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Israeli troops and Hamas militants fought fierce gun battles on the streets of Gaza’s second-biggest city on Wednesday, December 20, as the United Nations delayed a vote on a bid to boost aid deliveries to the Palestinian enclave facing a humanitarian disaster.
Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hamas militants behind an October 7 massacre has left the coastal enclave in ruins, brought widespread hunger and homelessness, and killed nearly 20,000 Gazans, according to the Palestinian enclave’s health ministry.
Under foreign pressure to avoid killing innocents, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the war will not stop until Iran-backed Hamas releases the remaining 129 hostages it is holding in Gaza and the Islamist group is obliterated.
A United Nations Security Council vote to set up aid deliveries was delayed by another day on Tuesday as talks continue to try and avoid a third US veto of action over the two-month long Israel-Hamas war.
The 15-member council was initially going to vote on a resolution – drafted by the United Arab Emirates – on Monday. But it has repeatedly been delayed as diplomats say the UAE and the US struggle to agree on language citing a cessation of hostilities and a proposal to set up UN aid monitoring.
When asked if they were getting close to an agreement, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Tuesday: “We’re trying, we really are.”
The conflict has spread beyond Gaza, including into the Red Sea where Iran-aligned Houthi forces based in Yemen have been attacking commercial vessels with missiles and drones, prompting the creation of a multinational naval operation to protect trade routes.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in Bahrain that joint naval patrols would be held in the southern Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, which encompass a major East-West global shipping route.
“This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” Austin said.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Tuesday it received information of an unsuccessful boarding attempt west of Yemen’s Aden port city.
Some shippers are re-routing around Africa.
The Houthis said they would carry on attacking commercial shipping in the vital trade route, possibly with a sea operation every 12 hours.
“Our position in support of Palestine and the Gaza Strip will remain until the end of the siege, the entry of food and medicine, and our support for the oppressed Palestinian people will remain continuous,” Houthi official Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters, saying only Israeli ships or those going to Israel would be targeted.
In Gaza, residents of Khan Younis on Wednesday reported intensifying gun battles between Hamas fighters and Israeli forces in the center and eastern districts of the southern city.
Gazan health officials said 12 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike on a house in the city.
Israel has lost 132 soldiers in the fighting inside Gaza since it invaded the territory in response to the October 7 raid by Hamas that Israel says killed 1,200 people and saw 240 people taken hostage.
The Al Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, released a video of two male Israeli hostages who identified themselves as Gadi Moses and Elad Katzir.
Moses is a farmer aged about 79 who was captured from a kibbutz on October 7 when Hamas gunmen rampaged across southern Israel. Katzir, 47, was also taken from a kibbutz along with his mother, who was later released. His father was killed, according to media reports.
The Gaza health ministry said on Tuesday that 19,667 Palestinians had been killed and 52,586 wounded in the war. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said more than 60% of Gaza’s infrastructure had been destroyed or damaged and more than 90% of the 2.3 million population uprooted.
Israeli missiles hit the southern Rafah area on Tuesday, where hundreds of thousands of refugees have amassed in recent weeks, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens as they slept at home, Gazan health officials said.
Residents said they had to dig in the rubble with bare hands. “This is a barbarian act,” said Mohammed Zurub, whose family lost 11 people in the attack.
In the north, another strike killed 13 people and wounded about 75 in the Jabalia refugee camp, the health ministry said. Palestinians reported intensifying Israeli aerial and tank bombardment of Jabalia as darkness descended late on Tuesday.
Israel says it warns of strikes in advance so civilians can escape, and accuses Hamas fighters of hunkering down in residential areas and using hospitals and schools as cover, which the Islamist group denies.
Israeli military officials told reporters in a briefing on Tuesday that heavy civilian casualties are the cost of Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas and the militants’ urban warfare strategy, despite global alarm at the huge human toll.
Talks on aid, hostages
Israeli President Isaac Herzog signalled readiness on the part of the country on Tuesday to enter another foreign-mediated “humanitarian pause” in fighting to recover more hostages held by Hamas and enable more aid to reach Gaza.
A truce in late November mediated by Qatari and US diplomats lasted for a week before collapsing and yielded the release of 110 hostages in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and children from Israeli prisons.
Basem Naem, a senior Hamas official based outside Gaza, ruled out further negotiations on exchanging prisoners while the war continued.
A source briefed on diplomatic efforts told Reuters on Tuesday that Qatar’s prime minister and the heads of the U.S. and Israeli intelligence services had held “positive” talks in Warsaw to explore ways of reviving negotiations. But a deal was not expected imminently, the source added. – Rappler.com