Blaming Hamas for starting nearly a week of hostilities by firing rockets at Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel will continue to strike in Gaza as long as necessary and do its utmost to avoid civilian casualties.
"The party that bears the guilt for this confrontation is not us, it's those attacking us," Netanyahu said in a televised speech from the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.
"We are still in the midst of this operation, it is still not over and this operation will continue as long as necessary," he said.
"We launched this operation after Hamas, a murderous terrorist organization, attacked us with missiles on our holiday - Jerusalem Day - in Jerusalem," he said.
"Hamas also attacked us in Tel Aviv and the Dan region, and continued to attack us with rocket barrages on the Gaza border communities, where the residents are living in hell," Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu said Israel's air and artillery barrage had eliminated dozens of Hamas militants and taken out "hundreds" of the Islamist terror group's sites including missile launchers and a vast tunnel network.
"There is no more just operation. No country would sit idly by in the face of a missile death threat," he said.
"Unlike Hamas, which deliberately intends to harm civilians while hiding behind civilians, we are doing everything, but everything, to avoid or limit as much as possible harming civilians and to directly strike terrorists instead."
Netanyahu had a similar message for U.S. President Joe Biden earlier Saturday, telling him that Israel "is doing everything to avoid harming" people who are not involved in its fighting with Hamas and other terror groups in Gaza.
It was second conversation between the two the current round of fighting began on Monday.
According to a summary of the phone call released Saturday by Netanyahu's office, the prime minister told Biden that "the uninvolved were evacuated" from a Gaza tower block that housed media offices and other offices and apartments and that was destroyed earlier in the day in an IAF strike.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu thanked the president for the support of the United States for our right to defend ourselves," the readout said.
Biden also spoke by phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose spokesman said he had received an "important" phone call from the U.S. president.
It was the first call between the two leaders since Biden took office in January.
Biden dispatched U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to the region on Friday to help work for calm.
Hamas began its rocket assault on Monday after weeks of tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem, and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city's Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Speaking to crowds of protesters in the Qatari capital of Doha where he lives, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said Saturday the fighting was primarily about Jerusalem.
"The Zionists thought ... they could demolish Al-Aqsa mosque. They thought they could displace our people in Sheikh Jarrah," said Haniyeh.
"I say to Netanyahu: do not play with fire," he continued, amid cheers from the crowd. "The title of this battle today, the title of the war, and the title of the intifada, is Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem."