Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli PM says attacks on Gaza strip 'justified'

THE Israeli Prime Minister has defended the actions of Israel's armed forces in the recent war in the Gaza Strip, blaming the heavy civilian casualties on Hamas.

Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel's intense bombardment of Gaza was a necessary response to Hamas attacks.

"It was justified. It was proportionate," he said.

Nearly 1,900 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, most of them civilians. Israel says some 900 Palestinian militants were among the dead. Netanyahu said he regretted "every" civilian death, but said that Hamas was responsible because it carried out attacks from civilian areas.

In Cairo, indirect Israel-Palestinian negotiations over extending a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and ending a blockade of the territory got underway yesterday.

Israel wants the Islamic militants of Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure they cannot re-arm, before considering the group's demand that the territory's borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, although Egypt allows individuals to cross intermittently.

"The two sides have reviewed what they consider as issues of concern," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said, describing the matter as "complicated".

Egyptian mediators have been shuttling between the delegations, and an Egyptian airport official said the Israeli delegation was back in Cairo last night after flying out earlier in the day. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to brief reporters.

The Palestinian delegation is composed of negotiators from all major factions, including Hamas, and is meeting with Egypt's intelligence chief for briefings on Israel's demands.

"The most important thing to us is removing the blockade and start reconstructing Gaza," said Bassam Salhi, a Palestinian delegate. "There can be no deal without that."

He said the ceasefire, set to expire at 8am on Friday (0500 GMT), would likely be extended if more time for talks is needed. Mr Shukri said he hoped it would be extended.


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