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Palestinians salvage belongings from the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli strike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo

At least 48 Palestinians killed in overnight Israeli strikes on Gaza, health ministry says

Gaza’s health ministry says the Israeli military campaign has killed at least 21,822 people.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Dec 2023

ISRAELI STRIKES HAVE pounded Gaza today as both sides near the end of a dark year and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the offensive sparked by Hamas’s 7 October attack will last for “many months”.

At least 48 Palestinians were killed in overnight bombing in Gaza City, the health ministry in the Gaza Strip said, with many still buried under the rubble.

Another strike killed 20 people sheltering at Al-Aqsa University in the west of Gaza city, witnesses said.

The Israeli army reported killing around a dozen enemy fighters in multiple ground battles, air and tank strikes and said it had located Hamas tunnels, and explosives planted in a kindergarten.

As heavy combat raged on, 85% of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced, according to the UN, which warns of a growing risk of hunger and disease as desperate families shelter in makeshift tents against the winter cold.

The world has watched on in horror for months as the decades-old Israel-Palestinian conflict exploded into the bloodiest ever Gaza conflict after Hamas launched its unprecedented attack on 7 October.

The Palestinian gunmen overwhelmed Gaza’s high-tech border fence and burst into southern Israel in an attack that killed about 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

The surprise attack – in which Hamas militants committed atrocities and dragged off some 250 hostages – blindsided and infuriated Israel and sparked a devastating military response.

Heavy bombardment, and a ground invasion launched three weeks into the offensive, have reduced vast areas of Gaza to a ruined wasteland and killed at least 21,822 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry.

a-palestinian-boy-sits-on-the-rubble-of-a-destroyed-building-after-an-israeli-strike-in-rafah-southern-gaza-strip-friday-dec-29-2023-ap-photofatima-shbair A Palestinian boy sits on the rubble of a destroyed building after an Israeli strike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

More than 55,000 people have been injured, it said, at a time when most Gaza hospitals are either out of service or damaged and overwhelmed.

The Israeli army says 172 of its soldiers have been killed inside Gaza, and Netanyahu said Israeli forces had killed about 8,000 “terrorists” so far.

Hamas is an Islamic militant group who are deemed a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US and the EU, among other powers. It has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 after winning the 2006 Palestinian elections and taking power by force.

‘War is not the natural condition of humanity’

In a statement this evening, President Michael D Higgins called on “all nations to redouble their efforts for an immediate ceasefire” in Gaza. 

President Higgins said that as the year comes to an end, it is important “that we reflect on what steps the international community can take in order to help bring a lasting and meaningful peace to the region”. 

“When wars and conflicts become seemingly unending, humanity is the loser,” he said.

In my previous statements, I have said that war is not the natural condition of humanity, cooperation is. We cannot be indifferent as we watch daily the loss of life that is appearing on our screens.

“The awful loss of life which we have witnessed in recent months has led to a broad re-statement of the need for a two-state solution.

“However, for this to have meaning, there is a need to move beyond a theoretical commitment and for detailed consideration to resume of the specific details of how this can be achieved.

“It is my hope that it will not be long until the international community comes together to commence the serious, crucial negotiations that will be needed in the time ahead.”

President Higgins said that “essential elements” of the negotiations will include the requirement for a Palestinian state to be contiguous, the capacity for the State to produce its own products and release them to the market without hindrance and air, sea and land sovereignty. 

He continued: “The horrific violence and loss of life which we have seen since the attacks carried out by Hamas in Israel on 7 October, followed by the devastation caused by the Israeli response in Gaza, as well as continuing violence by settlers in the West Bank, highlight the urgency of this task,

“The Irish Government has given a lead in raising these issues through the European and international institutions.

“Far too many lives, and particularly children’s lives, have already been lost.”

‘Epic human suffering’

UN chief Antonio Guterres has condemned the “epic human suffering” and “collective punishment” of Palestinian civilians.

He and other world leaders have repeatedly called for a ceasefire while Israel has vowed to push on until Hamas is defeated, a position backed by its powerful ally the United States.

“The war will continue for many months until Hamas is eliminated and the hostages are returned,” Netanyahu reiterated at a news conference on Saturday.

Today, he vowed: “We will continue our defensive war, the justice and morality of which is without peer.”

an-israeli-apc-maneuvers-near-the-gaza-strip-border-in-southern-israel-friday-dec-29-2023-the-army-is-battling-palestinian-militants-across-gaza-in-the-war-ignited-by-hamas-oct-7-attack-into-i An Israeli APC maneuvers near the Gaza Strip border, in southern Israel Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Inside Gaza, Palestinian families – many pushed into the territory’s far south as the battlefront draws ever closer – are praying for a respite from the war.

“We were hoping that 2024 would arrive under better auspices and that we would be able to celebrate the new year at home with our families,” said Mahmoud Abou Shahma, 33, in a camp in Rafah on the border with Egypt.

Desperate hostage families

At least 129 hostages are still believed held in Gaza after more than 100 were released in a prisoner swap during a week-long truce in late November.

Families and friends of the remaining captives have rallied to keep up pressure on the government to bring them home.

“I hope there’s going to be another deal, even a partial deal, or that some will be released,” said one demonstrator, Nir Shafran, 45.

“I’m trying to hold on to every shred of hope.”

International mediators have continued efforts toward a new pause in fighting.

A Hamas delegation from Qatar visited Cairo on Friday to discuss an Egyptian three-phase plan proposing renewable ceasefires, a staggered release of hostages for Palestinian prisoners, and ultimately an end to the conflict, sources close to Hamas said.

Their allies Islamic Jihad said yesterday that Palestinian factions were “in the process” of evaluating the proposal and would give a response “within days”.

smoke-rises-from-the-battlefield-in-the-gaza-strip-as-seen-from-southern-israel-saturday-dec-30-2023-the-army-is-battling-palestinian-militants-across-gaza-in-the-war-ignited-by-hamas-oct-7-att Smoke rises from the battlefield in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

US news outlet Axios and Israeli website Ynet, both citing unnamed Israeli officials, reported that Qatari mediators had told Israel that Hamas was prepared to resume talks on new hostage releases in exchange for a ceasefire.

Netanyahu, asked about the process yesterday, said Hamas had been “giving all kinds of ultimatums that we didn’t accept”.

“We are seeing a certain shift (but) I don’t want to create an expectation,” he said without elaborating.

Multiple Mideast fronts

Amid the Gaza conflict, violence has also flared in the occupied West Bank, and between Israel and some of its regional enemies, an alliance of Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Israeli forces have traded heavy fire with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah across the UN-patrolled border.

Netanyahu warned that “if Hezbollah wants to extend the war, it will be dealt blows like never before, and so will Iran”.

Hezbollah’s number two Naim Qassem said today that Israel “first must stop the Gaza war in order for the war in Lebanon to stop”.

Another Iran ally, Yemen’s Huthi rebels, has launched drone and missile attacks on cargo ships in the Red Sea, saying the strikes are in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

Washington has assembled a multinational naval task force to deter such attacks.

The military said today that US Navy helicopters sank three Huthi vessels and killed their crews after they had attacked a Danish-owned container ship.

At least 10 rebels were killed when US forces struck their boats, two sources at the rebel-controlled Yemeni port of Hodeida said.

© AFP 2023 

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