US to block UN resolution for Gaza ceasefire as Israel bombs Rafah

The World Health Organisation warned on Sunday that the Nasser Hospital in Gaza is “not functional anymore”.

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Israeli strikes across Gaza killed at least 18 people overnight and into Sunday, according to medics and witnesses, as the United States said it would veto another draft UN ceasefire resolution.

An airstrike in Rafah overnight killed six people, including a woman and three children, and another strike killed five men in Khan Younis, the main target of the offensive over the past two months. 

In Gaza City, which was isolated, largely evacuated and suffered widespread destruction in the initial weeks of the war, an airstrike flattened a family home, killing seven people, including three women, according to Sayed al-Afifi, a relative of the deceased.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained defiant to international pressure over a ground operation in Rafah – where 1.4 million Palestinians, more than half the enclave’s population, are sheltering – and to calls for a two-state solution to the conflict.

Such calls were reiterated by the French and Egyptian leaders on Sunday who, according to a readout of their call from the Elysée “expressed their firm opposition to an Israeli offensive at Rafah, which would lead to a humanitarian catastrophe on a new scale, as well as any forced displacement of populations into Egyptian territory, which would constitute a violation of international humanitarian law and pose a further risk of regional escalation”. 

“They also stressed the need to work towards a way out of the crisis, and the decisive and irreversible relaunch of the political process, with a view to the effective implementation of the two-state solution,” the readout also says.

Negotiations ‘not progressing as expected’

But Netanyahu’s Cabinet adopted a declaration Sunday saying Israel “categorically rejects international edicts on a permanent arrangement with the Palestinians” and opposes any unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state, which it said would “grant a major prize to terror” after the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until “total victory” over Hamas and to expand it to Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah.

The US, Israel’s top ally, which hopes to broker a ceasefire agreement and hostage release between Israel and Hamas, and envisions a wider resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, meanwhile said it would veto a draft UN ceasefire resolution circulated by Algeria.

The Arab representative on the UN Security Council’s resolution calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, unhindered humanitarian access, as well as rejecting the forced displacement of Palestinian civilians.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in a statement late Saturday that the draft resolution runs counter to Washington’s own efforts to end the fighting and “will not be adopted.”

“It is critical that other parties give this process the best odds of succeeding, rather than push measures that put it — and the opportunity for an enduring resolution of hostilities — in jeopardy,” she said.

The US, Qatar and Egypt have spent weeks trying to broker a ceasefire and hostage release, but there’s a wide gap between Israel and Hamas’ demands and Qatar said Saturday that the talks “have not been progressing as expected.”

Hamas has said it will not release all of the remaining hostages without Israel ending the war and withdrawing from Gaza. It is also demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including top militants.

Netanyahu has publicly rejected both demands and any scenario in which Hamas would be able to rebuild its military and governing capabilities. He said he sent a delegation to ceasefire talks in Cairo last week at Biden’s request but doesn’t see the point in sending them again.

WHO team prevented from entering Nasser Hospital

Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that Nasser Hospital, the main medical centre serving southern Gaza, “is not functional anymore” after Israeli forces raided the facility in the southern city of Khan Younis last week.

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the UN health agency, said a WHO team was not allowed to enter Nasser Hospital on Friday or Saturday “to assess the conditions of the patients and critical medical needs, despite reaching the hospital compound to deliver fuel alongside partners.”

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, he said there are still about 200 patients in the hospital, including 20 who need urgent referrals to other hospitals.

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Israel says it has arrested over 100 suspected militants, including 20 who it says participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, without providing evidence. The military says it is looking for the remains of hostages inside the facility and does not target doctors or patients.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 70 medical personnel were among those arrested, as well as patients in hospital beds who were taken away in trucks. Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesperson for the ministry, said soldiers beat detainees and stripped them of their clothes. There was no immediate comment from the military on those allegations.

The war erupted after Hamas burst through Israel’s defences and attacked communities across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage. Militants still hold around 130 hostages, a fourth of whom are believed to be dead, after most of the others were released during a weeklong ceasefire in November.

At least 28,985 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed since the beginning of the war, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its records. The toll includes 127 bodies brought to hospitals in the past 24 hours, it said Sunday. Around 80% of Gaza’s population have been driven from their homes and a quarter face starvation.

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Netanyahu promises ‘safe passage’ to Palestinians ahead of Rafah operation

The threat of an Israeli incursion into Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah persisted on Sunday, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised “safe passage” to civilians displaced there.

In an interview airing on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his intention to extend Israel’s military operation against Hamas into Rafah.

Despite international alarm over the potential for carnage in a place crammed with more than half of the Gaza Strip’s 2.4 million people, Netanyahu told ABC News: “We’re going to do it”.

“We’re going to do it while providing safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave,” he said, according to published extracts of the interview.

It remains unclear however, where the large number of people pressed up against the border with Egypt and sheltering in makeshift tents can go.

When asked, Mr. Netanyahu would only say they are “working out a detailed plan”.

As Israeli forces have pushed steadily southwards, Rafah has become the last major population centre in Gaza that troops have yet to enter, even as it is bombarded by air strikes almost daily.

“They said Rafah is safe, but it is not. All places are being targeted,” Palestinian Mohammed Saydam said after an Israeli strike destroyed a police vehicle in the city on Saturday.

The Israeli Premier, who contends “victory” over Hamas cannot be achieved without clearing battalions in Rafah, directed his military on Friday to prepare for the operation. His announcement set off a chorus of concern from world leaders and aid groups.

“The people in Gaza cannot disappear into thin air,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote on social media platform X, adding that an Israeli offensive on Rafah would be a “humanitarian catastrophe in the making.”

Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry warned Saturday of “very serious repercussions of storming and targeting” Rafah and called for an urgent UN Security Council meeting, while UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he is “deeply concerned” about the prospective offensive.

“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out,” he wrote.

– Sharpening US rebuke –

The war in Gaza was sparked by Palestinian Islamist group Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of about 1,160 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Vowing to eliminate Hamas, Israel launched a massive military offensive in Gaza that the territory’s health ministry says has killed at least 28,064 people, mostly women and children.

Militants also seized 250 hostages, 132 of whom are still in Gaza, although 29 are presumed dead, Israel has said.

Netanyahu announced the plan for a ground operation in Rafah only days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel seeking a ceasefire and hostage-prisoner exchange.

Netanyahu has rejected the proposed truce after what he called “bizarre demands” from Hamas.

But Israel’s plans for Rafah have drawn sharp rebuke from main ally and military backer Washington, with the State Department warning that if not properly planned, such an operation risks “disaster”.

