Israel’s response ‘will be powerful’ if Hamas breaks ceasefire, Netanyahu warns

Israel’s response will be “very powerful” if Hamas breaks the ceasefire, the country’s prime minister has warned.

Benjamin Netanyahu was speaking as he and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave short statements after meeting during a visit to the region by President Joe Biden’s foreign representative.

The Israeli prime minister said: “If Hamas breaks the calm and attacks Israel, our response will be very powerful.

“And we have discussed ways of how to work together to prevent Hamas rearming with weapons and means of aggression.”

Mr Netanyahu also underscored Israel’s determination to defend itself against the actions of Iran, which Israel blames for aiding Hamas.

Mr Netanyahu, referring to his discussions with Mr Blinken, said: “We discussed many regional issues, but none is greater than Iran. And I can tell you that I hope that the United States will not go back to the old JCPOA because we believe that that deal paves the way for Iran to have an arsenal of nuclear weapons with international legitimacy.

“We also reiterated that whatever happens, Israel will always reserve the right to defend itself against a regime committed to our destruction, committed to getting the weapons of mass destruction for that end.

It comes as Iran is enriching and stockpiling uranium at levels far beyond those allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Mr Blinken, for his part, vowed to “rally international support” to aid Gaza following a devastating war, which he said had resulted in “profound” losses on both sides, but to ensure that Hamas, which the US regards as a terrorist organisation,
does not benefit from any humanitarian aid.

The 11-day Gaza war left more than 250 people dead, mostly Palestinians, and resulted in widespread destruction in the impoverished territory.

Israel said thousands of rockets were fired indiscriminately towards its territory from Gaza.

Among those who died were 11 children in Gaza the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) was treating for trauma from previous conflicts. Sky News has spoken to the family and friends of one of the young girls.

The ceasefire that came into effect on Friday has so far held, but the underlying issues that caused the conflict remain.

Mr Blinken said: “Intense behind the scenes diplomacy led by President Biden working very closely with the prime minister, helped produce last week’s cease fire. Now we believe we must build on it. That starts with the recognition that losses on both sides were profound.

“Casualties are often reduced to numbers, but behind every number is an individual human being, a daughter, a son, a father, a mother, a grandparent, a best friend. And as the Talmud teaches, to lose a life is to lose the whole world, whether that life is Palestinian or Israeli.

“I underscored to the prime minister… the United States fully supports Israel’s right to defend itself against attacks.

At the same time, as we continue to work together to counter Iran’s destabilising actions in the region, we know that to prevent a return to violence, we have to use the space created to address a larger set of underlying issues and challenges. And that begins with tackling the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza and starting to rebuild.”

On his tour of the region, Mr Blinken will face the same underlying problems that have obstructed peace for more than a decade.

In Israel, Mr Netanyahu is fighting for his political life after a fourth inconclusive election in two years and faces mounting criticism from Israelis who say he ended the fighting prematurely.

The war broke out after Hamas – which runs the administration in Gaza – stepped up rocket attacks on Israel after weeks of clashes in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters in and around the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, a holy site in an area that Muslims and Jews regard as sacred.

Adding to the tensions, an Israeli soldier and a civilian were stabbed and wounded in east Jerusalem on Monday before police shot and killed a man they described as a terrorist attacker.

Mr Blinken will go on to Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has no power in Gaza and is seen by many Palestinians as having lost all legitimacy, and will then visit neighbouring Egypt and Jordan.

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