Jerusalem: Amid increasing international pressure for a ceasefire, Israel`s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday expressed "regret" over the loss of civilian lives in the bombing of Gaza, while accusing Hamas of using Palestinian civilians as "human shields".
"We are striking Hamas with increasing strength. We are hitting commanders, militants, arsenals and command centres," Netanyahu said, commending the role of Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Internal Security Agency (ISA), security services, firefighters and the Israel Police.
"But one must understand how our enemy operates. Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centres in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields," he said repeating a charge made by Israel many times before.
"It is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza. Therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility," he asserted.
Maintaining that Israel will continue to "act with strength" against rocket fire emanating from Gaza, the premier said that the Israeli army is "conducting a vigorous military campaign" against all the militant factions in Gaza.
"Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire. I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing," he emphasised.
Netanyahu, who has spoken to many world leaders recently trying to drum up international support for Israel`s military campaign, said that Israel is a democracy that is fighting "in a legitimate and focussed manner against unbridled terrorists".
"The leadership of Hamas and the other organizations has chosen, at a time when they are using the population of Gaza as human shields, to hide under ground, to flee abroad and to deliberately put civilians in the line of fire," he told his cabinet today as the Palestinian death toll mounted to 165.
"This is the entire difference between us and Hamas. We are using defensive systems against missiles to protect the residents of Israel and they are using the residents of Gaza to protect arsenals of missiles. Nothing better underscores the difference in this campaign," Netanyahu asserted.
Arguing that Israel has a right to defend itself, he said that "no country in the world would do any less than we are doing to protect our citizens".
"We will continue to act in a patient and level-headed manner, with responsibility, and vigorously in order to achieve the goal of the operation ? the restoration of quiet for a long period while inflicting a significant blow on Hamas and the other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. The IDF is prepared for all possibilities," he said.
Complimenting the Israeli population under fire for showing maturity and responsibility, Netanyahu called upon them not to be complacent.