RAFAH, Dec 13: At least seven Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush in Gaza City, Israeli media reported Wednesday, as the army continued to meet heavy resistance in an offensive against Hamas that has drawn international outrage and rare U.S. criticism over the killing of thousands of civilians.
President Joe Biden’s administration has repeatedly called on Israel to take greater measures to spare Palestinians civilians, even as it has blocked international calls for a cease-fire and rushed military aid to its close ally. Israel has rejected U.S. suggestions for a postwar plan that would revive the long-dormant peace process with the Palestinians.
The air and ground offensive has resulted in the deaths of over 18,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that triggered the war. Nearly 85% of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have been forced to flee their homes, and much of northern Gaza resembles a moonscape.
Israeli ground troops are still locked in heavy combat with Palestinian fighters in and around Gaza City, more than six weeks after soldiers invaded the north. Clashes raged overnight and into Wednesday in multiple areas, with especially heavy fighting in Shijaiyah, residents said.
UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly to demand a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza
“It’s terrifying. We couldn’t sleep,” Mustafa Abu Taha, a Palestinian agricultural worker who lives in the neighborhood, said by phone. “The situation is getting worse and we don’t have a safe place to go.”
The military said a total of eight soldiers were killed on Tuesday. Israeli media said the ambush that killed seven took place in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, involving gunfire and several explosions. The same dense neighborhood was the scene of one of the biggest battles of an earlier war in Gaza.
Hundreds of thousands of people have heeded Israeli orders to flee to southern Gaza since the start of the war, but that region has also come under repeated aerial bombardment.
The health care system and humanitarian aid operations have collapsed in large parts of Gaza because of the fighting and Israel’s blockade of the territory, and aid workers have warned of starvation and the spread of disease among displaced people in overcrowded shelters and tent camps.
Heavy rainfall overnight swamped tent camps, including in the southern area of Muwasi, a barren stretch of coastline where Israel has told people to seek refuge.
Israeli strikes overnight hit two residential buildings in the southern province of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces had launched a new line of attack earlier this month.
A strike on a home near the main highway between Khan Younis and the southern border town of Rafah killed two boys, aged 2 and 8, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 30s, according to Mohammed al-Beiyouk, a cousin of the deceased. Another strike killed a baby and his grandfather, according to hospital records at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis.
The military rarely comments on individual strikes. Israel says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high toll on Hamas because it conceals fighters, tunnels and weapons in residential areas.
Biden said Tuesday that he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” and that Netanyahu should change his government, which is dominated by hard-right parties.
But the offensive is being conducted by a narrow war cabinet that includes two politically centrist retired generals, and has overwhelming support among Israelis from across the political spectrum.
In Israel, attention is still focused on the atrocities carried out on Oct. 7, when some 1,200 people were killed, mostly civilians, and some 240 people were taken hostage, around half of whom remain in captivity. There has been little media coverage or public discussion of the plight of civilians in Gaza.
International outrage has continued to mount. On Tuesday, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian cease-fire by a vote of 153 in favor, 10 against and 23 abstentions. The non-binding vote was largely symbolic, but served as a barometer of world opinion. None of the major powers joined Israel and the United States in their opposition.
The U.S. has urged Israel to do more to reduce civilian casualties since it launched its invasion of southern Gaza this month. But the toll has continued to mount at a dizzying rate.
Over 18,400 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza, whose counts from previous conflicts have tracked with Israeli and U.N. figures. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but says roughly two-thirds of the dead are women and minors.
Israel and the U.S. say any cease-fire that leaves Hamas in power would mean victory for the militant group, which has governed Gaza since 2007 and has pledged to destroy Israel. But the two allies disagree over what should happen if Hamas is defeated.
The U.S. hopes to revive the peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago. It wants the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to also govern Gaza, which Hamas seized from it in 2007.
But President Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the PA, is extremely unpopular, in part because of his security cooperation with Israel, and he has ruled out any return to Gaza outside of a solution to the conflict that creates a Palestinian state.
Netanyahu’s government is firmly opposed to Palestinian statehood, and on Tuesday he said Israel would never “repeat the mistake of Oslo,” referring to the peace process in the 1990s that created the PA. He has insisted that Israel will maintain indefinite security control over Gaza, without saying how that would differ from full-scale military occupation. (AP)