Israel's Netanyahu rejects Gaza death toll, Biden comments

Israel's Netanyahu rejects Gaza death toll, Biden comments
Netanyahu's comments come following Biden's interview on MSNBC where he criticised Israel for killing tens of thousands of civilians in its war on Gaza.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently doubled down on pursuing war in Gaza [Photo by RONEN ZVULUN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected US President Joe Biden's comment that Israel's approach to the war in Gaza was "hurting Israel more than helping Israel".

In an interview with Politico, Netanyahu also disputed the death toll issued by the health ministry in Gaza, saying their figure includes "at least 13,000 terrorist fighters" killed by Israeli forces.

If Biden meant "that I'm pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he's wrong on both counts," Netanyahu told the publication.

His comments came one day after Biden said Netanyahu "must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken" in Gaza.

Biden, who has backed Israel during the five-month-old war with Hamas but whose frustration with Netanyahu is growing increasingly visible, aired his criticism in an interview with MSNBC.

Netanyahu's failure to bring home hostages still held by Hamas has led to regular protests in Israel and calls for early elections, including in Tel Aviv again on Saturday night.

Netanyahu told Politico that "the vast majority are united as never before. And they understand what's good for Israel."

He added that his policies were "supported by the overwhelming majority of the Israelis", who back "the action that we're taking to destroy the remaining terrorist battalions of Hamas."

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Israel's latest war on Gaza followed Hamas' unprecedented 7 October attack, which led to the killing of about 1,160 people, according to an AFP tally of official Israeli figures, with 253 being taken hostage.

Hamas denied targeting civilians and says that its attack against Israel was a result of decades of Israeli occupation and aggression.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed at least 31,112 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to Gaza's health ministry.

But Netanyahu claimed in the interview that this figure included 13,000 militants.

The number of civilian casualties "is not 30,000, it's not even 20,000. It's far less than that," Netanyahu said, according to audio shared by Bild newspaper, which like Politico is owned by German publisher Axel Springer.

"How do I know that? Because our forces have killed at least 13,000 terrorist fighters," he said, without elaborating on how that figure was derived.

US defence secretary Lloyd Austin previously told congress that 25,000 women and children had been killed by Israel during its war on Gaza.

Hamas has not said how many of its militants have been killed in the fighting.

Netanyahu added that Israelis "say that once we destroy the Hamas, the last thing we should do is put in Gaza, in charge of Gaza, the Palestinian Authority that educates its children towards terrorism and pays for terrorism."

Netanyahu has drawn global condemnation and defied the United States, which provides Israel with billions of dollars in military aid, by rejecting calls for a Palestinian state.

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Washington's Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spoken of reforming the Palestinian Authority, which has partial administrative authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in a way that could "reunite" it and Gaza under PA leadership.

But Netanyahu said Israelis "also support my position that says that we should resoundingly reject the attempt to ram down our throats a Palestinian state".