In unusually sharp criticism, US President Joe Biden on Thursday called Israel’s retaliatory campaign “over the top”.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers warned on Saturday that a full-scale Israeli invasion of Rafah could cause “tens of thousands” of casualties.

The office of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said the move “threatens security and peace in the region and the world” and is “a blatant violation of all red lines”.

The Hamas-run territory’s health ministry said on Sunday that 94 people were killed in overnight bombardments across Gaza, including in Rafah.

The Israeli military said it killed two “senior Hamas operatives” in a strike on Rafah Saturday.

It was part of a wider bombardment that killed at least 25 people in the city, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

– UNRWA under pressure –

To the north in Gaza City, Israel’s military claimed that its troops uncovered a Hamas tunnel under the evacuated headquarters of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called for its head, Philippe Lazzarini, to quit.

Lazzarini said the agency had not operated from the compound since October 12 when staff evacuated it under instruction from Israeli forces.

Already under pressure after Israel claimed 12 UNRWA staff were involved in the October 7 Hamas attack, he called for an independent investigation into the latest Israeli accusations.

An AFP photographer was among a number of journalists taken to the compound and tunnel by the Israeli military on Thursday.

UN premises are considered “inviolable” in international law and immune from “search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference”.

Hamas has repeatedly denied Israeli accusations that it has dug a network of tunnels under schools, hospitals and other civilian infrastructure as cover for its activities.

On Sunday, Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy called UNRWA “a Hamas front”.

– Public fury –

The war, now in its fifth month, has spawned intensifying public fury in Israel.

Protesters took to the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to demand the release of the hostages, Netanyahu step down and fresh elections be called.

“It’s clear Netanyahu is dragging out the war, he has no idea what to do on the day after,” Israeli protester Gil Gordon said.

The war has had far-reaching impact well bedyond Israel and Gaza, with violence involving Iran-backed allies of Hamas surging across the Middle East.

A senior Hamas officer survived an Israeli assassination attempt in Lebanon, Palestinian and Lebanese security sources told AFP, but two other people including a Hezbollah member were killed in the attack.

And in Syria, Israeli strikes near Damascus killed three people, a war monitor said, adding the targeted neighbourhood hosted villas for top military and civilian officials.

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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu rejects Hamas truce terms, vows to fight until ‘absolute victory’

February 07, 2024 11:45 pm | Updated February 08, 2024 12:46 am IST – TEL AVIV, Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 7 rejected Hamas’ terms for a ceasefire and hostage-release agreement, calling them “delusional,” a position that complicates efforts to strike a deal between the sides.

Mr. Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas, now in its fifth month, until achieving “absolute victory.”

Mr. Netanyahu made the comments shortly after meeting the visiting U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken, who has been traveling the region in hopes of securing a cease-fire agreement.

“Surrendering to Hamas’ delusional demands that we heard now not only won’t lead to freeing the captives, it will just invite another massacre,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a nationally televised evening news conference.

“We are on the way to an absolute victory,” Mr. Netanyahu said, adding that the operation would last months, not years. “There is no other solution.”

He ruled out any arrangement that leaves Hamas in full or partial control of Gaza. He also said that Israel is the “only power” capable of guaranteeing security in the long term.

Earlier, Mr. Blinken said that “a lot of work” remains to bridge the gap between Israel and Hamas on terms for any deal. He was expected to hold his own news conference later on Wednesday.

Hamas laid out a detailed, three-phase plan to unfold over 4 1/2 months, responding to a proposal drawn up by the United States, Israel, Qatar and Egypt. The plan stipulates that all hostages would be released in exchange for hundreds of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, including senior militants, and an end to the war.

Israel has made destroying Hamas’ governing and military abilities one of its wartime objectives, and Hamas’ proposal would effectively leave it in power in Gaza and allow it to rebuild its military capabilities.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Hamas’ demands are “a little over the top” but that negotiations will continue.

The deadliest round of fighting in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has killed over 27,000 Palestinians, levelled entire neighbourhoods, driven the vast majority of Gaza’s population from their homes and pushed a quarter of the population to starvation.

Iran-backed militant groups across the region have conducted attacks, mostly on U.S. and Israeli targets, in solidarity with the Palestinians, drawing reprisals as the risk of a wider conflict grows.

Israel remains deeply shaken by the Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas militants burst through the country’s vaunted defenses and rampaged across southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting some 250, around half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

Mr. Blinken, who is on his fifth visit to the region since the war broke out, is trying to advance the cease-fire talks while pushing for a larger postwar settlement in which Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel in return for a “clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state”.

But the increasingly unpopular Mr. Netanyahu is opposed to Palestinian statehood, and his hawkish governing coalition could collapse if he is seen as making too many concessions.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but we are very much focused on doing that work,” Mr. Blinken told Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog.

There is little talk of grand diplomatic bargains in Gaza, where Palestinians yearn for an end to fighting that has upended every aspect of their lives.

“We pray to God that it stops,” said Ghazi Abu Issa, who fled his home and sought shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah. “There is no water, electricity, food or bathrooms.” Those living in tents have been drenched by winter rains and flooding. “We have been humiliated,” he said.

New mothers struggle to get baby formula and diapers, which can only be bought at vastly inflated prices if they can be found at all. Some have resorted to feeding solid food to babies younger than 6 months old despite the health risks it poses.

The Palestinian death toll from four months of war has reached 27,707, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. That includes 123 bodies brought to hospitals in just the last 24 hours, it said Wednesday. At least 11,000 wounded people need to be urgently evacuated from Gaza, it said.

The Ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its figures but says most of the dead have been women and children.

Israel has ordered Palestinians to evacuate areas that make up two-thirds of the tiny coastal territory. Most of the displaced are packed into the southern town of Rafah near the border with Egypt, where many are living in squalid tent camps and overflowing U.N.-run shelters.

Hamas has continued to put up stiff resistance across the territory, and its police force has returned to the streets in places where Israeli troops have pulled back. Hamas is still holding over 130 hostages, but around 30 of them are believed to be dead, with the vast majority killed on Oct. 7.

Hamas’ response to the cease-fire proposal was published in Lebanon’s Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to the powerful Hezbollah militant group.

A Hamas official and two Egyptian officials confirmed its authenticity. A fourth official familiar with the talks later clarified the sequencing of the releases. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to brief media on the negotiations.

In the first 45-day phase, Hamas would release all remaining women and children, as well as older and sick men, in exchange for an unspecified number of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Israel would also withdraw from populated areas, cease aerial operations, allow far more aid to enter and permit Palestinians to return to their homes, including in devastated northern Gaza.

The second phase, to be negotiated during the first, would include the release of all remaining hostages, mostly soldiers, in exchange for all Palestinian detainees over the age of 50, including senior militants. Israel would release an additional 1,500 prisoners, 500 of whom would be specified by Hamas, and complete its withdrawal from Gaza.

