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Israeli shellfire slammed into central Gaza on Tuesday, December 26, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged no respite in attacks on Hamas, as residents of the coastal enclave mourned more dead in a war that has cost more than 20,000 Palestinian lives.
Israel is determined to pursue its goal of destroying Hamas despite global calls for a ceasefire in the 11-week-old war, amid concerns the conflict could spread with US and Iran-aligned forces attacking each other elsewhere in the region.
Since Hamas made the deadliest Palestinian militant attack on Israel in the country’s 75-year history, Netanyahu has responded with an all-out assault on Hamas-ruled Gaza. On Tuesday, the Israeli military said 160 soldiers have so far been killed in Gaza since ground operations began on Oct 20.
“Seventy-five years of suffering, our rights taken, our country seized, and our people slaughtered. Our rights, as people, are justifiable. What can we do?” said Mariam al-Omsi, walking along an alleyway after an air strike in Shaboura camp, near the town of Rafah in southern Gaza.
At Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the largest medical facility in the southern Gaza Strip, medics said 10 Palestinians had been killed in two separate Israeli air strikes.
Khan Younis resident Salah Shaat said he had heard a huge explosion at sunset on Monday that destroyed a building.
“There were displaced people and residents inside the house, more than 20 people, children and women. We managed to rescue some children, but the rest were martyred,” he said.
In Jerusalem, Israel’s military said the air force carried out a strike against 100 Hamas targets, including tunnel shafts, to assist ground forces.
It said in a statement that in Shejaia, a suburb near Gaza City, troops backed by aircraft killed several fighters spotted trying to plant a bomb underneath a tank. More than 10 fighters were killed in separate incidents in Khan Younis.
Netanyahu, who visited Israeli troops in northern Gaza on Monday, told lawmakers from his Likud Party that the war was far from over and dismissed what he cast as media speculation his government might call a halt to the fighting.
‘We are not stopping’
He said Israel would not succeed in freeing its remaining hostages held by Hamas without applying military pressure.
“We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less,” Netanyahu said.
In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on Monday, December 25, Netanyahu reiterated three prerequisites for peace: Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarised, and Palestinian society must be deradicalized.
Retaliating against Hamas’ October 7 cross-border rampage in which it killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostage, Israel has been under pressure from top ally the U.S. to shift to lower-intensity warfare and to reduce civilian deaths.
Nearly 20,700 Gazans have been killed, including 250 in the last 24 hours, according to authorities in Gaza.
Elsewhere in the region, US forces have come under attack by Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria over Washington’s backing of Israel in its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In the latest tit-for-tat clash, the US military carried out retaliatory air strikes on Monday in Iraq after a drone attack by Iran-aligned militants on a US base in Erbil left one US service member in critical condition and wounded two other US personnel, officials said.
The air strikes killed “a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants” and destroyed multiple facilities used by the group, the US military said.
Hezbollah has deep ties to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction backed by Iran.
The US military has come under attack at least 100 times in Iraq and Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began in October, usually with a mix of rockets and one-way attack drones.
Washington has for weeks pressured Israel to take further steps to minimise civilian harm by designating safe areas and clearing humanitarian routes for people to escape. But the death toll keeps rising and Israeli operations have intensified.
Gemma Connell, a UN team leader deployed in Gaza, described what she called a “human chess board” in which thousands of people, displaced many times already, are on the run again and there is no guarantee a destination will be safe.
A spokesperson for the Israeli military said the army takes all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians, but that Palestinian militants use civilians as human shields – an accusation Hamas denies.
Since the October 7 Hamas attack, Israel has laid much of the narrow strip to waste. The vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been driven from their homes, and the United Nations says humanitarian conditions are catastrophic.
The Gaza war has also stoked violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, another territory where Palestinians seek statehood. Medics said two Palestinian males, aged 17 and 31, were shot dead by Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Hebron on Tuesday. A military spokesperson said soldiers opened fire at Palestinians who threw rocks, cinder blocks and petrol bombs at them. – Rappler.com