JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the phase of intense fighting against Hamas in the Gaza Strip was coming to an end but that the war would not end until the Islamist group no longer controls the Palestinian enclave.

Once the intense fighting is over in Gaza, Netanyahu said, Israel will be able to deploy more forces along the northern border with Lebanon, where fighting with Iran-backed Hezbollah has escalated .

“After the intense phase is finished, we will have the possibility to move part of the forces north. And we will do this. First and foremost for defensive purposes. And secondly, to bring our (evacuated) residents home,” Netanyahu said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 14.

“If we can we will do this diplomatically. If not, we will do it another way. But we will bring (the residents) home,” he said.

Many Israeli towns near the border with Lebanon have been evacuated during the fighting.

Asked when the phase of intense fighting against Hamas will come to an end, Netanyahu answered: “Very soon.”

But the military will still operate in Gaza.

“I am not willing to end the war and leave Hamas as it is,” he said.

Netanyahu also reiterated his rejection to the idea that the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority run Gaza in place of Hamas.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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