In the third phase, the sides would exchange the remains of hostages and prisoners.

Mr. Netanyahu has said he will not secure a deal at any cost, signalling he would not agree to the release of senior militants.

Israelis are intensely focused on the plight of the hostages, with family members and the wider public demanding a deal with Hamas, fearful that time is running out. Israeli forces have only rescued one hostage, while Hamas says several were killed in Israeli airstrikes and failed rescue missions.

More than 100 hostages, mostly women and children, were freed during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Thousands of Israelis have taken part in weekly protests calling for the release of the hostages and demanding new elections. But Mr. Netanyahu is beholden to far-right coalition allies who have threatened to bring down the government if he concedes too much in the negotiations.

That could spell the end of Mr. Netanyahu’s long political career and expose him to prosecution over long-standing corruption allegations.

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Netanyahu rejects two key Hamas demands for any cease-fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected two key demands Hamas has made during indirect cease-fire talks, saying Israel will not withdraw from the Gaza Strip or release thousands of jailed militants.

During an event on January 30 in the occupied West Bank, Mr. Netanyahu again vowed that the war would not end without Israel’s “absolute victory” over Hamas.

Meanwhile, Israeli forces working undercover killed three Palestinian militants in a raid on a hospital in the West Bank, where violence has surged since the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

The Israeli military said forces entered the Ibn Sina hospital in the northern city of Jenin early Tuesday and shot the three men, whom Hamas claimed as members. The military said the men were using the hospital as a hideout and that at least one was planning an attack.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the Israeli forces opened fire inside the hospital’s wards and called on the international community to stop Israeli operations in hospitals.

Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 26,000 Palestinians, most of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

The October 7 attack in southern Israel that sparked the war killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and about 250 people were taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

‘Israel raided a Gaza hospital’

The Palestinian Red Crescent says Israeli forces raided the Al-Amal Hospital in south Gaza city of Khan Younis, where about 7,000 displaced people were sheltering.

In a post on X, the group said Israeli tanks were lined up outside the front of the hospital on Tuesday, firing live ammunition and smoke grenades at people inside. Raed al-Nims, a spokesperson for the aid group, told AP in a telephone interview that everyone was ordered to evacuate.

The Israeli military said its forces were operating in the area of the hospital but not inside it, without elaborating.

In recent weeks, the Israeli army has expanded its assault on the southern half of the Gaza Strip, with a focus on territory’s second-largest city, Khan Younis.

Since the war erupted, the Israeli army has raided at least six hospitals in the north of Gaza, accusing several of being a base for Hamas fighters.

U.S. Treasury official visits Baghdad

A U.S. Treasury official travelled to Baghdad this week amid high regional tensions. The U.S. is seeking to crack down on Iranian-backed armed groups that have launched attacks on its forces, including through sanctions.

U.S. Treasury Under Secretary Brian Nelson’s two-day visit Sunday and Money aimed to strengthen cooperation between the two countries on “countering illicit finance and strengthening the Iraqi financial system,” the Treasury said in a statement Tuesday.

On Monday, the U.S. issued a notice of proposed rulemaking identifying Iraqi bank Al-Huda Bank as a conduit for terrorist financing, an action that would sever the bank from the U.S. financial system. It also imposed sanctions on the bank’s owner, Hamad al-Moussawi.

Last week, the Treasury hit Iraqi airline Fly Baghdad and its CEO with sanctions, alleging assistance to Iran’s military wing. The airline denied the allegation.

Biden says he has decided how to respond to attack in Jordan

President Joe Biden says he has made a decision on how to respond to the drone attack in Jordan that killed three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers.

But in talking to reporters before boarding the presidential helicopter, Mr. Biden declined to provide more details about what that response would be.

The weekend drone strike on a U.S. base in Jordan near the Syrian border also wounded more than 40 others.

When asked how the U.S. response would be different from past responses to aggressions from groups backed by Iran, Mr. Biden said, “We’ll see.”

The U.S. President said he did hold Iran responsible for supplying the weapons used in the attack. Mr. Biden was also asked what he would say to Democratic lawmakers who are concerned about the risks of an expanding war in the Middle East and he, again, said, “We’ll see.”

“I don’t think we need a wider war in the Middle East,” Mr. Biden said. “That’s not what I’m looking for.”

Israeli lawmaker faces possible explusion

An Israeli parliamentary committee has recommended expelling a lawmaker for supporting the South African genocide case against Israel in the U.N. world court.

The Knesset’s House Committee on Tuesday passed the measure to expel lawmaker Ofer Cassif by a 14-2 margin. The proposal now goes to the full 120-member parliament. Approval would require a 90-vote supermajority.

Mr. Cassif is the lone Jewish member of a small predominantly Arab party in parliament called the Joint List.

After Tuesday’s vote, Mr. Cassif said claims that he supports Hamas are a “blatant lie.”

He called himself a victim of “political persecution and silencing.”

In response to South Africa’s case, the International Court of Justice last week called on Israel to take steps to prevent a genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It rejected an appeal to order an immediate cease-fire.

Israeli leaders have rejected the accusations, saying their war in Gaza is against Hamas, not the broader civilian populations.

Investigation of sexual assaults from Hamas attack

The U.N.’s special representative on sexual violence has begun a weeklong visit to Israel to look into reports of sexual assaults committed by Hamas militants during the Octoter 7 attack that triggered Israel’s war in Gaza.

Pramila Patten kicked off her visit on Monday by meeting with Israeli diplomats and Israel’s president, Issac Herzog, and his wife Michal. Patten encouraged victims to come forward to meet with her delegation.

“We really want to ensure that you have justice so that we put an end to this heinous act,” Ms. Patten said during the meeting, according to Mr. Herzog’s office.

Reports have emerged that sexual assaults were part of the deadly rampage by militants from Hamas and other Gaza groups who killed about 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 250 hostages from southern Israel.

Jewish tradition calls for the dead to be buried as soon as possible, and in the chaos of the beginning of the war, few autopsies were conducted, so forensic evidence of rape has been difficult to collect.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned women’s rights organisations, including the United Nations, for not immediately condemning the reports of sexual assault.

Ms. Patten is also set to meet with representatives from the Palestinian Authority, Israeli security forces, local organisations, witnesses, and released hostages during her visit.

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Joe Biden, Benjamin Netanyahu have finally talked, but their visions still clash for ending Israel-Hamas war

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally spoke on January 19 after a glaring, nearly four-week gap in direct communication during which fundamental differences have come into focus over a possible pathway to Palestinian statehood once the fighting in Gaza ends.

