Hamas leaders are to blame for the "devastating" result of the fighting in the Gaza Strip because they operated in populated areas, Israeli army chief Benny Gantz said Wednesday.
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"The result in Gaza is devastating, and the tragic blame lies with Hamas leaders, who operated in population centers," the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff said at a press conference on the Gaza border.
The IDF has neutralized Hamas' strategic ability to develop and manufacture rockets and use underground tunnels, as well as damaging the Hamas command structure, Gantz said.
"Hamas has absorbed a very serious blow in all areas," he said. "Its commanders are sitting in bunkers and aren't coming out. And if they do go out, they'll see the extent of the damage caused to Hamas forces and, unfortunately, to the population in the Strip."
As for Israeli troops, Gantz said, "Our forces are getting organized behind the lines and preparing for defense."
"We have not for one moment forgotten our missions," he said. "We did not hesitate to exert our strength as much as needed and to the utmost extent."
Responding to criticism that intelligence officials were not always able to give soldiers the exact coordinates of the Hamas tunnels they were assigned to destroy, Gantz said Israeli intelligence is "exceptionally good" and got soldiers as close to the tunnel openings as possible. "Yes, it was necessary to improvise and innovate during fighting, in real time, but that's how war is," he said.
Gantz also said that "even though it sounds strange," there was close cooperation between the army and the government, which provided in-depth strategic guidance for the military campaign.