Israel‘s deadliest ever war in Gaza, sparked by the October 7 Hamas attacks, entered its second month Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed there would be no ceasefire until the militant group releases its 240 hostages.
Netanyahu also said Israel would assume “overall security” in Gaza after the war ends, while allowing for possible “tactical pauses” before then to free captives and deliver aid to the besieged territory of 2.4 million people.
The Gaza death toll has soared above 10,000, mostly civilians, said the Hamas-run health ministry, as UN rights chief Volker Turk decried a month of “carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair.”
Israel has vowed to destroy the Islamist militants over their unprecedented attack which claimed 1,400 lives in Israel, including entire families slain inside their homes and young people killed at a music festival, according to Israeli officials.
Orit Meir’s 21-year-old son Almog was at the festival near Gaza and apart from a brief Hamas-posted video of hostages showing him since then — the family has had no updates.
“Our life became a nightmare but this nightmare is our reality,” she told reporters at an event in Athens focused on bringing the hostages home.
Since the attack, Israel has relentlessly hammered targets in Gaza with more than 12,000 air and artillery strikes and sent in ground forces that have effectively cut the strip in half, with soldiers and tanks tightening the encirclement of Gaza City.
The Israeli army said that in the latest battles its “troops secured a military stronghold belonging to the Hamas terrorist organisation in the northern Gaza Strip. Anti-tank missiles and launchers, weapons and various intelligence materials were located in the compound by the troops.”
The suffering in Gaza has been immense, with entire city blocks levelled and bodies in white shrouds piling up outside hospitals where surgeons have had to operate on bloodied floors by the light of their phones.
“These are massacres,” said one bereaved Gaza resident, Mahmud Meshmesh, in Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, looking at the devastation of yet another strike that left bodies buried under rubble and debris.
“They destroyed three houses over the heads of their inhabitants — women and children.”
Israel has air-dropped leaflets and sent text messages ordering Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza to head south, but a US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.
Military analysts warned of weeks of gruelling house-to-house fighting ahead in Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005 and where it launched its last land incursion in 2014.
“Hamas has had 15 years to prepare a dense ‘defence in depth’ that integrates subterranean, ground-level and above-ground fortifications,” said Michael Knights of the Washington Institute think tank.
The operation is hugely complicated for Israel because of the hostages, including very young children and frail elderly people, who are believed to be held inside a tunnel network spanning hundreds of kilometres.
Israel’s top ally, the United States, has backed it in its war on Hamas but also urged restraint and facilitated some aid deliveries and the flight of several hundred refugees with second passports through the Rafah crossing with Egypt.
Fresh departures from Gaza were announced Tuesday, with Romania saying 103 of its citizens and their family members have received permission to leave via Rafah.
Netanyahu, speaking to ABC News on Monday, stressed that the war would continue until Israel had restored overall control of Gaza.
“Israel will, for an indefinite period, … have the overall security responsibility,” he said. “When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine.”
He stressed that “there will be no ceasefire — general ceasefire — in Gaza, without the release of our hostages.
“As far as tactical, little pauses — an hour here, an hour there — we’ve had them before.
“I suppose we’ll check the circumstances in order to enable goods — humanitarian goods — to come in or our hostages, individual hostages, to leave,” he added.
Israeli troops stationed near the Gaza border told AFP they felt proud to protect their country but also nervous as the war intensifies.
Stationed near Gaza, a 20-year-old soldier who could not be identified said he was “a bit scared to go” into Gaza because “you don’t know if you can come back alive”.
Around 30 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the offensive, the latest on Monday, according to a report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing Israeli sources.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken, after a Middle East tour of crisis diplomacy, arrived in Japan on Tuesday for a meeting of G7 foreign ministers set to seek a common line on Gaza as calls mount for a ceasefire.
As the war rages on, Blinken has also discussed options for who will control Gaza after fighting ends.
In a visit to the occupied West Bank on Sunday, he suggested the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas should retake control.
Abbas said the PA could return to power in Gaza in the future only if a “comprehensive political solution” is found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas said it would never accept a puppet government in Gaza, and the senior Hamas official in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, vowed that “no force on Earth could annihilate” it.
Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protest have been held around the world, with demonstrators voicing revulsion at the spiralling human suffering in Gaza.
In one of the latest demonstrations, hundreds of US Jewish activists peacefully occupied New York’s Statue of Liberty to demand a ceasefire.
One of them, photographer Nan Goldin, said that “as long as the people of Gaza are screaming, we need to yell louder, no matter who attempts to silence us”.