Mr. Biden and his top aides have all but smothered Mr. Netanyahu with robust support, even in the face of global condemnation over the mounting civilian death toll and humanitarian suffering in Gaza as the Israelis have carried out military operations in the aftermath of the October 7 attack on Israel.

But the leaders’ relationship has increasingly shown signs of strain as Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly rebuffed Mr. Biden’s calls for Palestinian sovereignty, gumming us what the U.S. President believes is the key to unlocking a durable peace in the Middle East — the oft-cited, elusive two-state solution. Neither side shows signs of budging.

Friday’s phone call came one day after Mr. Netanyahu said that he has told U.S. officials in plain terms that he will not support a Palestinian state as part of any post-war plan. Mr. Biden, for his part, in Friday’s call reaffirmed his commitment to work toward helping the Palestinians move toward statehood.

“As we’re talking about post-conflict Gaza … you can’t do that without also talking about the aspirations of the Palestinian people and what that needs to look like for them,” said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

The leaders spoke frequently in the first weeks of the war. But the regular cadence of calls between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu, who have had a hot-and-cold relationship for over three decades, has slowed considerably. Their 30- to 40-minute call on Friday was their first conversation since December 23. Both sides are hemmed in by domestic political considerations.

The chasm between Mr. Biden, a centre-left Democrat and Mr. Netanyahu, who leads the most conservative government in Israel’s history, has expanded as pressure mounts on the United States to use its considerable leverage to press Israel to wind down a war that has already killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians.

There is also growing impatience with Mr. Netanyahu in Israel over the lack of progress in freeing dozens of hostages still held by Islamic militants in Gaza.

“There is certainly a reason to be concerned,” says Eytan Gilboa, an expert on U.S.-Israeli relations at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, “The more and more we see political considerations dominating the relationship between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu, which is likely to continue because of the upcoming Presidential election and the weakness of both leaders, the more we will see them pulling apart.”

In their most recent calls, Mr. Biden’s frustration with Mr. Netanyahu has grown more evident, even though the U.S. leader has been careful to reaffirm his support for Israel at each step, according to U.S. officials who requested anonymity to discuss the leaders’ private interactions.

Yet, Mr. Biden, at least publicly, has not given up on the idea of winning over Mr. Netanyahu. Asked by a reporter on Friday if a two-state solution is impossible while Mr. Netanyahu is in office, Mr. Biden replied, “No, it’s not.”

Aides insist Mr. Biden understands the political box Mr. Netanyahu finds himself in with his hard-right coalition and as he deals with ongoing corruption charges that have left the Prime Minister fighting for his freedom, not just his political future.

Mr. Biden, meanwhile, faces American voters in November, in a likely rematch with former President Donald Trump. Netanyahu and Trump forged a close relationship during the Republican’s term in office. Mr. Biden faces criticism from some on his left who believe he hasn’t pushed the Israelis hard enough to demonstrate restraint as it carries out military operations.

Key Democratic lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, this week warned that Mr. Netanyahu’s position on statehood could complicate negotiations in the Senate on a spending package that includes military aid for Israel.

Expect Mr. Netanyahu to “use every trick that he has to keep his coalition together and avoid elections and play out the clock,” said Michael Koplow, chief policy officer at the Israel Policy Forum. ”And I’m sure that part of it is a conviction that if he waits until November, he may end up with Donald Trump back in the Oval Office.”

In recent weeks, some of the more difficult conversations have been left to Ron Dermer, a top aide to Mr. Netanyahu and former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., and Mr. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan. The two top aides talk almost daily — sometimes multiple times during a day, according to a U.S. official and an Israeli official, who were not authorised to comment publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Other senior Biden administration officials including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, as well as senior advisers Brett McGurk and Amos Hochstein, have been at the forefront of the administration’s push to engage the Israelis and other Middle East allies as the Biden-Netanyahu dialogue has become less constructive.

Mr. Netanyahu, who has opposed calls for a two-state solution throughout his political career, told reporters this week that he flatly told U.S. officials he remains opposed to any post-war plan that includes establishment of a Palestinian state.

The Prime Minister’s latest rejection of Mr. Biden’s push in that direction came after Mr. Blinken this week said at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Israel and its Middle East neighbours had “a profound opportunity” to solve the generational Israel-Palestinian conflict. Asked if he thought Mr. Netanyahu was up to making the most of the moment, Mr. Blinken demurred.

“Look, these are decisions for Israelis to make,” Mr. Blinken said. “This is a profound decision for the country as a whole to make: What direction does it want to take? Does it see — can it seize — the opportunity that we believe is there?”

The Biden-Netanyahu relationship has seen no shortage of peaks and valleys over the years. As vice-president, Mr. Biden privately criticised Mr. Netanyahu after the the Israeli leader embarrassed President Barack Obama by approving the construction of 1,600 new apartments in disputed East Jerusalem in the middle of Biden’s 2010 visit to Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu publicly resisted, before eventually relenting to Mr. Biden’s calls on the Israelis to wind down a May 2021 military operation in Gaza. And in late 2019, during a question and answer session with voters on the campaign trail, Mr. Biden called Mr. Netanyahu an “extreme right” leader.

The path to a two-state solution — one in which Israel would co-exist with an independent Palestinian state — has eluded U.S. presidents and Middle East diplomats for decades.

But as the war grinds on, Mr. Biden and his team have pressed the notion that there is a new dynamic in the Middle East in which Israel’s Arab and Muslim neighbours stand ready to integrate Israel into the region once the war ends, but only if Israel commits to a pathway to a Palestinian state.

Mr. Biden has proposed that a “revitalised” Palestinian Authority, which is based in the West Bank, could run Gaza once combat ends. Mr. Netanyahu has roundly rejected the idea of putting the Palestinian Authority, which is beset by corruption, in charge of the territory.

Mr. Netanyahu argues that a Palestinian state would become a launchpad for attacks on Israel. So Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “That collides with the idea of sovereignty. What can we do?”

White House officials have sought to play down Mr. Netanyahu’s public rejection of Mr. Biden’s call for a two-state solution, noting that the Prime Minister’s rhetoric is not new.

They hold out hope Israel could eventually come around to accepting a Palestinian state that comes with strong security guarantees for Israel.

“I don’t think Mr. Biden has any illusions about Netanyahu,” said Daniel Kurtzer, who served as U.S. Ambassador to Egypt during the Bill Clinton administration and to Israel under George W. Bush. “But I don’t think he’s ready to slam the door on him. And that’s because he gets the intersection between the policy and the politics.”

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Where does the rest of the world stand on Israel genocide allegations?

The accusations levelled against Israel by South Africa are certainly momentous – but what support do they really have globally?

