Israel risks losing its right to self-defense against terrorism if it is barred from attacking Hamas targets hidden behind civilians, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned as the IDF prepared to enter military bunkers in Gaza hidden under Shifa Hospital.
“We have to win,” Netanyahu told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday morning, as he argued that those who protest on Hamas’s behalf are backing a force that is “pure evil” and the “new Nazis.”
“It’s like in World War II, the Allies are fighting the Nazis, they have invaded France after they were attacked by the Nazis and civilians are killed. Do you protest against the Nazis or do you protest against the Allies,” he asked.“If we lose the moral clarity of supporting the force [Israel] that is fighting the terrorists [Hamas] that are hiding behind civilians and blaming the victims for these attacks, the victims who take the just action to defend themselves we will never be able to fight the terrorists,” Netanyahu said.
“They [Hamas] will always hide behind civilians and we will never able to fight them,” he said.
“We don’t want to make human shields as an effective strategy for terrorists,” he said.
Netanyahu spoke to NBC and CNN as the international community has increased its protest against Israel’s war in Gaza.
US President Joe Biden called Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to discuss developments in Gaza, the Amiri Diwan – the main seat of government in Qatar – reported on Sunday.
During the call, Al Thani stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing into Egypt.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Qatar Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani on Saturday.
US and Qatari officials have discussed humanitarian aid to Gaza as well as the issue of the hostages amid continued reports of a possible deal for their release even as Hamas has stated that such efforts have been halted.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC that such talks were ongoing. Qatar has been one of the primary mediators for any such deal.
Netanyahu told NBC that Israel was doing everything in its power not to target civilians, whereas Hamas as done everything to possible to harm both civilians living in Gaza and Israel, Netanyahu stated.
He spoke as Hamas asserted that over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza war-related violence since the terror group attacked Israel on October 7, killing over 1,200 people and seized more than 239 hostages.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israelis of genocide in Gaza, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accused it of executing collective punishment against the Palestinians.
“You cannot use the horrific things that Hamas did as a reason for collective punishment of the Palestinian people,” Guterres told CNN in an interview, adding that 101 UN personnel have died so far in the war.
“We have witnessed unrelenting bombardment and a dramatic number of civilian casualties,” Guterres stated.
Pope Francis on Sunday reiterated his plea for an end to hostilities and called for “much more” humanitarian aid for Gaza.
“Enough, enough brothers, enough,” Francis said, adding the wounded in the Gaza Strip needed to be taken care of immediately and the protection of civilians assured. He also said hostages held by Hamas must be freed.
Addressing the crowds in St Peter’s Square after his weekly Angelus prayers, Francis said arms would never bring peace and that the conflict must not widen.
“I am close to all those who suffer, Palestinians and Israelis,” he said, adding he was praying for them.
Sullivan told CBS that Israel had a right to defend itself with a military campaign to oust Hamas, even as he expressed concerns about its impact on Palestinian civilians.
“Hamas is using hospitals, as it uses many other civilian facilities, for command and control, for weapons storage, to house its fighters. And this is a violation of the laws of war,” Sullivan said.
“That being said… the United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals, where innocent people, patients receiving medical care, are caught in the crossfire, and we’ve had active consultations with the Israeli Defense Forces on this,” Sullivan stated.
European officials rise to Israel’s defense
British Defence Secretary Grant Shapps rose to Israel’s defense in an interview with the BBC on Sunday.
“If Britain had been subject to an attack of terrorists coming and murdering [1,200] people and cutting off heads, and we knew where those terrorists had gone, no one would say to Britain stop going after them,” Shapps said.
French President Emmanuel Macron made waves on Friday when he told the same network that Israel has no justification for such a high death toll in the Gaza war.
“De facto today [Palestinian] civilians are bombed. De facto, babies, ladies, old people are bombed and killed. There is no reason for that and no legitimacy, so we do urge Israel to stop,” Macron stated as he called for a ceasefire.
Neither Macron or Schapps answers direct questions as to whether Israel’s actions fell within the bounds of international law, stating only that Israel must abide by that law.
Schapps, however, said that it was important to note that Israel was taking steps to prevent civilian deaths and that its actions must be placed within the larger context of how nations act in wartime.
He compared the IDF aerial bombings of Gaza, with the British and American bombing of the German city of Dresden during World War II.
“We have sort of forgotten that in war, very sadly people lose their lives. When Britain bombed Dresden 35,000 people lost their lives,” Schapps said.
“When you have an organization like Hamas hiding and shielding itself with and under the civilian population [in Gaza] it’s a sad fact that some people will lose their lives.”
He noted that Israel was pursuing terrorists within the tunnels they were operating in and in which thousands of rockets were stored.
“How can we ask Israel not to go and destroy those bunkers,” Schapps asked.
“The answer is for Hamas to stop using those people [Palestinian civilians] as human shields and [it should] release the over 200 hostages” it seized on October 7.
“By the way some of them [the hostages] are Brits,” Schapps said.
In this war, Great Britain “should absolutely be on the side of right, and right is going after Hamas,” he stressed.
Reuters contributed to this report