Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hours after forming an emergency government and wartime cabinet, foreshadowed a major ground attack on Gaza by promising to destroy Hamas.
“Every Hamas terrorist is a dead man,” Netanyahu said at a late-night briefing, flanked by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, the head of Israel’s opposition.
Five days after the Palestinian military group carried out the deadliest assault on Israel in half a century, both sides are bracing for a bloody confrontation with Israeli troops amassing by the Gaza border. The fate of scores of hostages snatched by Hamas over the weekend hangs in the balance.
“There is a time for war and time for peace,” Gantz said. “Now is time for war.”
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Gallant, using the strongest language of the three, said “we will wipe them off the face of the Earth.”
Their tone signaled Israel may be entering final preparations for what officials believe could be an invasion of the narrow strip of land, wedged between Israel and Egypt, that has been under Hamas control.
The comments suggest the coming offensive would surpass events in 2014, when Israeli forces invaded and more than 2,000 Gazans were killed.
Officials say the stakes are far different this time given the unprecedented scale of the Hamas attack that killed at least 1,200 Israelis. Retaliatory strikes on Gaza have left more than 1,000 Palestinians dead.
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Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the U.S. and the European Union, is holding an unknown number of Israeli hostages.
The latest rhetoric suggests Israel probably isn’t waiting to secure their safety before going in — despite Hamas’s threats to start killing hostages.
“This is not time for difficult questions,” Gantz said. “This is the time for overwhelming answers on the battlefield.”