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South Africa says more than 50 countries have expressed support for its case at the United Nations’ top court accusing Israel of genocide against Palestinians in the war in Gaza.

Others, including the United States, have strongly rejected South Africa’s allegation that Israel is violating the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Many more have remained silent.

The world’s reaction to the landmark case that was heard on Thursday and Friday at the International Court of Justice in The Hague shows a predictable global split when it comes to the inextricable, 75-year-old problem of Israel and the Palestinians.

Sunday marks 100 days of their bloodiest ever conflict.

The majority of countries backing South Africa’s case are from the Arab world and Africa.

In Europe, only the Muslim nation of Turkey has publicly stated its support.

No Western country has declared support for South Africa’s allegations against Israel. The US, a close Israel ally, has rejected them as unfounded, the UK has called them unjustified, and Germany said it “explicitly rejects” them.

China and Russia have said little about one of the most significant cases to come before an international court in recent history – and the European Union also hasn’t commented.

EU, US and UK reaction: ‘Meritless’ allegations

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on a visit to Israel a day before the court proceedings began that South Africa’s allegations are “meritless” and that the case “distracts the world” from efforts to find a lasting solution to the conflict.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said genocide is “not a word that ought to be thrown around lightly, and we certainly don’t believe that it applies here.”

“We don’t agree with what the South Africans are doing,” UK Foreign Minister David Cameron said of the case.

Israel fiercely rejects the allegations of genocide and says it is defending its people. It says the offensive is aimed at eradicating the leaders of Hamas, the militant group that runs the territory and provoked the conflict by launching surprise attacks on southern Israel on 7 October.

Blinken said a genocide case against Israel was “particularly galling” given that Hamas and other groups “continue to openly call for the annihilation of Israel and the mass murder of Jews.”

The US, the UK, the EU and others classify Hamas as a terrorist organisation.

Israel’s military response in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The count doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. It says more than two-thirds of the dead are women and children.

Much of northern Gaza has become an uninhabitable moonscape with entire neighbourhoods erased by Israeli air strikes and tank fire.

South Africa has also condemned Hamas’ 7 October attack but argues that it did not justify Israel’s response.

German support for Israel – and Turkish doubt

Germany’s announcement of support for Israel on Friday, the day the hearings closed, has symbolic significance given its history of the Holocaust, when the Nazis killed 6 million Jews in Europe. Israel was created after World War II as a haven for Jews in the shadow of those atrocities.

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“Israel has been defending itself,” German government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said. His statement also invoked the Holocaust, which in large part spurred the creation of the UN Genocide Convention in 1948.

“In view of Germany’s history… the Federal Government sees itself as particularly committed to the Convention against Genocide,” he said. He called the allegations against Israel “completely unfounded.”

Germany said it intends to intervene in the case on Israel’s behalf.

The EU has only said that countries have a right to bring cases to the UN court. Most of its member states have refrained from taking a position.

Turkey, which is in the process of joining the EU, was a lone voice in the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country provided documents that were being used against Israel in the case.

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“With these documents, Israel will be condemned,” he said.

Arab condemnation of Israel

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was one of the first blocs to publicly back the case when South Africa filed it late last month. It said there was “mass genocide being perpetrated by the Israeli defense forces” and accused Israel of “indiscriminate targeting” of Gaza’s civilian population.

The OIC is a bloc of 57 countries which includes Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt. Its headquarters are in Saudi Arabia. The Cairo-based Arab League, whose 22 member countries are almost all part of the OIC, also backed South Africa’s case.

South Africa drew some support from outside the Arab world. Namibia and Pakistan agreed with the case at a UN General Assembly session this week. Malaysia also expressed support.

“No peace-loving human being can ignore the carnage waged against Palestinians in Gaza,” Namibian President Hage Geingob was quoted as saying in the southern African nation’s The Namibian newspaper.

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Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry demanded “legal accountability for Israel’s atrocities in Gaza.”

Silence from China and Russia

China, Russia – which is also facing allegations of genocide in the world court – and the emerging power of India have largely remained silent, seemingly aware that taking a stand in such an inflammatory case has little upside and could irreversibly upset their relationships in the region.

India’s foreign policy has historically supported the Palestinian cause, but Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of the first global leaders to express solidarity with Israel and call the Hamas attack terrorism.

Sitting on the fence?

A handful of South American countries have spoken up, including the continent’s biggest economy, Brazil, whose Foreign Ministry said President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva backed South Africa’s case.

However, the ministry’s comments did not directly accuse Israel of genocide but focused on the need for a cease-fire in Gaza.

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South Africa’s case against Israel is two-fold: It wants the court to say Israel is committing genocide and to issue an interim ruling ordering an end to its military campaign in Gaza. The court said it would decide on an interim ruling soon but, reflecting the gravity of the case, it could take years for a final verdict on the genocide charge.

Brazil said it hoped the case would get Israel to “immediately cease all acts and measures that could constitute genocide.”

Other countries have stopped short of agreeing with South Africa. Ireland premier Leo Varadkar said the genocide case was “far from clear cut” but that he hoped the court would order a cease-fire in Gaza.

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Netanyahu warns no one can halt Israel’s war to crush Hamas

Netanyahu was speaking after the International Court of Justice at The Hague held two days of hearings on South Africa’s allegations that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians – a claim that Israel has fully rejected.

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Israel will pursue its war against Hamas until victory and will not be stopped by anyone, including the world court, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in a defiant speech, as the fighting in Gaza reaches the 100-day mark.

Netanyahu spoke after the International Court of Justice at The Hague held two days of hearings on South Africa’s allegations that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, a charge Israel has rejected as libelous and hypocritical. South Africa asked the court to order Israel to halt its blistering air and ground offensive in an interim step.

“No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks on Saturday evening, referring to Iran and its allied militias.

The case before the world court is expected to go on for years, but a ruling on interim steps could come within weeks. Court rulings are binding but difficult to enforce. Netanyahu made clear that Israel would ignore orders to halt the fighting, potentially deepening its isolation.

Israel has been under growing international pressure to end the war, which has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza and led to widespread suffering in the besieged enclave, but has so far been shielded by US diplomatic and military support.

Thousands took to the streets of Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Milan and Dublin on Saturday to demand an end to the war. Protesters converging on the White House held aloft signs questioning President Joe Biden’s viability as a presidential candidate because of his staunch support for Israel during the war.

Israel argues that ending the war means victory for Hamas, the Islamic militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007 and is bent on Israel’s destruction.

The war was triggered by a deadly 7 October attack in which Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. About 250 more were taken hostage, and while some have been released or confirmed dead, more than half are believed to still be in captivity. Sunday marks 100 days of fighting.

Could there be a regional escalation?

