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Palestinians search for victims under the rubble after an Israeli strike on residential house in Morag village, south of Khan Younis last week. Alamy Stock Photo

'Intensive' phase of conflict in south Gaza 'will end soon', Israeli defence minister says

Gaza’s health ministry said Israel struck two hospitals, a girls’ school and “dozens” of homes overnight.


ISRAEL HAS SAID the “intensive” phase of its assault on Hamas in devastated southern Gaza would end “soon” as the UN chief pleaded for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”.

Hamas announced the death of two of the Israeli captives it abducted during its October attack that triggered the conflict, in a video Israel condemned as a “brutal use of innocent hostages”.

Fighting has ravaged the Gaza Strip since 7 October, when Hamas militants carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel that resulted in about 1,140 deaths, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel began a relentless military campaign that has killed at least 24,100 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Gaza health ministry.

The army had stepped up operations and bombardments in the southern cities of Khan Yunis and Rafah in recent weeks after saying Hamas’s military structures in the north had been dismantled.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told a news conference today that an “intense manoeuvring stage” due to last around three months “will end soon” in southern Gaza.

He said the stage was already being reached in northern Gaza, with Israel’s army confirming one of its four divisions in the territory completed its withdrawal today.

The cabinet approved an amended 2024 budget including an additional 55 billion shekels (€13.3 billion) to meet the cost of the conflict, a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said fighting would still continue for months.

gaza-city-palestinian-territories-15th-jan-2024-a-palestinian-woman-walks-with-children-across-the-destroyed-sheikh-radwan-neighbourhood-in-gaza-city-after-one-hundred-days-of-the-isarel-hamas-wa A Palestinian woman walks with children across the destroyed Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in Gaza City Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The UN says more than three months of conflict have displaced roughly 85% of Gaza’s population, crowded into shelters and struggling to get food, water, fuel and medical care.

Israel is facing heavy international pressure over Gaza’s humanitarian crisis and growing number of civilian casualties, with the territory’s health ministry reporting 60 deaths in overnight bombardment.

Deadly violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, exchanges of fire over Israel’s border with Lebanon, and strikes by US forces and Iran-backed Yemeni rebels in the Red Sea have raised fears of an escalation beyond the Gaza Strip.

UN chief Antonio Guterres today reiterated calls for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, “to ensure sufficient aid gets to where it is needed. To facilitate the release of the hostages. To tamp down the flames of wider war”.

AFPTV footage has shown smoke billowing over Khan Yunis, southern Gaza’s main city, as explosions could be heard from nearby Rafah, on the territory’s southern border with Egypt.

As temperatures plunge, families living in makeshift tents in Rafah have resorted to burning plastic to ward off the chill, despite the noxious fumes.

Echoing earlier warnings of a fast-approaching famine, UN agencies earlier called on Israel to allow access to its Ashdod port, north of Gaza, for critical aid deliveries.

Violence flares beyond Gaza

Violence involving regional allies of Iran-backed Hamas – considered a “terrorist” group by the United States and the European Union – has surged since the conflict began.

Attacks by Yemen’s Huthi rebels, who say they act in solidarity with Gaza, have disrupted shipping in the vital Red Sea maritime trade route, triggering strikes on scores of rebel targets last Friday by US and British forces.

The Houthis claimed a missile attack on a US-owned cargo ship off Yemen today, a day after firing a cruise missile at an American destroyer before it was shot down.

Since October, violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where three Palestinians were killed Monday in separate clashes with the Israeli army, the Palestinian health ministry said.

The Israeli army said its troops had opened fire and killed one person in Dura, near Hebron, after a crowd of around 100 “hurled Molotov cocktails and blocks” at them.

In central Israel, which has been largely spared the current violence, a suspected car ramming attack today killed one woman and injured 17 other people, medics said, and police arrested two Palestinian suspects.

Discussions have opened about the future reorganisation of the Palestinian territories after the conflict.

Gallant today said a Palestinian “civilian alternative” will govern post-conflict Gaza where Israeli forces would enjoy “freedom of operation” and with Hamas unable to “rule or function as a military force”.

The future Gaza government must grow out of the Gaza Strip,” Gallant said at a press conference.

- © AFP 2024

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