Israel ‘intensifying’ Gaza strikes, Netanyahu says no peace until Hamas destroyed

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Israel on Monday said it was “intensifying the fighting” against Hamas in Gaza, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted peace can only be achieved in Gaza if Hamas is destroyed, the territory demilitarised and Palestinian society “deradicalised”, after warning the war is set to intensify.

In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday night, Netanyahu vowed to stay the course.

“Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarised, and Palestinian society must be deradicalised. These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours in Gaza,” Netanyahu said.

He said demilitarisation “will require establishing a temporary security zone on the perimeter” of the territory.

“For the foreseeable future Israel will have to retain overriding security responsibility over Gaza,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Netanyahu visited Gaza, telling a meeting of his Likud party after his return: “We’re not stopping”.

“We’re intensifying the fighting in the coming days,” he said, according to a party statement.

The conflict has heightened tensions across the Middle East where Iran — which supports Hamas — on Monday accused Israel of killing a senior Revolutionary Guards general in Syria and vowed revenge.

Pope Francis decried the “desperate humanitarian situation” in Gaza. During his traditional Christmas message he called for an immediate ceasefire and the freeing of hostages.

As war raged, festivities in Bethlehem, which Christians consider to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, were effectively scrapped in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The city’s usually vibrant streets had only a handful of worshippers and tourists.

The war erupted when Palestinian militants broke through Gaza’s militarised border and attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Militants also seized about 250 hostages, Israel says.

Israel vowed to crush Hamas and launched a retaliatory military campaign in Gaza, including extensive aerial bombardment and siege. The campaign has killed at least 20,674 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Four major Israeli strikes since Sunday killed more than 100 people, the ministry said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Monday after visiting Gaza, “We’re not stopping,” according to a statement from his Likud party.

“We’re intensifying the fighting in the coming days,” he told party members.

Palestinian militants launched rockets towards Israel during the day, most of which were intercepted by Israeli air defences.

In Gaza, the health ministry said an Israeli air strike killed at least 70 people on Christmas Eve at the Al-Maghazi refugee camp.

AFP was unable to independently verify the toll.

Rows of victims’ bodies, shrouded in white bags, lined the ground at Al-Aqsa hospital in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza, ahead of a mass funeral.

The army said it was “reviewing the incident”, adding it was “committed to international law including taking feasible steps to minimise harm to civilians”.

Israel has been under increasing pressure from its allies to protect civilians during its military campaign.

Speaking with Netanyahu on Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden “emphasised the critical need” for such protection, the White House said.

Zeyad Awad, a resident of Al-Maghazi, said there was no evacuation warning before the strike that caused “extensive, enormous destruction and panic in the hearts of my children”.

 ‘Real hunger’

The health ministry said 10 members of one family were killed in an Israeli strike in Jabalia camp, northern Gaza, and 18 people died in an overnight bombardment of Khan Yunis in the south.

Monday brought no respite, with the army saying it continued ground, air and sea operations and struck several Hamas targets, including commanders.

Before dawn, an Israeli strike “targeting a house” in central Gaza’s Al-Zuwaida area, near Al-Mughazi, killed at least 12 people, mostly women and children, the Gaza health ministry said.

Vast areas of Gaza lie in ruins and its 2.4 million people are enduring dire shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine, alleviated only by the limited arrival of aid trucks.

Grasping empty containers, dozens of Gazans waited on a street in Rafah, in southern Gaza, for food to be distributed.

“Now there is real hunger. My children are dying of hunger,” said one of them, Nour Ismail.

An estimated 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced, according to the U.N., many fleeing south and crowded into shelters or makeshift tents in the winter cold.

“A humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is the only way forward,” said the head of the U.N. refugee agency, Filippo Grandi.

The World Health Organization said it led missions to barely functioning hospitals in northern Gaza at the weekend. It described growing desperation and starving people stripping an aid truck of supplies.

“Everyone we speak to is hungry,” said Sean Casey, a WHO emergency coordinator, warning of a “risk of famine”.

 ‘Free our hostages’ 

Israel lashed out at the U.N. on Monday over its response to the war. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen accused the world body of “hypocrisy” and said its chief Antonio Guterres “legitimised war crimes”.

“We will stop working with those who cooperate with the Hamas terrorist organisation’s propaganda,” Cohen said on X, adding his ministry would not extend one U.N. employee’s entry visa, and would refuse entry for another.

Netanyahu addressed parliament on Monday during a special session about the 129 hostages Israel says remain in Gaza. He was booed by families awaiting their loved ones’ return after 80 days in captivity.

“Now! Now!” relatives chanted as Netanyahu said Israeli forces needed “more time” to increase military pressure on Hamas, which he argued would help to secure the captives’ release.

Later, protesters gathered near the defence ministry headquarters in central Tel Aviv ahead of a war cabinet meeting, holding posters demanding: “Free our hostages now — at any cost!”

The premier on Sunday said the war was exacting a “very heavy price” on Israel’s military, 156 of whose soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

Fears of regional escalation only increased Monday.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said an Israeli air strike in Syria had killed Razi Moussavi, who state media described as “one of the most experienced advisers” of the military force’s foreign arm.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which has intensified strikes on targets in Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement said in a statement: “We consider this assassination a flagrant attack that crosses the limits.” The group added that Moussavi had supported it for decades.

Cross-border fire has erupted almost daily between Israel and Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon.

Yemen’s Huthi rebels, also Iran-backed, have fired at cargo vessels in the Red Sea, leading the United States to build a naval taskforce to deter the missile and drone strikes.

And in Iraq, where attacks against Israel-allied U.S. forces have surged, a drone strike on Monday targeted a military base used by U.S. and anti-jihadist coalition forces, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.

humanitarian crisis, Gaza violence,

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