Israel’s new war cabinet vows to wipe Hamas off the earth

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu forged an emergency government on Wednesday to direct war against Hamas, and his defence minister vowed to wipe the Palestinian militant group “off the face of the earth” over its deadly weekend attack.

Islamist Hamas gunmen invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip on Saturday in a surprise assault that killed at least 1,200 people, the deadliest Palestinian militant attack in Israeli history.

Israel has responded with a massive bombardment of Gaza that has killed 1,055, and deployed thousands of troops around the enclave amid growing expectations it will launch a ground invasion to destroy Hamas.

In a joint statement, Netanyahu and former defence chief and centrist opposition party leader Benny Gantz said they had agreed to form an emergency government comprising the two leaders and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

Netanyahu said later in televised remarks they had put aside their differences “because the fate of our state is on the line.”

“We are fighting a cruel enemy, worse than ISIS,” Netanyahu said alongside Gantz and Gallant, comparing the group’s attack with brutal killings carried out by Islamic State.

Gallant, the defence minister, said: “We will wipe this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza, off the face of the earth. It will cease to exist.”

Gantz, a former Israeli defence chief and general, said it was a time to join together and win. “There is a time for peace and a time for war. Now is a time for war,” he said.

During the fighting with Hamas in Gaza, the emergency government will not take up any unrelated policy or laws, Netanyahu and Gantz said in their joint statement.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid was not expected to join the emergency government at this stage.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Alison Williams and Alex Richardson)