Fears of a wider conflagration have been palpable since the start of the war. New fronts quickly opened, with Iran-backed groups – Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria – carrying out a range of attacks. From the start, the US increased its military presence in the region to deter an escalation.

Following a Houthi campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the US and Britain launched multiple airstrikes against the rebels on Friday, and the US hit another site on Saturday.

In more fallout from the war, the world court this week heard arguments on South Africa’s complaint against Israel. South Africa cited the soaring death toll and hardships among Gaza civilians, along with inflammatory comments from Israeli leaders presented, as proof of what it called genocidal intent.

In counter arguments on Friday, Israel asked for the case to be dismissed as meritless. Israel’s defence argued that the country has the right to fight back against a ruthless enemy, that South Africa had barely mentioned Hamas, and that it ignored what Israel considers attempts to mitigate civilian harm.

What next for the affected Palestinians?

Netanyahu and his army chief, Herzl Halevi, said they have no immediate plans to allow the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza, the initial focus of Israel’s offensive. Fighting in the northern half has been scaled back, with forces now focusing on the southern city of Khan Younis, though combat continues in parts of the north.

Netanyahu said the issue had been raised by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit earlier this week. The Israeli leader said he told Blinken that “we will not return residents (to their homes) when there is fighting.”

At the same time, Netanyahu said Israel would eventually need to close what he said were breaches along Gaza’s border with Egypt. Over the years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, smuggling tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border had constituted a major supply line for Gaza.

However, the border area, particularly the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, is packed with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had fled northern Gaza – and their presence would complicate any plans to widen Israel’s ground offensive.

“We will not end the war until we close this breach,” Netanyahu said on Saturday, adding that the government has not yet decided how to do that.

In Gaza, where Hamas has put up stiff resistance to Israel’s blistering air and ground campaign, the war continues unabated.

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Gaza death toll reaches nearly 24,000

The Gaza Health Ministry said on Saturday that 135 Palestinians had been killed in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall toll of the war to 23,843. The count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians, but the ministry has said about two-thirds of the dead are women and children. The ministry said the total number of war-wounded surpassed 60,000.

Following an Israeli airstrike before dawn on Saturday, video provided by Gaza’s Civil Defence department showed rescue workers searching through the rubble of a building in Gaza City by flashlight.

Footage showed them carrying a young girl wrapped in blankets with injuries to her face, and at least two other children who appeared dead. A boy, covered in dust, winced as he was loaded into an ambulance.

The attack on the home in the Daraj neighbourhood killed at least 20 people, according to Civil Defense spokesperson Mahmoud Bassal.

The Palestinian telecommunications company Jawwal said two of its employees were killed on Saturday as they tried to repair the network in Khan Younis. The company said the two were hit by shelling. Jawwal said it has lost 13 employees since the start of the war.

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Israel has argued that Hamas is responsible for the high civilian casualties, saying its fighters make use of civilian buildings and launch attacks from densely populated urban areas.

Since the start of Israel’s ground operation in late October, 187 Israeli soldiers have been killed and another 1,099 injured in Gaza, according to the military.

More than 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced as a result of Israel’s air and ground offensive, and vast swaths of the territory have been levelled.

Fewer than half of the territory’s 36 hospitals are still partially functional, according to OCHA, the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs agency.

Amid already severe shortages of food, clean water and fuel in Gaza, OCHA said in its daily report that Israel’s severe constraints on humanitarian missions and outright denials had increased since the start of the year.

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The agency said only 21% of planned deliveries of food, medicine, water and other supplies have been successfully reaching northern Gaza.

American and other international efforts pushing Israel to do more to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians have met with little success.

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Netanyahu says no one can halt Israel’s war against Hamas, including the world court

Israel will pursue its war against Hamas until victory and will not be stopped by anyone, including the world court, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on January 13, as the fighting in Gaza approached the 100-day mark.

Netanyahu spoke after the International Court of Justice at The Hague held two days of hearings on South Africa’s allegations that Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians, a charge Israel has rejected as libelous and hypocritical. South Africa asked the court to order Israel to halt its blistering air and ground offensive in an interim step.

Also read: Why has South Africa dragged Israel to the ICJ? | Explained

“No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks Saturday evening, referring to Iran and its allied militias.

The case before the world court is expected to go on for years, but a ruling on interim steps could come within weeks. Court rulings are binding but difficult to enforce. Netanyahu made clear that Israel would ignore orders to halt the fighting, potentially deepening its isolation.

Israel has been under growing international pressure to end the war, after its actions have killed more than 23,000 Palestinians in Gaza and led to widespread suffering in the besieged enclave, but has so far been shielded by U.S. diplomatic and military support.

Israel argues that ending the war means victory for Hamas.

The war was triggered by a deadly Oct. 7 attack in which Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people in Israel, mostly civilians. About 250 more were taken hostage, and while some have been released or confirmed dead, more than half are believed to still be in captivity. Sunday marks 100 days of fighting.

Fears of a wider conflagration have been palpable since the start of the war. New fronts quickly opened, with Iran-backed groups — Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iran-backed militias in Iraq and Syria — carrying out a range of attacks. From the start, the U.S. increased its military presence in the region to deter an escalation.

Following a Houthi campaign of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea, the U.S. and Britain launched multiple airstrikes against the rebels Friday, and the U.S. hit another site Saturday.

In more fallout from the war, the world court this week heard arguments on South Africa’s complaint against Israel. South Africa cited the soaring death toll and hardships among Gaza civilians, along with inflammatory comments from Israeli leaders presented, as proof of what it called genocidal intent.

In counter arguments Friday, Israel asked for the case to be dismissed as meritless. Israel’s defence argued that the country has the right to fight back against “ruthless enemy”.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu and his Army chief, Herzl Halevi, said they have no immediate plans to allow the return of displaced Palestinians to northern Gaza, the initial focus of Israel’s offensive. Fighting in the northern half has been scaled back, with forces now focusing on the southern city of Khan Younis, though combat continues in parts of the north.

Netanyahu said the issue had been raised by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his visit earlier this week. The Israeli leader said he told Blinken that “we will not return residents (to their homes) when there is fighting.”

At the same time, Netanyahu said Israel would eventually need to close what he said were breaches along Gaza’s border with Egypt. Over the years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, smuggling tunnels under Egypt-Gaza border had constituted a major supply line for Gaza.

However, the border area, particularly the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, is packed with hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had fled northern Gaza, and their presence would complicate any plans to widen Israel’s ground offensive.

“We will not end the war until we close this breach,” Netanyahu said Saturday, adding that the government has not yet decided how to do that.

