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Netanyahu prepares Israel for 'lengthy' Gaza campaign

Israeli premier vows not to end Gaza operation 'without neutralising the tunnels' as defence minister warns of 'many more days' before truce
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on July 11, 2014 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday Israelis must be ready for a long military campaign in Gaza, after Hamas mortar fire from the enclave killed four Israeli soldiers.

"We must be prepared for a lengthy campaign," Netanyahu said in a speech broadcast live, soon after the news of the shelling of the Eshkol region that also reportedly wounded at least 12 soldiers.

"We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels," he said, referring to a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels used by Palestinian fighters.

Israel began a major air campaign in Gaza on July 8, expanding it with a ground operation on July 17.

Dealing with the tunnels was the "first and essential step in demilitarising the Gaza Strip," which along with disarming Palestinian must be part of "any solution, and the international community must insist on it," Netanyahu said.

The Israeli premier also demanded the international community supervise and monitor construction materials entering the Gaza Strip, which he said were used to construct tunnels.

'Many more days'

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon also spoke of a lengthy campaign saying it could take "many more days until the quiet is restored."

And military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reiterated a warning to civilians in Gaza to stay away from Hamas.

"Gaza residents should distance themselves from areas in which Hamas is acting because we will get there and it will be painful," he said, shortly after the army sent messages to residents living near Gaza City to flee their homes.

"A short while ago, phonecalls were made and text messages were sent out to the civilian population of Shejaiya, Zeitun and eastern Jabaliya calling them to evacuate immediately towards central Gaza City," an army statement said, referring to areas north, south and east of Gaza City.

Shortly afterwards it said it had also sent similar messages to the civilian population of Jabaliya, Beit Hanun and Beit Lahiya in the north.

But prior to the warning, at least ten Palestinian children were killed and others injured on Monday by an Israeli strike on the western Gaza City Al-Shati Camp, a Palestinian Health Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Britain and Italy "agreed to redouble their efforts to obtain a ceasefire. Pressure must increase to get there," the French presidency said.

It issued its statement after President Barack Obama, Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister David Cameron and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi held phone calls to establish their joint position.

There was little mood for celebration in Gaza City as the three-day festival of Eid al-Fitr that ends the holy fasting month of Ramadan got under way.

Several hundred people arrived for early-morning prayers at the Al-Omari mosque, bowing and solemnly whispering their worship. But instead of going to feast with relatives, most went straight home while others went to pay their respects to the dead.

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