Israel vows to continue Gaza war 'with or without international support'

Now in its third month, Tel Aviv's fight against Hamas has left more than 18,600 Palestinians dead, mostly women and children

By AFP

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Israeli soldiers prepare to return to the Gaza Strip, near the border area in southern Israel on December 13, 2023. Photo: AFP
Israeli soldiers prepare to return to the Gaza Strip, near the border area in southern Israel on December 13, 2023. Photo: AFP

Published: Wed 13 Dec 2023, 8:51 PM

Israel declared on Wednesday its determination to continue its Gaza war "with or without international support", after it came under mounting pressure even from key backer the United States.

Now in its third month, the war was launched in response to the unprecedented attacks on Israel by Palestinian militant group Hamas on October 7 that Israeli officials say killed 1,200 people.

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

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a non-binding resolution for a ceasefire on Tuesday.

But more air strikes hit Gaza and gun battles raged, especially in Gaza City, the biggest urban centre, and Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south, AFP correspondents said.

Cold autumn rains lashed the territory, where millions have been displaced and many are living in makeshift plastic tents, as vital supplies of food, drinking water, medicines and fuel have run low in more than two months of siege and war.

Camped with thousands of others in the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in central Gaza, Ameen Edwan said his family was unable to sleep.

"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 rain out, he told AFP.

Air raid sirens wailed in Sderot and other southern Israeli communities near Gaza as Palestinian militants kept firing rockets, most of which have been intercepted by air defences.

Israel's military said sirens sounded in Ashdod city north of Gaza and in the Lakhish area. Social media footage showed a large fragment of an intercepted rocket had hit a supermarket.

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

In Khan Yunis, a centre of heavy urban combat in recent days, a family gathered to mourn the death in a strike of Fayez al-Taramsi, a father of seven.

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

The bloodiest-ever Gaza war broke out after Hamas gunmen attacked Israel on October 7 -- the deadliest in the country's 75-year history.

They also seized around 240 hostages. Israel, determined to destroy Hamas and bring the hostages home, launched a devastating aerial and ground offensive on Gaza.

It says it has lost 115 soldiers, including 10 in northern Gaza on Tuesday, its deadliest day since launching the ground assault on October 27.

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 attacking Ukraine.

While the United States voted against the resolution, it 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".

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

The US leader, who toned down his comments later, on Wednesday met with families of American hostages from among those the militants seized on October 7.

Despite the criticism from its main ally, Israel vowed to press on with its war on Hamas.

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

"A ceasefire at the current stage is a gift to the terrorist organisation Hamas, and will allow it to return and threaten the residents of Israel," Cohen told a visiting diplomat, quoted by his ministry.

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

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

The UN estimates 1.9 million of the territory's 2.4 million people have been displaced and are receiving goods from only around 100 aid trucks per day.

Its hospital system is in ruins, and Hamas authorities said Wednesday that vaccines for children had run out, warning of "catastrophic health repercussions".

UN satellite analysis agency UNOSAT said Tuesday that 18 percent of Gaza's infrastructure had been destroyed, based on an image that was already more than two weeks old.

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

Already by mid-November, almost half of all roads and around 60 percent of communication infrastructure, health and education facilities had been damaged or destroyed, it said.

Hamas said Israeli forces raided a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday. UN humanitarian agency OCHA had earlier reported fighting nearby and said about 3,000 displaced people were trapped inside.

The army did not comment, but Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using hospitals, schools, mosques and vast tunnel systems beneath them as military bases -- claims the group has denied.

The UN World Health Organization's chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was "extremely worried" by reports of the raid, adding that his agency "urgently calls for the protection of all persons inside the hospital".

Fears of a wider conflict continued to grow, with daily exchanges of fire along Israel's border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah is based, and other Iran-backed groups targeting US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria.

Yemen's Houthi rebels have repeatedly launched missiles and drones toward Israel and cargo ships in nearby waters that they suspect are working with Israel.

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