JERUSALEM, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said on Friday that he wept upon hearing a Palestinian father calling for help live on television after his children were killed during Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. “I cried when I saw this. Who didn’t? How could you not?,” Olmert told the Israeli newspaper Maariv in an interview in which he defended the policy legacy he will leave when he steps down after an election on Feb. 10. Israeli television a week ago aired desperate cries for help from a Palestinian doctor, whose calls to report the death of three of his daughters have been re-broadcast repeatedly since.
Olmert said that in approving the assault in Gaza, aimed at the enclave’s ruling Hamas Islamist movement, his government had no illusions that Palestinian civilians would be hurt given the densely populated areas in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. “When you win, you automatically hurt more than you’ve been hurt. And we didn’t want to lose this campaign. What did you want, for hundreds of our soldiers to die? That, after all, was the alternative,” Olmert told the newspaper. Ten soldiers were killed, and three Israeli civilians.
The independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights said its researchers had documented the deaths of 1,284 people in the war, of whom 894 appeared to be civilians, including 280 aged under 18. A further 167 members of Hamas’s police force died. Israel has estimated it killed about 500 guerrillas in its drive to deter rocket attacks from Gaza on its southern towns.
Olmert has been acting as caretaker since he resigned in September over a corruption scandal. He will step down in a few weeks, once a government is formed following the election. The outgoing premier conceded he had made mistakes but defended his record during three years in power, notably over the war against Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon in 2006, but denied he was positioning himself for an eventual comeback. (Reporting by Joseph Nasr, editing by Alastair Macdonald and Samia Nakhoul)