Israeli leaders rebuffed mounting pressure to halt the military campaign in the southern Gaza Strip, vowing to press on until Hamas is eradicated even as the death toll rose and the United Nations warned that civilians had no safe harbor amid the bombing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a briefing with other members of his war cabinet, said that if the rest of the world wants the war to end quickly, it must stand with Israel. He accused international organizations of ignoring what he said were “abhorrent” cases of rape by Hamas fighters during the October 7 incursion that touched off the latest violence.
“Hamas is trying to tear us down and instead we are taking them apart,” Netanyahu said, adding that Israeli forces had killed half of Hamas’s battalion commanders. “We will fight until the end, until a crushing victory.”
The message echoed past arguments that Netanayhu and the cabinet have made over concerns from the Biden administration and other allies, which have warned that the devastation wrought in north Gaza before a seven-day truce that ended last week must not be repeated in the south. In a post to X on Tuesday, the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, urged a new pause in the fighting.
While Israel has said it’s taking increased precautions to protect the lives of civilians, the Hamas-run health ministry said Tuesday that the death toll has risen to some 1,000 people since the truce ended, bringing the number of dead Palestinians since Israel’s counteroffensive began to more than 16,000 people. Israel announced Tuesday that seven more soldiers had been killed in the latest fighting.
Israel’s government has blamed Hamas, which the US and the EU have designated a terrorist group, accusing it of using residents as human shields by operating near, or underneath, hospitals and schools.
The Israeli military has encircled Khan Younis, the territory’s second-largest city, as it seeks to wipe out Hamas, which set off the war October 7 after breaching barriers into southern Israel and killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. The IDF believes Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif are in the city, according to a report by Axios, citing officials it didn’t identify.
The UN on Tuesday expressed frustration over the civilian deaths. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the message to avoid civilian deaths “hasn’t been very successful, to be completely honest.”
“There are no safe places” in Gaza, he said. “There are shelters that fly the UN flag that are sheltering thousands and thousands and thousands of people—men, women, children. Those places that fly the UN flag are not safe, either.”
In his post, the EU’s Borrell said he’d been told the UN wouldn’t be able to operate in south Gaza because of the Israeli bombing. Further underscoring the international scrutiny, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke with Netanyahu Tuesday and called for more aid to flow into Gaza.
Sunak “expressed disappointment about the breakdown of the pause in fighting in Gaza, which had allowed hostages to be released,” his office said in a readout.
The US has sought to highlight that the Israeli military has been making efforts to notify people in Gaza of operations and direct them to other areas. But Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in remarks late Tuesday in Washington, underscored the balancing act the Biden administration is trying to maintain.
“We’re determined to make sure that Israel can do what is necessary to make sure that October 7 never happens again,” Blinken said. “But also, we need to make sure that we’re doing everything possible to help those who desperately need help, including the many innocent men and women and children in Gaza.”
Earlier on Tuesday, an Israeli government spokesman said securing the release of all those seized by Hamas and other armed groups on October 7 remains a war goal, alongside destroying the Islamist militant group.
The spokesman, Eylon Levy, said Israel said it would consider another short-term cease-fire if a deal can be reached to return more of the hostages still in captivity.
“A temporary pause to get them out” would be considered, Levy said
During the seven-day cease-fire that ended December 1, Hamas returned 110 of the more than 240 people taken. In exchange, about three times as many Palestinian prisoners were released by Israel.
The cease-fire came to end, Israel said, when Hamas reneged on an agreement to return all women and children. Hamas still holds 138 hostages including 20 women and two children. Israel says at least 15 of the hostages taken on October 7 have died. Qatar—which helped broker the last halt to fighting—said it’s working to secure a fresh pause. That shouldn’t be seen as a “an alternative to a permanent cease-fire,” Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said in Doha.
At a fundraiser in Massachusetts on Tuesday, President Joe Biden said hours had been spent working with the Qataris to broker the pause, but when Hamas ended the release of hostages, everything fell apart. “We have to get it back on track,” Biden said of the halt in fighting.
Also on Tuesday, the US said it would deny visas to Israeli settlers involved in attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, a rare rebuke intended to raise pressure on Israel to tamp down violence.
Israeli settlers have carried out more than 220 assaults on Palestinian communities in the West Bank since the war started, according to human-rights groups. With assistance from Justin Sink and Iain Marlow / Bloomberg