Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday said the country was not ruling out the possibility of “conquering” the Gaza strip, as its cross-border attack on the Palestinian enclave continued, AFP reported.

“There are only two ways that you can deal with them [Palestinian militant group Hamas],” Netanyahu said, while briefing a group of foreign ambassadors. “You can either conquer them, and that’s always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence, but I have to say we don’t rule out anything.”

The violence has now spilled into a second week. Palestinian medical officials said 219 citizens have so far been killed in 10 days of aerial bombardments which have destroyed roads, buildings and other infrastructure in Gaza, Reuters reported. Israeli authorities put the toll in their country at 12.

Netanyahu reiterated his stand that Israel had no set time frame to put an end to its attacks. “We’re not standing with a stopwatch,” he said at the briefing, according to Reuters. “We want to achieve the goals of the operation. Previous operations lasted a long time so it is not possible to set a timeframe.”

He also suggested that the violence escalated because of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision last month to cancel elections in the country that were scheduled to take place this weekend. On April 30, Abbas postponed the elections amid a dispute over voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and divisions in his Fatah party.

Abbas had blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow the elections to proceed in East Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. However, many Palestinians regarded the Jerusalem matter as an excuse to avoid elections that Fatah might well lose to its Islamist rivals Hamas, as it did in the last parliamentary ballot in 2006, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes continued to pound Gaza. In a 25-minute attack overnight, Israel bombarded targets including what its military claimed were tunnels in the southern Gaza Strip used by Hamas. Israeli forces also shot dead four Palestinians and wounded scores more during protests and a general strike in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Al Jazeera reported.

Israel’s N12 TV news, quoting unidentified Palestinian sources, reported that Egypt, via “secret channels”, had proposed that the violence come to an end on Thursday morning. However, there has been no official word from either side on the said development.

The violence

The violence, which has resulted in the worst hostilities between Israel and Palestine since 2014, escalated on May 7. On that day, the Israeli police stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and fired rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and stun grenades at worshipers during Ramadan. Israel’s actions were seen as a retaliation to the protests by Palestinians against attempts to forcibly evict a number of families from their homes.

Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, set a 10.30 pm IST deadline for Israeli forces to be withdrawn from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah. Soon after, the Hamas fired rockets from Gaza towards Jerusalem.

At the heart of the conflict is an Israeli Supreme Court hearing, which was due on May 10, in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate that was given to Israeli settlers.

As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and Left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood.

The renewed tensions due to the case in the Supreme Court, was an extension of the long-standing conflict as Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem in 1967, sees all of the city as its Capital, while Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is largely unrecognised internationally.

The neighbourhood is also home to Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, as well as the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.