Israel ready to fight 'for months' to defeat Hamas as Gaza deaths cross 18,000

Bombing continues as Israel warns Hamas is on brink of 'dissolution'

By AFP. AP

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A man carries a rescued Palestinian girl from the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike at the Rafah refugee camp. — AFP file photo
A man carries a rescued Palestinian girl from the rubble of a building after an Israeli airstrike at the Rafah refugee camp. — AFP file photo

Published: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 9:56 AM

Last updated: Tue 12 Dec 2023, 4:41 PM

Israel says it's prepared to fight for months or longer to defeat Hamas, as its ground offense intensifies with more airstrikes and artillery fire.

The military pressed on with its bombing of Gaza on Tuesday after saying its campaign to destroy Hamas has left the Palestinian militant group on the "the verge of dissolution".

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Humanitarian leaders fear the besieged territory will soon be overwhelmed by disease and starvation, and are piling diplomatic pressure on Israel to boost efforts to protect civilians.

With only a trickle of humanitarian aid reaching a small portion of Gaza, residents face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods. Some observers worry that Palestinians will be forced out of Gaza altogether.

Fierce fighting raged on Tuesday, with Hamas saying clashes had taken place in central Gaza and witnesses reporting deadly Israeli strikes in the south of the territory.

Israel faces international outrage after its military offensive has killed at least 18,200 Palestinians in Gaza, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to the enclave's health ministry. About 90 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced within the besieged territory, where UN agencies say there is no safe place to flee.

'On the verge of dissolution'

Strikes on Monday targeted Gaza's main southern city of Khan Yunis, now the epicentre of the fighting, as well as Rafah, a city on the border with Egypt where tens of thousands of people are seeking shelter.

"Hamas is on the verge of dissolution — the IDF is taking over its last strongholds," Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said late Monday.

Israel's army chief Herzi Halevi visited the centre of Khan Yunis on Monday, where he said his forces were "securing our accomplishments in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, the entrance in the southern part of the Strip, and also deep down into the ground".

The UN estimates 1.9 million of the territory's 2.4 million people have been displaced by the war, half of them children.

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Father loses 7 children

Fighting and heavy bombardment in the south, where Israel had previously urged civilians to seek safety, have left people with few places to go.

Umm Mohammed Al Jabri lost seven children in an air strike on Rafah after fleeing there from Gaza City further north.

"I have four children left," said Jabri, 56. "Last night they bombed the house we were in and destroyed it. They said Rafah would be a safe place. There is no safe place."

Civilians in Gaza are facing a catastrophic situation, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Monday, comparing the territory's destruction to that of Germany during World War II.

Health services have been devastated, with only 14 of Gaza's 36 hospitals functioning at any capacity, according to UN humanitarian agency OCHA.

In central Gaza, Al Aqsa hospital was inundated with victims on Monday, including dozens of screaming children, after Israeli strikes on the Al Maghazi refugee camp.

No water, no bread, no sanitary pads

As basic supplies run out and sanitary conditions deteriorate, women and girls in Rafah said they had been forced to use scraps of cloth for menstrual periods.

"I cut up my kid's clothes or any piece of cloth I find," said 25-year-old Hala Ataya.

In Gaza City's Al Rimal neighbourhood, thousands of Palestinians set up camp at a UN agency headquarters after nearby homes and shops were destroyed by Israeli strikes.

An AFP correspondent said both the Islamic and adjacent Al-Azhar universities had been reduced to rubble, as had the police station.

"There is no water. There is no electricity, no bread, no milk for the children, and no diapers," said Rami al-Dahduh, 23, a tailor.

International aid organisations have struggled to get supplies to desperate Gazans under Israeli bombardment, with only the Rafah crossing in Egypt open.

Facing growing pressure to do more for civilians, Israel announced Monday it would be screening aid to Gaza at two additional checkpoints, which would allow more assistance to enter the ravaged territory.

No new direct crossings will be opened, Israel said, but the Nitzana and Kerem Shalom crossings will be used to carry out checks before sending the trucks through Rafah.

UN to vote today

The UN General Assembly is due to vote Tuesday on a non-binding resolution demanding "an immediate humanitarian ceasefire" in Gaza -- a call that the Security Council has so far failed to make.

The United States, one of only five permanent members of the Security Council, used its veto on Friday to halt a draft text calling for a ceasefire.

In a bid to build pressure, Arab countries called for the new special session of the General Assembly following a visit to the Rafah border by more than a dozen Security Council ambassadors.

The draft text, seen by AFP, largely reproduces the resolution blocked in the Council on Friday by the US.

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