Israel launched fresh air strikes against central Gaza on Tuesday, where the United Nations said it was alarmed by an intensification of Israeli attacks that had killed more than 100 Palestinians in one part of the enclave since Christmas Eve.
The days around Christmas have seen an upsurge in the war, particularly in a central area just south of the seasonal waterway that bisects the Gaza Strip. Israeli troops told civilians to leave the area, though many say there is no safe place left to go.
“We are gravely concerned about the continued bombardment of Middle Gaza by Israeli forces, which has claimed more than 100 Palestinian lives since Christmas Eve,” said UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Seif Magango.
“Israeli forces must take all measures available to protect civilians. Warnings and evacuation orders do not absolve them of the full range of their international humanitarian law obligations.”
Israel is determined to pursue its goal of destroying Hamas despite global calls for a ceasefire in the 11-week-old war, and new concerns the conflict could spread with U.S. and Iran-aligned forces attacking each other elsewhere in the region.
Since Hamas killed 1,200 people and captured 240 hostages on Oct. 7 in the deadliest day in Israeli history, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded with an all-out assault that has laid much of Hamas-ruled Gaza to waste.
Palestinian health authorities said nearly 21,000 people have been confirmed killed in Israeli strikes, with thousands more feared buried under rubble. Nearly all of the enclave’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes, many several times.
Israel says it is doing what it can to protect civilians, and blames Hamas for putting them in harm’s way by operating among them, which Hamas denies. But even Israel’s closest ally the United States has said it should do more to reduce civilian deaths from what President Joe Biden has called “indiscriminate bombing”.
‘THE REST WERE MARTYRED’
Since a truce collapsed at the start of December, Israel has extended its ground campaign from the northern half of Gaza to encompass the entire enclave.
In recent days, fighting in the north has remained as intense as ever, even as southern and central areas now holding hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians have become war zones.
At Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the largest medical facility in the southern Gaza Strip, medics said 10 Palestinians had been killed in two separate Israeli air strikes.
“There were displaced people and residents inside the house, more than 20 people, children and women. We managed to rescue some children, but the rest were martyred,” said Khan Younis resident Salah Shaat, describing the aftermath of an air strike at sunset on Monday.
Washington has openly pressed Israel in recent weeks to scale down its Gaza war from a full-blown military assault to a more targeted operation of raids on Hamas leaders. But Israel says it will not stop fighting until Hamas is completely destroyed.
Netanyahu hammered that point on Monday at a meeting with lawmakers after visiting troops in Gaza.
“We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less,” he said.
Netanyahu adviser Mark Regev told CNN on Tuesday that destroying Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, was “a prerequisite for a better future both for Israelis and Palestinians”.
“You won’t have a demilitarized and deradicalized Gaza without first destroying Hamas. You can’t have reconstruction in Gaza, rebuilding the lives of people without first getting rid of Hamas.”
Elsewhere in the region, U.S. forces have come under attack by Iran-backed militants in Iraq and Syria over Washington’s backing of Israel.
In the latest clash, the U.S. military carried out retaliatory air strikes on Monday in Iraq after a drone attack by Iran-aligned militants on a U.S. base in Erbil left one U.S. service member in critical condition and wounded two.
The air strikes killed “a number of Kataib Hezbollah militants” and destroyed multiple facilities used by the group, the U.S. military said.
There were new reports of new explosions near shipping off the coast of Yemen, where the Iran-aligned Houthi movement has attacked ships it says have links to Israel in the entrance to the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.
On Monday an Israeli air strike killed a senior leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria.
On the Lebanon border, Israel said on Tuesday that nine Israeli soldiers and one civilian had been injured by anti-tank missiles fired from Lebanon towards a church, drawing retaliatory air strikes against Hezbollah targets.
“We are in a multi-front war and are coming under attack from seven theatres: Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), Iraq, Yemen and Iran,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told lawmakers, listing six places where Iran-backed militants are active, as well as Iran itself.
“We have already responded and taken action in six of these theatres,” he said, without specifying the one that had yet to see Israeli action.
In India, there was an explosion near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi. Authorities said no staff were hurt.
Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Cairo, Bassam Masoud in Gaza, Emily Rose, Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem Writing by Peter Graff Editing by Nick Macfie