Friends and relatives of 21-year-old Israeli Sgt. Barkey Ishai Shor mourn at his funeral at the Mount Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem on July 29, 2014
Friends and relatives of 21-year-old Israeli Sgt. Barkey Ishai Shor mourn at his funeral at the Mount Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem on July 29, 2014 © Gali Tibbon - AFP
Friends and relatives of 21-year-old Israeli Sgt. Barkey Ishai Shor mourn at his funeral at the Mount Herzel military cemetery in Jerusalem on July 29, 2014
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Jonah Mandel, AFP
Last updated: July 30, 2014

Israel public back Gaza assault despite death toll

The army's mounting death toll in Gaza has taken the Israeli public by surprise but without dampening its strong support for the military campaign against Hamas, analysts say.

Funerals were held across the Jewish state on Tuesday for 10 soldiers killed the day before, five of them in a firefight with Palestinian militants who infiltrated Israel by a tunnel from Gaza.

Four others were killed after a mortar shell exploded not far inside Israel and another in fighting in the Gaza Strip.

But despite the rising body count, a vast majority of Israelis think the military operation against the Islamist movement Hamas which controls Gaza should press forward, according to a poll published in the Maariv newspaper.

An overwhelming "86.5 percent believes that Israel cannot agree to a ceasefire as long as Hamas continues to fire rockets on Israel, as long as all the tunnels have not been discovered and as long as Hamas refuses to surrender," it said.

The soldiers' deaths bolstered support as they proved the necessity of the Gaza operation, according to political scientist Abraham Diskin.

"If people were hesitant, unsure about the situation and thought we could maintain the tunnel situation -- the five deaths yesterday demonstrated the danger of the tunnels," he said.

According to Diskin, who heads the administration, governance and law school at Shaarei Mishpat college north of Tel Aviv, any "faintheartedness" in Israeli society over the Gaza war has plunged to near zero.

"Every (soldier) killed increases the desire for revenge but on a rational level. People say -- we see the danger of the tunnels," he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israelis "must be prepared for a lengthy campaign."

"Israeli citizens cannot live with the threat from rockets and from death tunnels -- death from above and from below," he said.

"We will not end this operation without neutralising the tunnels whose sole purpose is killing our citizens," he pledged, referring to a sophisticated network of cross-border tunnels used by militants for raids into southern Israel.

Monday's deaths raised the army's toll to 53 soldiers killed along with three civilians inside Israel, one of them a Thai national.

On the Palestinian side, Gaza health officials say almost 1,200 have been killed since Israel launched its assault on July 8.

All the Israeli soldiers were killed after the army's ground incursion began nine days later.

The last Gaza war in which Israel invaded the Palestinian coastal strip was its 22-day operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, during which 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed.

- 'Never imagined this' -

"The decision-makers never imagined the number of dead soldiers would approach 50 after 10 days of ground fighting," Nahum Barnea wrote in top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot.

"The Israeli public... never imagined this would be how things would look."

With Netanyahu's declared goal of "neutralising the tunnels," the operation will most likely have to push forward, said a retired general and former head of the military's planning department.

"I believe that in the next coming days if we don't see any political solution or real readiness for such, the (Israeli army) will have to change its strategy and move in more tangible stages into Gaza to intensify or increase pressure on Hamas," Israel Ziv told reporters.

Barnea's colleague Sima Kadmon wrote that "Hamas, which dragged us into this war, is now trying to drag us deep into Gaza."

And Ben Caspit warned in Maariv that Israel had to emerge with "a clear-cut victory", unlike during Israel's 2006 war against the Shiite militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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