An Israeli diplomat sought to draw a clear distinction between Palestinian civilians and the militant group Hamas on Monday as her country prepares for a large-scale ground offensive that observers fear could heap further misery upon millions who cannot leave the besieged Gaza Strip.
“I want to assure you that Israel cares more about the Palestinian population than Hamas ever did,” Maya Yaron, Israel’s envoy to Taipei, said in an interview with Taiwanese broadcaster Sanlih, in which she said the Islamist group was using Gazans as a “human shield.”
Israel does not deliberately target civilians and gives prior notice before airstrikes on Hamas targets, Yaron said.
“The Israeli citizens that were murdered on Saturday morning got zero notice. Zero,” she said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of war in Israel after a surprise attack in the early hours of October 7, led by pro-Palestinian Hamas militants, became the deadliest in the country’s history. Subsequent Israeli airstrikes into Gaza have brought the death toll on both sides to more than 3,000, according to the Associated Press.
Amid the fighting, international aid groups and countries including the United States remain concerned about the welfare of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, who have been left with little, if any, food, electricity and medicine after Israel cut off critical supplies.
Israel has called up 360,000 army reservists who are now undergoing “intensive training for this war,” Yaron said.
“Hamas is the target,” she said, not Palestinian civilians.
“The reason why we’re referring to this not as another round of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is because we have a very direct distinction between Palestinian civilians, the Palestinian Authority who governs the West Bank, and the Palestinian Hamas terrorist organization who rules Gaza since 2007,” said Yaron.
“This is a terrorist organization that has on its charter the declaration to annihilate the state of Israel, and to fight all Jews around the world,” she said.
Yaron has been head of the Israel Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei—a de facto embassy in the absence of official diplomatic ties with Taiwan—for just over two months.
She has found more sympathy from the Taiwanese public than has her counterpart in the Chinese capital Beijing, where an Israeli embassy worker was wounded in a recent knife attack, the motives for which remain unclear.
The Taiwanese government offered its full backing to Israel, quickly condemning Hamas for what Taipei called “terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians.”
Taiwan’s military leadership, which has for decades been planning for a possible invasion by neighboring China, established a task force last week to study the unfolding Israel-Hamas war for applicable lessons.
Chiu Kuo-cheng, Taiwan’s defense minister, said the island had already learned the importance of intelligence work in crisis prevention.
In a separate interview with the local station Formosa Television, which also aired on Monday, Yaron said the situation across the Taiwan Strait was different from that in the Middle East, but underscored the importance of self-defense, according to the channel’s reporting.
“This is our only country. If we don’t have [it], then we have nowhere else to go. This is for us to fight,” she said.
On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said the Middle East was “on the verge of the abyss.” He called on Hamas to release hostages “without conditions,” and for Israel to ensure the “rapid and unimpeded access” of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.
Also on Sunday, in an interview on CBS‘ 60 Minutes, President Joe Biden described the potential eradication of Hamas as “a necessary requirement,” but said it would be “a big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza.
“I’m confident that Israel is going to act under…the rules of war. There’s a standard that democratic institutions and countries go by,” Biden said.
Earlier, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Herzog, told CNN that his country had “no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza.”