WASHINGTON -- Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said Sunday the Israeli military is "finishing up decommissioning the tunnels" Hamas has built underground from Gaza into Israel, and said he hoped "that job will be completed in a matter of hours, not days." Israel would then "redeploy" its forces, he said, but "not necessarily" remove them from Gaza.
"We'll redeploy to a position where Israel can do what it has to do to protect the security of our people," Dermer said.
The comments came 26 days into the conflict between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in Gaza, and amid mounting international criticism of Israeli airstrikes against U.N. schools. So far, more than 1,700 Palestinians, 64 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the fighting began.
Dermer was unequivocal in his opposition to the inclusion of Hamas in any post-conflict Palestinian government, and he defended Israel's decision not to send a delegation to Egypt for talks with international representatives and the moderate Palestinian political faction Fatah about how to end the fighting.
"You can't embrace terrorists, as [Fatah] President [Mahmoud] Abbas has done," Dermer said on NBC's Meet the Press, comparing Hamas to Al Qaeda and to the more radical Islamic group ISIS. "The road for peace goes over Hamas, not through Hamas," he said.
The appearance came amid fresh reports Sunday of casualties a U.N.-run school near Rafah, where Gaza officials say at least 10 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike, some of them while waiting in line for food aid.
The school is the third U.N. school to be hit since fighting broke out a month ago between Israeli forces and Hamas militants. These schools provide refuge to tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza who have fled their homes to escape the violence.
Following news of the attack on the school, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned it in the strongest terms, calling the airstrike a "moral outrage and a criminal act." He said the attack was a "gross violation of international humanitarian law," and those responsible must be held to account.
Dermer reiterated that "every civilian death is unacceptable to Israel," but said "we have an enemy that fires indiscriminately but hides by their own civilians, using hospitals, schools, mosques." Hamas, he said, "doesn't care about the civilian population in Gaza."