Israel hits Gaza in war it says will last ‘months’

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Israel pressed its offensive in the Gaza Strip on Friday after telling key backer the United States that the war to crush Hamas will last “more than several months”.

Vowing to destroy Hamas and bring home an estimated 240 hostages taken by militants into Gaza, Israel launched a massive military offensive that has left swathes of the besieged territory in ruins.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, the war has killed more than 18,700 people, mostly women and children.

Late Thursday in the southern city of Rafah near the Egyptian border, crowds of Palestinians used flashlights to search under the rubble of buildings for survivors following an Israeli strike.

“This is a residential neighbourhood, women and children live here, as you can see. This residential neighbourhood has been reduced to rubble,” said Abu Omar, who is living in Rafah.

“Three missiles on a residential neighbourhood that has nothing to do with any militant activities.”

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said troops were engaged in fighting with militants in two districts of Gaza City late Thursday.

“There will be more tough battles in the days to come,” he said.

 ‘We will destroy them’ 

While the United States has strongly backed Israel’s response to the October 7 attacks, it has pressed its ally to do more to minimise civilian casualties.

On Thursday, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan met in Tel Aviv with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.

During their meeting, Gallant warned that Israel’s fight with Hamas “will require a period of time —  it will last more than several months, but we will win and we will destroy them”.

Speaking in Washington, U.S. President Joe Biden urged Israel to take more care to protect civilians in Gaza.

“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives —  not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful,” said Biden, whose government has provided Israel with billions of dollars in military aid.

White House spokesman John Kirby, meanwhile, said Washington was “not dictating terms” to Israel and that the timeline given by Gallant was “consistent” with what Israeli officials had previously said.

Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to carry on “until victory”, and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the war would continue “with or without international support”.

Sullivan on Friday will head to the Israeli-occupied West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian Authority leaders, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

The West Bank, which is ruled by the Palestinian Authority (PA), has seen a surge in violence since October 7.

There, the Palestinian health ministry said 11 people had been killed since the Israeli military launched a raid in the city of Jenin and its refugee camp earlier this week.

The war in Gaza has led to increased popular support for Hamas in the West Bank, further weakening the internationally recognised PA.

 ‘Desperate, hungry, terrified’

This week, the U.N. General Assembly overwhelmingly supported a non-binding resolution for a ceasefire in Gaza, with Washington voting against.

The United Nations estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced.

The head of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, warned Gaza risked a “breakdown of civil order” as hunger and desperation drove people to seize humanitarian aid being delivered to the enclave.

“Everywhere you go, people are desperate, hungry and are terrified,” said Lazzarini, who recently returned from Gaza.

According to U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA’s latest update on the situation in Gaza, more than a third of households in the territory are reporting experiencing severe hunger, while more than 90 percent are “going to bed hungry”.

Adding to Gaza residents’ desperation, mobile and internet communications were cut Thursday, according to Palestinian telecommunications company PalTel.

“We regret to announce that all telecom services in Gaza Strip have been lost due to the cut off of main fibre routes from the Israeli side,” it said in a message on social media.

“Gaza is… blacked out again,” PalTel said, with global network monitor Netblocks confirming the blackout.

Hamas’s media office described the blackout as a “premeditated crime that deepens the humanitarian crisis” by making it harder for rescuers to reach injured people.

 Huthi attack 

Even as the need for humanitarian assistance grows, aid distribution has largely stopped in most of Gaza, except on a limited basis in the Rafah area, according to the U.N..

COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said the military “is enabling tactical pauses for humanitarian purposes”.

One was taking place Thursday for four hours in a Rafah neighbourhood to allow civilians to restock supplies such as food and water, it said.

Fears of a wider regional conflagration persist, and Yemen’s Huthi rebels on Thursday claimed responsibility for an attack on a cargo ship through a Red Sea strait that is key to world shipping.

According to a U.S. official, the missile missed, though the Iran-backed rebels said the Maersk Gibraltar container ship was “targeted with a drone and the hit was direct”.

Huthi spokesman Yahya Saree said the attack was intended as retaliation for the “oppression of the Palestinian people”.

Gaza violence, bombing,

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