Israel’s campaign to crush Hamas ground into its second month Wednesday as its forces battled the Palestinian militants in Gaza City, despite mounting calls for a ceasefire.
Underlining Israel’s determination to destroy Hamas, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described Gaza as “the largest terrorist base ever built.”
“We are in the heart of Gaza City,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Israel launched a massive campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants staged an unprecedented attack on October 7 that killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, Israel’s relentless bombardment has killed more than 10,300 people, many of them children.
Calls for a halt in the fighting have gone unheard, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting there would be no pause until the more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas are freed.
United Nations rights chief Volker Turk said the past month was one marked by “carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair”.
– ‘Death and suffering’ –
In Jerusalem on Tuesday night, sobs pierced memorial ceremonies and crowds lit candles while mourning the 1,400 dead, including families slain in their homes and young people killed at a music festival in the worst attack in Israel’s history.
“There’s not one person not impacted by these horrible attacks,” said 52-year-old Sharon Balaban, one of thousands of Israelis attending the vigils.
“Everyone knows somebody who was hurt, killed, murdered or impacted.”
In densely packed Gaza — where more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes in a desperate search for safety — the suffering is immense.
Entire city blocks have been levelled and bodies in white shrouds are piling up outside hospitals, where surgeons operate on bloodied floors by the light of phones.
The World Health Organization said an average of 160 children are killed every day in Gaza by the war.
“The level of death and suffering is hard to fathom,” WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.
Hamas’s media office said on Telegram that several cemeteries in Gaza had “no more space for burials”, while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)said most of the territory’s sewage pumping stations were shut.
Israel accuses Hamas of building military tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and mosques — charges the militant group denies.
OCHA says Israel has ordered all 13 hospitals still operational in northern Gaza to evacuate patients.
Netanyahu has said no fuel will be delivered to besieged Gaza, but may allow possible “tactical pauses” to free hostages and deliver aid.
– G7 meeting –
But Israel appeared to row back on Netanyahu’s comments his country would assume “overall security” in Gaza after the war ends, after Washington said it opposed a long-term occupation of Gaza.
“Our viewpoint is that Palestinians must be at the forefront of these decisions and Gaza is Palestinian land and it will remain Palestinian land,” US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said.
“Generally speaking, we do not support the reoccupation of Gaza and neither does Israel.”
Ron Dermer, Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs and part of Netanyahu’s war cabinet, told the BBC that Israeli forces would not reoccupy Gaza, but carry out security operations against anything they saw as a threat.
Israel withdrew its troops from the territory, which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, in 2005.
In the occupied West Bank on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas should retake control.
The PA exercises limited autonomy in only parts of the West Bank, and Abbas said it could only potentially return to power in Gaza if a “comprehensive political solution” is found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad dismissed the suggestion, saying the militants were “part of the national Palestinian fabric”, he told Al-Jazeera Arabic.
“After failing in Iraq and Afghanistan… now the Americans are dreaming that they can rearrange Gaza in the way that they see fit”, he said.
Blinken, following a Middle East tour of crisis diplomacy, is in Japan for a meeting of G7 foreign ministers to seek a common line on Gaza.
The ministers are expected to call in a joint statement for “humanitarian pauses” in Gaza, while stopping short of urging a ceasefire — in line with US policy on the war.
“All over Gaza, helpless people are losing their family members, homes, and their own lives, while world leaders fail to take meaningful action,” medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.
In its statement, MSF detailed how a staff member was killed on Monday along with his family in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp when the area was bombed.
– ‘We don’t want war’ –
Israel has hammered Gaza with more than 12,000 air and artillery strikes and sent in ground forces that have effectively cut it in half.
It has air-dropped leaflets and sent texts ordering civilians in northern Gaza to flee south, but a US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.
Clutching one of her toddlers, Amira al-Sakani said she fled Gaza City after coming across the air-dropped Israeli flyers.
On the way, Sakani said she saw “bodies of martyrs, some in pieces” as people fled the worst of the fighting.
“Our life is tragic; we don’t want war… we want peace”, she added.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, which said one of its humanitarian convoys in Gaza was hit by gunfire on Tuesday, demanded an end to the suffering of civilians.
“Children have been ripped from their families and held hostage. In Gaza, ICRC surgeons treat toddlers whose skin is charred from widespread burns,” the organisation’s president Mirjana Spoljaric said.
Military analysts warned of weeks of gruelling house-to-house fighting ahead in Gaza, with around 30 Israeli soldiers already killed in the offensive.
The operation is hugely complicated for Israel because of the hostages, including very young children and frail elderly people, who are believed to be held inside a vast tunnel network.
In a televised statement, Netanyahu issued a stark warning to Hezbollah in Lebanon which, like Hamas, is backed by Iran.
“If Hezbollah makes the choice of joining the war it will be making the mistake of its life,” he said.
Source: The Daily SUN.