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Israeli strikes kill dozens as Netanyahu says war will continue for months

Israeli strikes kill dozens as Netanyahu says war will continue for months
Israeli strikes kill dozens as Netanyahu says war will continue for months

Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people today, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israel’s prime minister said the war would continue for “many more months,” resisting international calls for a ceasefire.

The military said Israeli forces were operating in Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis, and residents reported strikes in the central region, the latest focus of the nearly three-month air-and-ground war that has raised fears of a regional conflagration.

The US military said today that its forces shot and killed several Iran-backed Houthi rebels when they tried to attack a cargo ship in the Red Sea, an escalation in a maritime conflict linked to the war.

Israeli strikes kill dozens as Netanyahu says war will continue for months
Palestinians visit the graves of people killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and buried inside the Shifa Hospital grounds in Gaza City (AP Photo / Mohammed Hajjar)

And an Israeli cabinet minister suggested that Gaza’s population should be encouraged to emigrate, in remarks that could worsen tensions with Egypt and other friendly Arab states.

Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas’ governing and military capabilities in Gaza, from where it launched its October 7 attack on southern Israel.

The militants killed some 1200 people after breaking through Israel’s extensive border defences, shattering its sense of security.

They also captured about 240 hostages, nearly half of whom were released during a temporary ceasefire agreement in November.

Displaced Palestinians found little to celebrate on New Year’s Eve in Muwasi, a makeshift camp in the mostly undeveloped area of southern Gaza’s Mediterranean coast designated by Israel as a safe zone.

“From the intensity of the pain we live, we do not feel that there is a new year,” said Kamal al-Zeinaty, huddled with his family around a fire inside a tent.

“All the days are the same.”

Another relative, Zeyad al-Zeinaty, who fled with his family from the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, said his wife, brother and grandchildren were among many relatives he had lost in the war.

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Israel’s unprecedented air and ground offensive has killed more than 21,800 Palestinians and wounded more than 56,000 others, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths.

The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of Gaza residents facing starvation, according to the United Nations. Israel’s bombardments have leveled vast swaths of the territory, displacing some 85 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.

Israel expanded its offensive to central Gaza this week, targeting a belt of densely built-up communities that house refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and their descendants.

In Zweida in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens of others, according to witnesses. The bodies were draped in white plastic and laid out in front of a hospital, where prayers were held before burial.

“They were innocent people,” said Hussein Siam, whose relatives were among the dead. “Israeli warplanes bombarded the whole family.”

Officials from Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Deir al-Balah said the 13 were among 35 bodies received today.

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires a shell from southern Israel towards the Gaza Strip (AP Photo / Ohad Zwigenberg)

The Israeli military said it was battling militants in Khan Younis, where Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding. It also said its forces operating in the Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza, found a bomb in a kindergarten and defused it. Hamas continued to launch rockets toward southern Israel.

Israel has faced stiff resistance from Hamas since it began its ground offensive in late October, and the military says 172 soldiers have been killed during that time.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip.

At a news conference yesterday, he said the war would continue for “many more months” and that Israel would assume control of the Gaza side of the border with Egypt.

Israel said Hamas had smuggled weapons from Egypt, but Egypt was likely to oppose any Israeli military presence there.

Netanyahu has also said he would not allow the internationally backed Palestinian Authority, which administers some parts of the occupied West Bank, to expand its limited rule to Gaza, from where Hamas drove its forces out in 2007.

The US wants a unified Palestinian government to run both Gaza and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to eventual statehood.

The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down over a decade ago, and Israeli governments since then have been staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

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