Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus defended the ongoing strikes inside the Gaza Strip in an interview Friday, claiming many of the people killed have been “terrorists” and saying the violence has not been disproportionate to the attacks from the other side.
Amna Nawaz spoke with Conricus about the Israeli military’s strikes, which have killed 122 Palestinians, including 31 children and 20 women, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Watch the full interview with Conricus in the player above.
Conricus said that of the Palestinian death toll, about 50 were believed to be members of the Islamist military and political group Hamas, which controls Gaza and which Israel, the U.S., the E.U. and others call a terrorist organization.
“I don’t have an exact figure, but you’re talking about dozens of operatives, at least 50 dead terrorists among the tally of the long list of casualties there,” he said.
As part of a cycle of escalation that began earlier this week, Hamas began firing rockets into Israel, which Conricus said has killed eight people so far. He defended Israel’s response, despite accusations from Palestinians, peace activists and many American Democratic politicians that Israel’s military response has been disproportionate to that of Gaza.
The UN Population Fund said in a statement that it was “alarmed by the number of civilian casualties, including children and women caused by the current escalation.”
Conricus said that Israeli airstrikes targeted three high-rise buildings in Gaza because they housed Hamas operations, and that such broad strikes were required because Hamas uses civilian infrastructure to operate.
“To the best of my knowledge, they are not home to civilians. They were more like offices, office complexes, and they weren’t residential buildings,” he said, adding that the IDF called Gazans to warn them to leave the area before the airstrikes.
But at least two of the buildings have previously been described by people who used to live there and reported to be a mixed-use complex including residential units, and at least two of the buildings were home to civilian businesses, meaning even if civilians did not lose their lives, those that worked there may have lost their livelihoods.
Two of the towers also housed international and local media outlets, including some with sympathies to Hamas and the Lebanese Islamist political party and militant group Hezbollah, but others with no affiliation to political or militant groups.
“It is utterly unacceptable for Israel to bomb and destroy the offices of media outlets and endanger the lives of journalists, especially since Israeli authorities know where those media outlets are housed,” said Ignacio Miguel Delgado, the Committee to Protect Journalists’s Middle East and North Africa representative.
Here are some other highlights from the interview:
- The current position of Israeli forces: Conricus said that ground operations have not yet begun, contrary to previous assertions, but that IDF troops are along the border in a defensive position, and some are exchanging fire with Hamas from Gaza.
- Prospect for ground operation: Conricus said the IDF moving into Gaza would not be in anyone’s interest, and that such actions are always “high intensity and dangerous,” but did not rule it out and said Hamas should make the first move towards a ceasefire by stopping rocket fire into Israel.
- Rocket fire from Lebanon: Conricus said that rocket fire from Lebanon was not from Hezbollah, but rather from a Palestinian group wanting to show solidarity with events on the ground in Gaza.