Israel to keep up Gaza assault 'as long as necessary'

Israel will keep up its military campaign against Hamas in Gaza for as long and as forcefully as needed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday in a statement mocked by Hamas.

Netanyahu said that all options were "on the table" to achieve that mission.

"From the beginning, we promised to return the quiet to Israel's citizens and we will continue to act until that aim is achieved. We will take as much time as necessary, and will exert as much force as needed," he said in a public address.

"All options are on the table to return peace to the citizens of Israel."

He also pledged to do whatever necessary to bring home 23-year-old soldier Hadar Goldin, who Israel believes was captured by Palestinian militants during an ambush in southern Gaza early on Friday.

"Israel will continue to make every effort to bring its missing sons home," he pledged in remarks made just after the missing soldier's mother made an emotional appeal demanding that there be no troop withdrawal until her son is found.

He said troops would complete the mission of destroying a complex network of tunnels used by militants to infiltrate southern Israel before deciding on its next security objectives.

"After the completion of our activity against the tunnels, the IDF (army) will prepare to continue our activities according to security needs, and only according to our security needs, until we achieve the objective of returning security to the citizens of Israel," he said.

Hamas "will pay an insufferable price for continuing to fire", Netanyahu said of Gaza's de facto Gaza rulers, who have fired thousands of rockets at Israel over the past 26 days.

A spokesman for the Islamist movement mocked Netanyahu's statements as "confused" and testimony of the "real crisis" he was facing.

"We will continue our resistance till we achieve our goals," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum told AFP after the Israeli leader's speech.

An Israeli official told AFP that no Israeli delegation would be flying to Cairo to attend talks on a ceasefire, after a Palestinian delegation had already arrived in the Egyptian capital to that end.

But Netanyahu nevertheless did not rule out a diplomatic solution to the conflict which has so far cost the lives of more than 1,700 Palestinians in Gaza.

"I want to achieve the goals of the operation, either militarily, if I can diplomatically, or by a combination of both," Netanyahu said.

"I of course prefer a diplomatic solution, but if there's no choice, we'll of course use all the means at our disposal," he said.