(JERUSALEM) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he is sorry for civilian casualties in Gaza, but he lashed out at Hamas, asserting the Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip is purposefully putting civilians in harm's way while also attacking innocent Israelis with rockets.
"We regret any civilian deaths but those lay entirely at Hamas' door," Netanyahu told ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos on This Week Sunday. "Hamas is deliberately targeting our civilians; they've fired 2,000 rockets, 2,000 rockets at Israel cities. Seventy-five percent of our population has to be in bomb shelter alert of 60 seconds or 90 seconds. They're digging these terror tunnels from Gaza, from homes in Gaza to penetrate and infiltrate Israeli territory. They emerged and killed Israelis and run back or try and run back into their territory, so we've had to take actions."
"What Hamas is doing very cynically is embedding its rocketeers, its rocket cashes, its tunnels — these terror tunnels in homes, in hospitals, in schools, and when we take action, as targeted as we can, they then use their civilians as human shields," Netanyahu added. "So Hamas is both targeting civilians and Hamas is hiding behind civilians. That's a double war crime, and therefore all civilian deaths as regrettable as they are fall on their shoulders."
Israel began an incursion into Gaza Thursday evening and the resulting operation has left scores of Palestinians dead, including 60 killed on Sunday alone. The growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths has sparked international outrage, but Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel strives to avoid civilian deaths while placing the blame squarely on Hamas.
"Hamas wants to kill civilians on the Israeli side and the amazing grotesque and gruesome fact is they want to have as many civilians killed on the Palestinian side, because it gets you to ask me these questions. And of course our goal is not to hurt a single individual, not to hurt a single civilian," the Israeli prime minister said.
"What they are doing is a double war crime and should be condemned with the most forceful action because these people are like ISIS, they're like al Qaeda, they're like Hezbollah and the other Iranian proxies. They don’t give a wit about the Palestinians and all they want is more and more civilian deaths," he said.
When asked whether Israeli forces would re-occupy Gaza, Netanyahu outlined his goal for the current military operation.
"I think our goal is to restore a sustainable quiet," Netanyahu said. "And I think if we get that we'll have to use that quiet to recruit the international community to demilitarize Gaza."
Near the end of the interview on This Week, Netanyahu said that "mad Islamists" are the real challenge facing the Middle East.
"There is a problem in the Middle East. The problem is that we have these mad Islamists. I say the last thing we want to do is have them have missiles, drones, chemical weapons or in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons," Netanyahu said. "That would really change history."
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