Israel's campaign against Palestinian terror groups in Gaza is not over, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, as a ceasefire, while not officially confirmed, appeared to take hold after almost three days of escalating violence between the Jewish state and the Hamas-run enclave.
"Over the last two days we struck Hamas and Islamic Jihad with great force," Netanyahu said in a statement released by his office.
"We hit over 350 targets. We struck at terrorist leaders and operatives and we destroyed terrorist buildings," the statement said.
"The campaign is not over and it demands patience and sagacity. We are prepared to continue," he said. "The goal has been – and remains – ensuring quiet and security for the residents of the south. I send condolences to the families and best wishes for recovery to the wounded.”
The escalation began on Friday, when two Israeli soldiers were wounded by Gaza gunfire near the Gaza-Israel border. A retaliatory IAF strike killed two militants from the Hamas group that governs Gaza. Two other Palestinians protesting near the frontier were also killed by IDF forces.
By the time the fighting appeared to be over on Monday morning, four Israelis had been killed and more than 700 rockets and missiles were fired from Gaza.
Meanwhile, an Israeli security source said Monday that the Gaza organizations had sought a ceasefire out of fear over what Israel would do in the Strip.
"Hamas and Islamic Jihad understood very well that the rules of the game had changed," the source said. "Therefore, they stopped firing (rockets) on their own initiative after repeated requests for a ceasefire."
Kulanu Minister Eli Cohen, who is a member of the security cabinet, said Monday that Israel must remove Hamas' grip on Gaza.
"It is clear to us all that the next round (of fighting) will come," Cohen said. "Hamas is a terrorist organization and we should focus on ending its rule."
Cohen also said that ousting Hamas from Gaza would require military action and not diplomacy.
"We need to be ready at the start of the next round," he said, citing the use of targeted assassinations, which Israel employed for the first time since 2014.
"Those who think that we are heading for a diplomatic settlement have failed to understand the reality," Cohen said.
"We have to strike at the heads of Hamas, the heads of the snake. We expect a major battle, which is crucial for the residents of the south who are held hostage by Hamas and Jihad - and we will decide when that will be."