State of Israel cannot be dragged into.” He slammed unilateral proposals suggested by “certain politicians suffering from memory lapse,” and said he wanted to “remind everyone about a unilateral measure known as ‘disengagement,’ that had already been carried out in Gaza, and which we are paying for until today.”

“Even if, Heaven forbid, [Meretz chief] Zehava Gal-On was prime minister and [Hadash MK] Dov Henin was defense minister, they, too, would ultimately order a wide-scale military operation to topple the Hamas regime,” Lieberman wrote.

“So when people speak seriously about the security of the citizens of Israel, one needs to understand that there is no other viable alternative except for a determined Israeli campaign that leads to one thing–bringing Hamas to submission.”

Gal-On’s office issued a press release in response to Lieberman’s post, calling the foreign minister’s claims “infantile.”

“Lieberman is trying to sell us the delusion of liquidating Hamas for years now,” the Meretz chairperson said. “If the residents of the South are still vulnerable to rocket fire and shelling after a month of destruction and killing in the Gaza Strip, then apparently this operation didn’t change anything, and no military operation will change it.”

“Whoever calls for a more massive response and more assassinations in order to create deterrence and achieve a victory apparently has not learned the bloody lessons of the last month, during which 64 soldiers were killed on the Israeli side and 2,000 Palestinians were killed.”

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also took public issue with Netanyahu’s policies, saying in a Ynet interview that the attempt to reach an arrangement with Hamas was “not right,” and that she was not willing to “pay Hamas,” or “establish Hamastan on our southern border that will send a message to Islamic State, and Hezbollah, and all the other crazy groups in the region that we will pay a price for quiet.”

Rather than come to an agreement with Hamas in Egypt, Livni is in favor of Israel working with the U.S., E.U., U.N. and Palestinian Authority to create a different reality inside Gaza that would include demilitarization, massive humanitarian aid, and eventually transferring control of the Gaza Strip to the PA.

Meanwhile, in Paris, French president Francois Hollande called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume truce talks and said that the demilitarization of the enclave and a lifting of a blockade should be part of a deal. “We are at a critical point. France supports the Egyptian mediation,” Hollande told Le Monde in an interview. “Gaza can no longer remain like it is. The objective must be a demilitarization and a lifting of the blockade.”

“Demilitarization can only be done under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority. France, with Europe, can be useful in lifting the blockade at the Rafah crossing. Gaza must be neither an open prison nor a military base,” Hollande said.

Hollande said that if negotiations failed then the international community would have to take the lead to find a solution. “We must do everything to ensure negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority resume [in order] to find a solution to the conflict. We know the parameters; the only solution is a two states living side by side,” he said. ( Ï–

Reuters contributed to this report.


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