Israel "is not violating humanitarian law" in its war against Hamas in Gaza, the country's ambassador to the European Union and NATO has told Euronews.
In an interview on Wednesday, Ambassador Haim Regev rebuffed claims made the previous evening by the EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, that some of Israel's actions, such as halting the supply of food, water and electricity to the Palestinian exclave of Gaza, "countered" international humanitarian law.
"We will use all the means to eliminate Hamas and to rescue our people. You cannot fight against terrorists with your hands tied behind (your back)," Regev said.
"We are going to be very tough, we are going to be very aggressive. We will do all it takes to release the hostages and to eliminate Hamas."
"We will do our best not to harm innocents. We will do all of this. We are a democratic country. We are bound to the international law," he added.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that has controlled the Gaza strip since 2007, killed over 1,000 Israelis and took more than 100 hostages during a brutal and unexpected attack over a weekend. Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by the European Union.
Regev said that Israel's goal is to eliminate Hamas while avoiding harming innocent people.
"The Palestinian people are not our enemies, and we will do whatever we can to avoid harming innocent people," Regev said. "But this is a very complicated environment. Hamas is using innocent people as a human shield, and this is something that we'll take into consideration."
"Our war is not against the Palestinian people - our war is against Hamas," he added.
'Harsh' EU response needed
He also said he is in favour of a review of the funds the EU gives to support Palestinians.
After initially suggesting on Monday that it would suspend all financial support to Palestinians, the European Commission later said it would launch a review of its aid packages. Regev said a thorough review is needed to ensure no funds inadvertently fall into the hands of Hamas.
"At this stage, the best thing to do is to review - as the EU has decided to do - all the assistance. We don't know right now where the assistance goes," he said
"We urge EU member states and the EU institutions to continue with this review and to check exactly where this assistance goes to," he added.
On Tuesday, Borrell said that an "overwhelming majority" of EU countries support continuing to send humanitarian and development aid to the Palestinian territories, which include the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip and the West Bank, which is governed by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. Austria is the only member state that has suspended its Palestine aid.
The EU can play an important role in putting "pressure" on Hamas and to ensure that Israeli hostages held in Gaza are freed, according to Regev.
"Right now, Hamas needs to be under pressure," he said. "And more than that, all international and regional players need to see that there is a harsh response by the EU."
Two 'vectors' in the Middle East
Ambassador Regev believes other Arab states in the Middle East also have a critical role to play in showing they cannot tolerate terrorism.
"There are two vectors in the Middle East. One is moderate - Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco, hopefully the Saudis - and the other a bloc is sponsored by Iran," he said.
"Iran is supporting Hamas. Iran stands behind Hamas financially, politically," he explained.
The level of planning required to launch the large-scale assault over the weekend has led many to question whether Hamas could have done it alone. The Tehran-backed Shia armed militia Hezbollah, considered Hamas' paramilitary allies, have exchanged strikes with Israel since the conflict erupted, raising fears of an escalation.
Referring to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that Israel's counteroffensive will "change the Middle East", Regev confirmed this meant curbing the influence of Tehran.
"Changing the Middle East is supporting those moderate forces and stopping Iran, eliminating Hamas and eliminating all those organisations," he said.
Asked about the prospects of an end to the circle of violence between Israel and Palestine, Regev said that they are now "focused" on eliminating Hamas in Gaza.
"Hamas made a huge mistake. They miscalculated the strength of Israel," he said. "And I think this is the end of this organisation. After we wipe Hamas, I don't think we will see again this cycle of violence from Gaza."