In Gaza, where Hamas has put up stiff resistance to Israel’s blistering air and ground campaign, the war continued unabated.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that 135 Palestinians had been killed in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall toll of the war to 23,843. The count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians, but the ministry has said about two-thirds of the dead are women and children. The Ministry said the total number of war-wounded surpassed 60,000.

Following an Israeli airstrike before dawn Saturday, video provided by Gaza’s Civil Defense department showed rescue workers searching through the twisted rubble of a building in Gaza City by flashlight.

Footage showed them carrying a young girl wrapped in blankets with injuries to her face, and at least two other children who appeared dead. A boy, covered in dust, winced as he was loaded into an ambulance.

The attack on the home in the Daraj neighborhood killed at least 20 people, according to Civil Defense spokesperson Mahmoud Bassal.

Another strike late Friday near the southern city of Rafah on the Egyptian border killed at least 13 people, including two children. The bodies of those killed, primarily from a family displaced from central Gaza, were taken to the city’s Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital where they were seen by an Associated Press reporter.

The Palestinian telecommunications company Jawwal said two of its employees were killed Saturday as they tried to repair the network in Khan Younis. They company said the two were hit by shelling. Jawwal said it has lost 13 employees since the start of the war.

Israel has argued that Hamas is responsible for the high civilian casualties, saying its fighters make use of civilian buildings and launch attacks from densely populated urban areas.

The Israeli military released a video Saturday that it said showed the destruction of two ready-to-use rocket launching compounds in Al-Muharraqa in central Gaza. A large grove of palm trees and some homes are seen in the frame. In the video, a rocket is being thrown into the air by the blast. The military said there had been dozens of launchers ready to be used.

Since the start of Israel’s ground operation in late October, 187 Israeli soldiers have been killed and another 1,099 injured in Gaza, according to the military.

More than 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has been displaced as a result of Israel’s air and ground offensive, and vast swaths of the territory have been leveled.

Only 15 of the territory’s 36 hospitals are still partially functional, according to OCHA, the United Nations’ humanitarian affairs agency.

Amid already severe shortages of food, clean water and fuel in Gaza, OCHA said in its daily report that Israel’s severe constraints on humanitarian missions and outright denials had increased since the start of the year.

The agency said only 21% of planned deliveries of food, medicine, water and other supplies have been successfully reaching northern Gaza.

American and other international efforts pushing Israel to do more to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians have met with little success.

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Gaza war will continue for months, says Netanyahu

Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people on December 31, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israel’s prime minister said the war will continue for “many more months,” resisting international calls for a cease-fire.

The military said Israeli forces were operating in Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis, and residents reported strikes in the central region, the latest focus of the nearly three-month air-and-ground war that has raised fears of a regional conflagration.

Also Read | Netanyahu defends Israel’s unparalleled ‘morality’ in Gaza war

The U.S. military said its forces shot and killed several Iran-backed Houthi rebels when they tried to attack a cargo ship in the Red Sea, an escalation in a maritime conflict linked to the war. And an Israeli Cabinet minister suggested encouraging Gaza’s population to emigrate, remarks that could worsen tensions with Egypt and other friendly Arab states.

Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas’ governing and military capabilities in Gaza, from where it launched its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. The militants killed some 1,200 people after breaking through Israel’s extensive border defenses, shattering its sense of security. They also captured around 240 hostages, nearly half of whom were released during a temporary cease-fire agreement in November.

Just after midnight on New Year’s Day, Hamas militants fired a barrage of rockets, setting off air raid sirens in southern and central Israel. No injuries were reported.

Displaced Palestinians found little to celebrate on New Year’s Eve in Muwasi, a makeshift camp in a mostly undeveloped area of southern Gaza’s Mediterranean coast designated by Israel as a safe zone.

“From the intensity of the pain we live, we do not feel that there is a new year,” said Kamal al-Zeinaty, huddled with his family around a fire inside a tent. “All the days are the same.”

Another relative, Zeyad al-Zeinaty, who fled with the family from the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, said his wife, brother and grandchildren are among many relatives he has lost in the war.

Israel’s unprecedented air and ground offensive has killed more than 21,800 Palestinians and wounded more than 56,000 others, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, which does not distinguish between civilian and combatant deaths.

The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of Gaza residents facing starvation, according to the United Nations. Israel’s bombardments have leveled vast swaths of the territory, displacing some 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.

Israel expanded its offensive to central Gaza this week, targeting a belt of densely built-up communities that house refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation and their descendants.

In Zweida, an Israeli airstrike killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens of others, according to witnesses. The bodies were draped in white plastic and laid out in front of a hospital, where prayers were held before burial.

“They were innocent people,” said Hussein Siam, whose relatives were among the dead. “Israeli warplanes bombarded the whole family.”

Officials from Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Deir al-Balah said the 13 were among 35 bodies received on Sunday.

The Israeli military said it was battling militants in Khan Younis, where Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding. It also said its forces operating in the Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza, found a bomb in a kindergarten and defused it. Hamas continued to launch rockets toward southern Israel.

Israel has faced stiff resistance from Hamas since it began its ground offensive in late October, and the military says 172 soldiers have been killed during that time.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesman, said Sunday that Israel was withdrawing some forces from Gaza as part of its “smart management” of the war. He did not say how many, and held out the possibility they would return at a later point in the war.

Israeli media said up to five brigades, numbering thousands of soldiers, would be withdrawn, but it was not immediately clear if it represented a normal troop rotation or a new phase in the fighting. Hagari also said some reservists would return to civilian life to bolster Israel’s wartime economy.

The fighting has pushed much of Gaza’s population south, where people have flooded shelters and tent camps near the border with Egypt. Hundreds of thousands have sought shelter in the central town of Deir al-Balah. Israel has continued to carry out strikes in both areas.

Eman al-Masri, who gave birth to quadruplets a week ago at a hospital in Deir al-Balah, is now sheltering with them in a room with 50 other people at a school-turned-shelter. “There is a shortage of diapers, they are not available, and no milk,” she said.

The scale of the destruction and the exodus to the south has raised fears among Palestinians and Arab countries that Israel plans to drive Gaza’s population out and prevent it from returning.

On Sunday, Israel’s far-right finance minister said it should “encourage migration” from Gaza and re-establish Jewish settlements in the territory, where it withdrew settlers and soldiers in 2005.

“If in Gaza there were only 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not 2 million, the entire discussion about ‘the day after’ would be completely different,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Army Radio.

Mr. Smotrich has been largely sidelined by a war Cabinet that does not include him. But his comments risked worsening tensions with neighboring Egypt, which is deeply concerned about a possible mass influx of Palestinian refugees, along with other friendly Arab countries.

Later Sunday, an official in the prime minister’s office said Israel does not want to resettle Palestinians.

