Home International Israel says strikes will dismantle Hamas as Palestinian death toll rises

Israel says strikes will dismantle Hamas as Palestinian death toll rises

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Israel said on Tuesday it had killed dozens of Hamas fighters overnight in strikes on Gaza but that its war to destroy them, which involves bombarding and blockading the Palestinian enclave, would take time.

A general view of a petrol station hit in an Israeli strike, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 24, 2023. Picture: Reuters, Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch

GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel said on Tuesday it had killed dozens of Hamas fighters overnight in strikes on Gaza but that its war to destroy them, which involves bombarding and blockading the Palestinian enclave, would take time.

The United Nations urged Israel to allow more aid into Gaza, trapped in a humanitarian crisis after two weeks of intense Israeli attacks, saying the aid let in so far met a tiny fraction of the needs, and fuel, still blocked, was crucial.

“We are on our knees asking for that sustained, scaled up, protected humanitarian operation,” said Dr Rick Brennan, WHO Regional Emergencies Director for Eastern Mediterranean Region.

There appeared to be little prospect of a ceasefire any time soon in the bloodiest episode in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades. Scores of Palestinian civilians were killed or wounded overnight, medical officials in Gaza said.

The Palestinian health ministry said more than 5,000 people have been killed in Gaza by two weeks of Israeli air strikes unleashed in response to a devastating Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7. The Islamist militant group killed more than 1,400 people – mostly civilians – in a single day.

Hamas on Monday freed two Israeli women who were among the more than 200 hostages taken during the assault. They were the third and fourth hostages to be released.

Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, she was well-treated during her two-week captivity in Gaza but beaten by militants as she was seized on October 7, and had difficulty breathing. “I’ve been through hell,” she said.

Israeli tanks and troops are massed on the border between Israel and the Hamas-ruled enclave awaiting orders for an expected ground invasion – an operation that will be complicated by concerns over the hostages.

The Israeli military said it had hit more than 400 militant targets in Gaza overnight and killed dozens of Hamas fighters, including three deputy commanders.

Among the targets hit was a tunnel that allowed Hamas to infiltrate Israel from the sea and Hamas command centres in mosques, it said. Reuters could not verify the report.

Wide areas of Gaza have been flattened by Israeli bombs, forcing more than one million residents to seek shelter elsewhere in the territory. Food, clean water and medicine and fuel are fast running out.

Earlier, Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi suggested Israel had no intention of curbing its strikes.

“We want to bring Hamas to a state of full dismantling,” Halevi said in a statement.

“We are well prepared for the ground operations in the south,” he added.

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the military was “ready and determined” for the next stage in the war and was awaiting political instruction.

But how soon Israel might launch a full-scale invasion is not clear. The Middle East’s most powerful military faces a group that has built up a powerful arsenal with Iran’s help, fighting in a crowded urban setting and using a vast tunnel network.

Medical officials in Gaza said dozens of Palestinians were killed or wounded overnight across the enclave, mostly in southern Gaza, due to the Israeli bombing. At least 15 houses were destroyed, the officials said.

Residents said an Israeli missile hit a petrol station in Khan Younis, where workers, families, and others who fled the eastern side of the city were gathered. Several were killed or wounded, they said.

“This a petrol station and there is solar panel power here, so people come to charge their devices and fill water. They bombed them in their sleep,” said Abdallah Abu Al-Atta, who lives by the petrol station.

More than 40 medical centres stopped operations after they ran out of fuel and after some of them were damaged by Israeli bombing, Gaza health ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said.

NO GREEN LIGHT

Foreign governments have expressed concern that the conflict could ignite the whole of the Middle East. Already clashes have taken place in the West Bank and along the Lebanon-Israel border.

The ruling emir of Qatar, which has tried to mediate between Israel and Hamas, urged the international community to rein in Israel in its fight against Hamas.

“We say enough. Israel shouldn’t be granted an unconditional green light and unrestricted authorisation to kill,” Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said in a speech to Gulf state’s Shura council.

Support for Israel came from French President Emmanuel Macron, who landed in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and was meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of Israel’s war cabinet in Jerusalem.

Macron said France would not leave Israel isolated in its fight against Hamas but warned against the risks of a regional conflict.

Speaking alongside him, Netanyahu said after the conflict no one would live “under Hamas tyranny” but warned the war would take time.

After meeting with families of French victims, Macron told President Isaac Herzog that France stood “shoulder to shoulder” with Israel and that the first objective should be to free hostages in Gaza.

“We are linked to Israel through mourning,” Macron said earlier on social media, saying that 30 French people were killed in the October 7 attacks and nine were still missing or held hostage.

US President Joe Biden welcomed the release of the two hostages, and also underscored the need to sustain “a continuous flow” of humanitarian assistance into Gaza in a telephone call with Netanyahu, the White House said.

In public, the United States has said Israel has the right to defend itself, but two sources said the White House, Pentagon and State Department have stepped up private appeals for caution in conversations with the Israelis.

A US priority is to gain time for negotiations to free other hostages, said the sources, who spoke before the hostage releases were announced on Monday.

Asked about the possibility of a ceasefire, Biden said: “We should have those hostages released and then we can talk.”

– REUTERS

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