Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel can lose on PR but not security
By PHILIP ELLIOTT
WASHINGTON (AP) - Every Palestinian civilian's death costs Israel in its fight for world opinion, but the Jewish state must not cede its security for the sake of public relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he pressed his nation's case on America's Sunday news programs.
In a phone call later Sunday, President Barack Obama told Netanyahu the United States is growing more concerned about the rising Palestinian death toll and the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza. The White House said Obama reiterated that Israel has a right to defend itself and condemned Hamas rocket attacks that have killed Israelis, but pushed for an immediate cease-fire.
Making his case to an American audience, Netanyahu said Palestinians are trying to shape global opinion with images of piled-up, slain civilians.
"We're telling the civilians to leave, Hamas is telling them to stay," Netanyahu said in satellite interviews from Israel. "Why is it telling them to stay? Because it wants to pile up their own dead bodies."
He added, "They not only want to kill our people, they want to sacrifice their own people."
A Palestinian official countered that Israel's actions are unjustified.
"The Israeli aggression on Gaza does not bring peace to Israel," said Mohammad Shtayyeh, minister of the Palestinian Economic Council for Research and Development.
The 20-day war has killed more than 1,030 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to Palestinian health officials. Israel has lost more than 40 soldiers, while two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker in Israel were killed by rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.
The White House said Obama told Netanyahu that the United States is committed to Israel's security, but civilians must be protected and Gaza's humanitarian crisis must be addressed. Obama said a sustainable cease-fire must be negotiated to allow Palestinian civilians in Gaza to return to normal lives.
Netanyahu said his nation's efforts to secure itself will not yield despite growing concern about deaths at the hands of Israeli forces. He insisted Israel is not targeting civilians but showed little willingness to ease its military actions against the Islamic militant group Hamas.
"Hamas is a terror organization that is committed to our destruction," Netanyahu said.
Hamas on Sunday said it would observe a 24-hour truce even as Palestinian militants fired rockets deep into Israel, prompting it to resume an offensive aimed at destroying rocket launchers and cross-border attack tunnels used by the anti-Israel bloc.
"Israel is not obliged and is not going to let a terrorist organization determine when it's convenient for them to fire at our cities, at our people," Netanyahu said.
Palestinians said Israeli aggression has consequences.
"Israel has to accommodate the Palestinian demands and aspirations for ending occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state," Shtayyeh said. "This is the only answer."
Netanyahu spoke to NBC's "Meet the Press," ''Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation." Shtayyeh and Netanyahu appeared on CNN's "State of the Union."