“Contrary to false allegations, Israel does not seek to displace the population in Gaza,” the official said in a statement to AP. “Subject to security checks, Israel’s policy is to enable those individuals who wish to leave to do so.” The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

Israel is also at odds with the United States, which has provided crucial military aid for the offensive, over Gaza’s future.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip. At a news conference Saturday, he said the war would continue for “many more months” and that Israel would assume control of the Gaza side of the border with Egypt.

Israel says Hamas has smuggled weapons from Egypt, but Egypt is likely to oppose any Israeli military presence there.

Mr. Netanyahu has also said he won’t allow the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers some parts of the occupied West Bank, to expand its limited rule to Gaza, where Hamas drove its forces out in 2007.

The U.S. wants a unified Palestinian government to run both Gaza and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to eventual statehood. The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down over a decade ago, and Israeli governments since have been staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

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Israel-Hamas war: Netanyahu will fight to ‘very end’ amid truce calls

The latest developments from the Israel Hamas war.

Communications partially restored in Gaza after three days of outage

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Telecommunications have been partially restored in the Gaza Strip after three days of outage, the Palestinian operator Paltel announced.

The company reported in a press release the “gradual recovery” of the network, down since Thursday, in the centre and south of the territory.

UN aid trucks entering Gaza from Israeli territory – reports

The Egypt Red Crescent are reporting that UN aid trucks trucks have started to enter Gaza.

They say the trucks will go into the enclave as of Sunday for the first time since the war broke out.

The Israeli government body responsible for Palestinian civil affairs, COGAT, explained that trucks would all undergo security checks. They’ll also be transferred directly to Gaza via the Kerem Shalom crossing.

The crossing, which has borders with Israel-Gaza and Egypt-Gaza, has been closed since Hamas’s attacks on 7 October.

Israel’s security cabinet approved the reopening of the crossing for Gaza aid on Friday, following increased pressure from the US during a visit from White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan. 

Israeli army says it has discovered ‘largest tunnel’ dug under the Gaza Strip

The Israeli army has claimed to have discovered “the largest tunnel” that Hamas dug under the Gaza Strip.

An AFP photographer who was authorised to go there noted that it was of sufficient size to allow small vehicles to circulate.

“This massive network of tunnels, which divides into several branches, extends for more than four kilometres and arrives only 400 metres from the Erez crossing point” between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli armed forces said in a statement.

The tunnel is said to be equipped with a pipeline system, electricity, ventilation, sewers, communication networks and rails. Its floor is made of beaten earth and its walls are made of reinforced concrete, except at its outlet, reinforced by a metal cylinder approximately one and a half centimetres in diameter.

The Israeli army claims to have discovered a large number of weapons there ready to be used in the event of an attack by Hamas.

Nicknamed “the Gaza metro” by the Israeli military, the maze of galleries was first used to circumvent the blockade imposed by Israel after Hamas took power in the territory in 2007.

Hundreds of galleries have been dug under the border with Egyptian Sinai to move people, goods, weapons and ammunition between Gaza and the outside world.

In a study published on 17 October, the Institute of Modern Warfare at the American Military Academy West Point estimates the existence of some 1,300 galleries over 500 kilometres.

Colonna calls for ‘immediate and lasting truce’ in Gaza

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs has called for a “new immediate and lasting truce” in the Gaza Strip, saying she was “concerned” by the humanitarian situation and the fate of the hostages after more than two months of war.

“Too many civilians are being killed,” Catherine Colonna said after a meeting with her Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, in Tel Aviv.

She stressed that the first week-long truce ended on 1 December had allowed the release of hostages – 105 of the 250 taken by force by Hamas during the 7 October attack – as well as an increase in humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza while evacuating injured people.

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Colonna reiterated that three French people remain “detained, missing or hostages in the Gaza Strip” and that France is sparing no effort to free them.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rebuffed her claims, calling any call for a ceasefire as an “error” and a “gift for Hamas”.

Netanyahu says Israel will fight ‘to the very end’ as ‘accidental’ killing of hostages adds to concern over wartime conduct

Israel pressed ahead with its Gaza offensive on Sunday after a series of shootings, including of three hostages who were shirtless and waving a white flag, raised questions about its conduct in a weeks-old war that has brought unprecedented death and destruction to the coastal enclave.

Speaking at a press conference, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the killing of the three captives – branded a ‘mistake’ – “has broken my heart, it has broken the entire nation’s heart.”

He claimed the remaining hostages held by Hamas would soon return home, but the distance between victory and disaster is “tiny”.

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Hitting back on growing international pressure to stop the fighting, Netanyahu said, “we are determined to continue all the way to the very end” until “there will be no authority that will continue training for terror” in Gaza.

“After we have eradicated Hamas and Gaza will be demilitarised under the control of Israel there will be no-one who will educate their children to annihilate Israel,” he added.

UK and Germany call for ceasefire – marking a significant attitude shift

The UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron and his counterpart in Germany, Annalena Baerbock, have called for a “sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza – joining an increasing list of global powers putting pressure on Israel to stop the fighting.

In a joint article published in Welt am Sonntag and The Sunday Times, they wrote: “too many civilians have been killed”, adding that a ceasefire “leading to a sustainable peace” was needed.

“The sooner it comes, the better. The need is urgent,” Baerbock and Cameron wrote.

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The move is particularly significant for the UK, whose Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has previously only lent his support to “humanitarian pauses” in the conflict – but his government has so far stopped short of calling for an “immediate ceasefire” in United Nation votes.

‘Mistake’ shootings draw scrutiny from the top of Israel’s government

Military officials said on Saturday that the three hostages who were mistakenly shot by Israeli troops had tried to signal that they posed no harm. It was Israel’s first such acknowledgement of harming hostages in a war that it says is largely aimed at rescuing them.

The three hostages, all in their 20s, were killed Friday in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops are engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas. An Israeli military official said the soldiers’ behaviour was against the army’s rules of engagement and was being investigated at the highest level.

Israel says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians and accuses Hamas of using them as human shields. But Palestinians and rights groups have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of recklessly endangering civilians and firing on those who do not threaten them, both in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, which has seen a surge of violence since the start of the war.

Israel on Friday said it was opening a military police investigation into the killing of two Palestinians in the West Bank after an Israeli rights group posted videos that appeared to show troops killing the men – one who was incapacitated and the second unarmed – during a raid.

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Anger over the mistaken killing of the hostages, though, is likely to ramp up pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more of the remaining captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

Hamas has said there will be no further hostage releases until the war ends, and that it will demand the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants.

Hamas released over 100 of more than 240 hostages captured on 7 October in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners during a brief cease-fire in November. Nearly all freed on both sides were women and minors. Israel has successfully rescued one hostage.

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