Gaza fighting rages after Israel warns war will last all year

Nearly three months of conflict have claimed almost 22,000 lives in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, and devastated much of the besieged territory

Updated - January 02, 2024 10:51 pm IST

Published - January 02, 2024 12:49 pm IST - Gaza Strip, Palestinian Territories

Nearly three months of conflict have claimed almost 22,000 lives in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. File

Nearly three months of conflict have claimed almost 22,000 lives in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. File | Photo Credit: AP

Israeli forces battled Hamas militants amid the ruins of the heavily-bombed Gaza Strip on Tuesday as the war raging for almost three months piled new miseries on Palestinians in the besieged territory.

The Israeli army said soldiers had killed “dozens of terrorists”, including some carrying explosives, raided a weapons storage compound in the southern city of Khan Yunis and discovered long-range rocket launchers and tunnels.

Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry said 70 people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the past 24 hours during Israeli raids.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said Israel had struck its headquarters in Khan Yunis, “resulting in several fatalities”, and the health ministry said four people were killed including an infant.

UN agencies have voiced alarm over Gaza’s spiralling humanitarian crisis as 2.4 million people live under siege and bombardment, most of them displaced and many huddling in shelters and tents amid dire food shortages.

“Living conditions... are just hopeless,” said Mostafa Shennar, 43, who fled Gaza City, now a largely devastated urban combat zone, and has been living in the crowded southern border town of Rafah.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and warned the war may continue “throughout 2024” as efforts toward a ceasefire have so far yielded no results.

The war broke out when Gaza’s rulers Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7 which resulted in around 1,140 deaths in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

The Islamist militant group also took around 250 hostages, more than half of whom remain in captivity, according to Israeli figures.

Israel, after suffering the worst attack in its history, has launched a withering offensive that has killed at least 22,185 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

Army probes prisoner death

The Israeli army says 173 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza in the battle against Hamas, which is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the European Union and the United States.

The military said Tuesday it was investigating a soldier suspected of shooting dead a Palestinian captured in the Gaza Strip.

“The terrorist was handed over to the supervision of a soldier, who, under suspicion, allegedly shot him, resulting in his death,” the army said of Sunday’s incident.

Throughout its bloodiest ever Gaza war, Israel has had the backing of its key ally the United States, which has however also urged greater restraint to spare civilian lives.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which includes far-right and hardline nationalist groups, has said repeatedly it will keep fighting until Hamas is destroyed.

As 2024 started, a long-running political dispute flared again after setting off mass street protests last year against what is considered the most right-wing government in Israeli history.

The Supreme Court overruled a key plank of a judicial reform package that Netanyahu has defended as rebalancing the powers of politicians and judges, but which protesters have labelled a threat to Israel’s liberal democracy.

The setback on the so-called reasonableness clause dealt a political blow to the wartime government already under fire over the intelligence failure leading up to October 7.

Some reservists to go home

The army said Monday it would soon rotate out some of the more than 300,000 reservists called up after October 7, in part to prepare them for many more months of war ahead.

It said reservists from two brigades, which have some 4,000 troops each, will start returning home this week.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also said some residents “will soon be able to return home” to towns and villages near Gaza that were attacked by Hamas and then evacuated.

The government has so far refused to specify its plans for post-war Gaza and how it will be rebuilt and governed.

US news outlet Axios, citing unnamed Israeli sources, said Hamas had presented Israel with a proposal on Sunday for a new hostage exchange deal via Qatari and Egyptian mediators.

The official told Axios the proposal had been deemed unacceptable by the Israeli war cabinet, but suggested progress could be made towards a more amenable plan in future.

Israel troops kill 4 Palestinians in West Bank raid

Israeli troops killed four Palestinians during a raid in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, sources on both sides said, with the army describing the four as "terrorists".

"Four Palestinians were martyred by occupation bullets in the town of Azzun," the Palestinian health ministry said.

The official Wafa news agency said the men were shot dead when clashes erupted as Israeli troops raided the town.

"Israeli occupation soldiers fired live ammunition, stun grenades and tear gas at residents during the raid," the report said.

Israeli troops searched homes and businesses, and took surveillance footage from several shops, Wafa reported.

The army said troops had returned fire after militants shot at them and threw explosives.

"At the end of an exchange of fire, they killed four terrorists and confiscated three Carlo-type weapons (locally produced submachine guns) that were used by them," the army said in a statement.

A soldier was moderately wounded, it added.

In a separate exchange of fire, troops "neutralised" a Palestinian militant who fired at them in the town of Qalqilya, the army said without elaborating.

Israeli forces made seven arrests in the West Bank overnight, the army said, adding that more than 2,550 people have been arrested in the territory since the Israel-Hamas war erupted.

The West Bank has been under Israeli military occupation since the Six-Day War of 1967 and tensions have escalated since the outbreak of fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Since October 7, at least 321 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by Israeli troops or settlers, according to the Palestinian health ministry. More than 520 Palestinians were killed in the territory last year.

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