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Netanyahu snaps back against criticism

Updated: 2024-03-19 09:38

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators lie on the ground as they protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, on Sunday. ALVARO BARRIENTOS/AP

JERUSALEM/GAZA — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has railed against growing criticism from top ally the United States against his leadership amid the devastating fighting with Hamas, as its military troops raided Gaza's main hospital.

In recent days, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish official in the country and a strong Israel supporter, called on Israel to hold a new election, saying Netanyahu had "lost his way".

US President Joe Biden expressed support for Schumer's "good speech", and earlier accused Netanyahu of hurting Israel because of the huge civilian death toll in Gaza.

Netanyahu told Fox News on Sunday that Israel never would have called for a new US election after the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, and denounced Schumer's comments as inappropriate.

"We're not a banana republic," he said. "The people of Israel will choose when they will have elections, and who they'll elect, and it's not something that will be foisted on us."

When asked by CNN whether he would commit to a new election after the conflict ends, Netanyahu said: "I think that's something for the Israeli public to decide."

The US, which has provided key military and diplomatic support to Israel, has also expressed concerns over a planned Israeli assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering.

On developments of the mediation efforts, the Israeli delegation to the new round of cease-fire talks was expected to leave for Qatar.

Despite the talks, Netanyahu made it clear he would not back down from the fighting that has killed more than 31,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials. More than five months have passed since Hamas' attack on southern Israel killed 1,200 people and left another 250 hostages.

Workers ration out flour during the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza on Sunday. AFP

Deeply troubled

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, in Washington for St. Patrick's Day, said during a White House reception that the Irish people were "deeply troubled" by what's unfolding in Gaza. He said there was much to learn from Ireland's peace process and the critical US involvement in it.

Varadkar said he is often asked why the Irish are so empathetic to the Palestinians.

"We see our history in their eyes. A story of displacement, dispossession, and national identity questioned and denied forced emigration, discrimination and now hunger," he said.

Israel's offensive has driven most of Gaza's 2.3 million people from their homes. Famine is expected between now and May in the north of the Gaza Strip, a UN-backed report said on Monday.

Despite mounting calls for a cease-fire, the Israeli military said on Monday its troops raided the compound of Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, in an operation Palestinian health authorities said had caused multiple casualties and set off a fierce fire in one of the buildings.

The military said soldiers were conducting a "precise operation" and were fired upon when they entered the compound.

"The troops responded with live fire and hits were identified. Our troops are continuing to operate in the area of the hospital," it added.

"There are casualties, including deaths and injuries, and it's impossible to rescue anyone due to the intensity of the fire and targeting of anyone approaching the windows," Gaza's Health Ministry said, accusing Israeli forces of "another crime against health institutions".

The military said troops had been instructed on the importance of operating cautiously as well as on measures to be taken to avoid harm to patients, civilians, medical staff and medical equipment and said patients were not required to evacuate.

Hamas said in a statement the Israeli military had committed a new crime by directly targeting the hospital buildings without caring about patients, medical staff, or displaced people.

Agencies via Xinhua

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