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Palestinians inspect damages after an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo
Gaza

Gaza death toll nears 25,000 as Netanyahu rejects calls for Palestinian state

Gaza’s health ministry said 93 people had been killed overnight, including 16 in a strike on a house in the southern city of Rafah.

LAST UPDATE | 18 Jan

ISRAELI GROUND TROOPS have killed dozens of militants in “close-quarters combat” today, the army said, as it intensified operations in Khan Yunis, south Gaza’s biggest city.

The army said the soldiers, part of the Givati Brigade unit that had been based in Gaza before Israel’s 2005 withdrawal, “eliminated dozens of terrorists in close-quarters combat and with the assistance of tank fire and air support”.

Soldiers raided an outpost of Hamas’s Khan Yunis brigade and the offices of its commanders, seizing weapons, it added.

The army also said its Givati Brigade was “fighting in the southernmost area that ground troops have operated in so far”.

Fighting has ravaged Gaza since Hamas’s unprecedented 7 October attacks on Israel that resulted in the death of about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

At least 24,620 Palestinians, around 70% of them women, children and adolescents, have been killed in the fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. 

In a nationally televised news conference today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly said that Israel would not halt its offencive until it reaches its goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all remaining hostages.

He rejected claims by a growing number of Israeli critics that those goals are not achievable, vowing to press ahead for many months.

“We will not settle for anything short of an absolute victory,” Netanyahu said.

At the same conference, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said it is ready to establish full relations with Israel as part of a larger political agreement. “But that can only happen through peace for the Palestinians, through a Palestinian state,” he said.

Netanyahu, however, repeated his longstanding opposition to a two-state solution. He said a Palestinian state would become a launching pad for attacks on Israel. 

He said Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River”, adding: “That collides with the idea of sovereignty. What can we do?”

“This truth I tell to our American friends, and I put the brakes on the attempt to coerce us to a reality that would endanger the state of Israel,” he said.

The comments prompted an immediate rebuke from the White House, with a spokesperson saying that President Joe Biden would “not stop working” towards a two-state solution.

Attacks

Live footage from AFPTV showed smoke rising over central-southern Gaza in the afternoon.

The Hamas government reported dozens of strikes, including on Khan Yunis and refugee camps in central Gaza.

Gaza’s health ministry said 93 people had been killed overnight, including 16 in a strike on a house in the southern city of Rafah, where many people have fled.

Those killed in the Rafah strike included women and children, and 20 people were injured, the ministry said.

Militants seized about 250 hostages during the 7 October attacks, around 132 of whom Israel says remain in Gaza.

At least 27 hostages are believed to have been killed, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Humanitarian aid

Palestinian and Israeli officials today confirmed a shipment of aid, including medicine for hostages, had entered Gaza after French and Qatari mediation.

Qatar last night said the shipment, which also comprises humanitarian aid for Gazan civilians, had reached the territory under an agreement announced on Tuesday.

rafah-palestinian-territories-17th-jan-2024-trucks-carrying-humanitarian-aid-enter-the-gaza-strip-through-the-the-kerem-shalom-crossing-border-credit-abed-rahim-khatibdpaalamy-live-news Trucks carrying humanitarian aid enter the Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

There was, however, no word on whether medicines had been distributed to dozens of hostages with chronic illnesses who are being held by Hamas.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it did not play any role in implementing the deal but welcomed it as “a much-needed moment of relief”.

EU call for ceasefire

The European Parliament today called for a “permanent ceasefire” in Gaza – but on condition that all Israeli hostages are released immediately and Hamas dismantled.

The parliament called in an amended resolution “for a permanent ceasefire and to restart efforts towards a political solution provided that all hostages are immediately and unconditionally released and the terrorist organisation Hamas is dismantled”.

The non-binding resolution was backed by 312 lawmakers, with 131 voting against and 72 abstaining.

Irish Green MEPs Grace O’Sullivan and Ciarán Cuffe voted against the resolution. 

They said the amendments to the text rendered the ceasefire call “practically meaningless”. 

“In saying that the Parliament only supports a ceasefire on the condition that Hamas is eliminated essentially hands the far-right Israeli government a blank cheque to continue the bombardment of Gaza for as long as they want,” O’Sullivan said. 

Fianna Fáil MEPs Barry Andrews and Billy Kelleher said they could not support the resoltuion as it “was not balanced enough to earn our support”. 

“The inclusion of conditionality clauses with respect to a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, supported by right wing MEPs, was a red line issue for us,” they said.

Independents 4 Change MEPs Mick Wallace and Clare Daly said the amended resolution “is the opposite of what is needed”. 

“While it pretends to regret the humanitarian situation in Gaza, MEPs voted down amendment after amendment calling for meaningful steps to address it,” they said. 

smoke-rises-following-israeli-bombardments-in-khan-younis-southern-gaza-strip-wednesday-jan-17-2024-ap-photomohammed-dahman Smoke rises following Israeli bombardments in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

West Bank

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has soared alongside the conflict in Gaza, an Israeli raid has continued into a second day around Tulkarem, an official said.

Palestinian health officials reported a sixth person had been killed in the operation.

The man shot dead today in Nur Shams refugee camp, on the edge of Tulkarem, was a civilian not involved in fighting between Israeli forces and militants, local official Remi Elyan told AFP.

Israel’s military said troops returned fire while they were working to “uncover roads where explosive devices were planted”.

Israeli forces killed 10 people in the West Bank yesterday, the ministry and the army said.

Five were killed inside Tulkarem refugee camp, according to the ministry, while Israel’s military confirmed an air strike that killed “a number of terrorists” during a raid there.

Includes reporting by Press Association and © AFP 2024 

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