Israel vows to pursue Gaza war despite international pressure

Israel vows to pursue Gaza war despite international pressure
By AFP - December 14, 2023 @ 7:57am

Smoke rises over Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. - REUTERS PIC

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Israeli leaders said Wednesday they intend to press ahead with the Gaza Strip war against Hamas, despite coming under increasing international pressure, including from key ally the United States.

The war, now in its third month, was launched after the unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israel by Hamas that Israeli officials say killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

It has left Gaza in ruins, killing more than 18,600 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and causing "unparalleled" damage to roads, schools and hospitals.

The day after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a non-binding resolution for a ceasefire, more strikes hit Gaza and battles raged, especially in Gaza City, the biggest urban centre, and Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south, AFP correspondents said.

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Wintery rain lashed the territory, where the UN estimates 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million population have been displaced, living in makeshift tents as supplies of food, drinking water, medicines and fuel run low.

An Israeli helmet and ammunition are seen as soldiers prepare to go to the Gaza Strip, near the border area in southern Israel. - AFP PIC

The UN warned the spread of diseases – including meningitis, jaundice and upper respiratory tract infections – had intensified.

Ameen Edwan said his family was camped out with thousands in the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza.

"Rainwater seeped in. We couldn't sleep. We tried to find nylon covers but couldn't find any, so we resorted to stones and sand" to keep the water out, he said.

The World Health Organization said 107 humanitarian aid trucks entered Gaza from Egypt, well below the daily average of 500 before October 7.

A Palestinian child runs, as the conflict between Israel and Hamas continues, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. - REUTERS PIC

In Israel, air raid sirens wailed in Sderot and other southern communities near Gaza as Palestinian fighters fired rockets, most of which were intercepted.

Sirens also sounded in Ashdod city north of Gaza.

The army said an air strike had hit a fighter cell in Gaza City's Shejaiya district "that was en route to launch rockets toward Israel."

In Khan Yunis, a family mourned father of seven Fayez al-Taramsi, killed in a strike.

"How are we going to live after him?" one of his daughters said, crying and clutching his bloodied shirt. "He brought us to life."

In the October 7 attack – the deadliest in Israel's 75-year history – Hamas also seized around 240 hostages.

A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on northern Gaza. - AFP PIC

Determined to destroy Hamas and bring the hostages home, Israel began its devastating aerial and ground offensive.

It has lost 115 soldiers, including 10 on Tuesday, its deadliest day since the ground assault began on October 27.

Hamas released dozens of hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a week-long truce last month, but others have been found dead.

Israel's embassy in Romania on Wednesday announced the death of Israeli-Romanian Tal Haimi, 41, who was held in Gaza.

The UN General Assembly passed a resolution Tuesday demanding a ceasefire, backed by 153 of 193 nations – surpassing the 140 or so that have routinely condemned Russia for invading Ukraine.

While Washington voted against, the resolution was supported by allies Australia, Canada and New Zealand, who, in a rare joint statement, said they were "alarmed at the diminishing safe space for civilians in Gaza."

US President Joe Biden told a campaign event Israel had "most of the world supporting it" immediately after October 7, but "they're starting to lose that support by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place."

Biden toned down his comments later, and met Wednesday with families of American hostages.

Palestinians children warm up around a fire outside their makeshift tent at a camp set up on a schoolyard in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. - AFP PIC

US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Wednesday reiterated Washington's concerns about civilian casualties.

"And we've expressed those concerns about the prosecution of this military campaign, even while acknowledging that it's Hamas that started this," Kirby said.

Biden himself had laid out those concerns "publicly and privately" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said.

Despite the US criticism, Israel vowed to pursue its war.

"Israel will continue the war against Hamas with or without international support," Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said.

A ceasefire would be "a gift" to Hamas and "allow it to return and threaten the residents of Israel."

Palestinians inspect the damages amid the rubble following Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. - AFP PIC

Netanyahu also said Israel would persevere.

"I say this in light of great pain, but also in light of international pressure. Nothing will stop us. We are going until the end, until victory, nothing less than that," he said.

Biden's national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, will travel to Israel Thursday to meet Netanyahu, who has said there is "disagreement" with Washington over how a post-conflict Gaza would be governed.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday said any plan for post-war Gaza that does not involve the group "or the resistance factions is a delusion."

He said Hamas was ready for talks that could lead to a "political path that secures the right of the Palestinian people to their independent state with Jerusalem as its capital."

Washington and London announced further sanctions Wednesday against Hamas, targeting "key officials who perpetuate Hamas's violent agenda."

Tuesday's UN vote came as Philippe Lazzarini, head of its Palestinian refugee agency, said Gazans were "running out of time and options."

Palestinians rest in their makeshift tent at a camp set up on a schoolyard in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. - AFP PIC

Gaza's hospital system is in ruins, and Hamas authorities said vaccines for children had run out, warning of "catastrophic health repercussions."

The World Bank in a new analysis warned that "the loss of life, speed and extent of damages... are unparalleled."

The Hamas-controlled health ministry said Israeli forces opened fire on wards of Kamal Adwan hospital in north Gaza.

The army has yet to comment, but Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using hospitals, schools, mosques and vast tunnel systems beneath them as military bases – charges it denies.

Fears of the conflict broadening remain, with daily incidents along Israel's border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based.--AFP