By Najib Jobain And Kareem Chehayeb, The Associated Press on December 14, 2023.
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel’s defense minister said Thursday it will take “more than several months” to destroy Hamas, predicting a drawn-out war even as his country and its top ally, the United States, face increasing international isolation and alarm over the devastation from Israel’s campaign in Gaza.
Yoav Gallant’s comments ahead of talks in Tel Aviv with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan underscored a dynamic that has held between the two allies for weeks.
The Biden administration has shown unease over Israel’s failure to reduce civilian casualties and its plans for the future of Gaza, but it continues to offer wholehearted support for Israel’s campaign with weapons and diplomatic backing. Meanwhile, Israeli leaders have repeatedly said they plan to pursue their military assault until Hamas is crushed, though any hopes of a swift victory have vanished.
A deadly Hamas ambush on Israeli troops in Gaza City this week showed the group’s resilience and called into question whether Israel can defeat it without wiping out the entire territory.
Gallant said Hamas has been building military infrastructure in Gaza for more than a decade, “and it is not easy to destroy them. It will require a period of time.”
“It will last more than several months, but we will win, and we will destroy them,” he said.
Israel has imposed a total siege on northern Gaza, including Gaza City, and has flattened much of it in what is already one of the 21st century’s most devastating military campaign. Sullivan’s visit comes days after President Joe Biden said Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight to the end, “even given the great pain and the international pressure,” saying late Wednesday that “nothing will stop us.”
ARRESTS IN THE NORTH
The Palestinian telecommunications provider Paltel said Thursday that all communication services across Gaza were cut off due to ongoing fighting, severing the besieged territory from the outside world.
Heavy fighting has raged for days in areas around eastern Gaza City that were encircled earlier in the war. Tens of thousands of people remain in the north despite repeated evacuation orders, saying they don’t feel safe anywhere in Gaza or fear they may never be allowed to return to their homes if they leave.
The military released footage Thursday showing Israeli troops leading a line of dozens of men with their hands above their heads out of a damaged building it said was the Kamal Adwan Hospital in the north Gaza town of Beit Lahia. Men brought out four assault rifles and set them on the street along with several ammunition magazines.
In the video, a commander said militants had fired on troops from the hospital and that troops were evacuating those inside while detaining suspected militants. The claims could not be independently verified. Earlier in the week, a Gaza Health Ministry official said the weapons inside belong to the hospital’s guards.
Israeli troops have held the hospital since Tuesday, according to the Health Ministry and U.N. During that time, 70 medical workers and patients were detained, including the hospital director, they said.
Several thousand displaced people sheltering there were evacuated after the raid, and the remaining patients – including 12 children in intensive care – will be taken to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the Health Ministry said.
Israel says it is rounding up men in northern Gaza as it searches for Hamas fighters, and recent videos have shown dozens of detained men stripped to their underwear, bound and blindfolded in the streets. Some released detainees have said they were beaten and denied food and water.
In the video released by the military on Thursday, all the men appeared fully clothed except the four carrying weapons, who were shirtless.
A HEAVY CIVILIAN TOLL
Israel’s air and ground assault, launched in response to Hamas’ unprecedented attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7, has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.
The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Its latest count did not specify how many were women and minors, but they have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead in previous tallies. Thousands more are missing and feared dead beneath the rubble.
Nearly 1.9 million Palestinians have been driven from their homes, with most seeking refuge in the south, even as Israel has continued to strike what it says are militant targets in all parts of the territory.
Residents reported two Israeli airstrikes overnight in Rafah, the southernmost town along the Egyptian border. An Associated Press reporter saw 27 bodies brought into a local hospital early Thursday.
One woman burst into tears after recognizing the body of her child.
“They were young people, children, displaced, all sitting at home,” Mervat Ashour said as she and others mourned their relatives. “There were no resistance fighters, rockets or anything.”
New evacuation orders issued as troops pushed into the southern city of Khan Younis earlier this month have pushed U.N.-run shelters to the breaking point and forced people to set up tent camps in even less hospitable areas. Heavy rain and cold in recent days have compounded their misery, swamping tents and forcing families to crowd around fires to keep warm.
Israel has sealed Gaza off to all but a trickle of humanitarian aid, and U.N. agencies have struggled to distribute it since the offensive expanded to the south because of fighting and road closures.
RISING SUPPORT FOR HAMAS
Israel might have hoped that the war and its hardships would turn Palestinians against Hamas, hastening its demise. But a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found 44% of respondents in the occupied West Bank said they supported Hamas, up from 12% in September. In Gaza, the militants enjoyed 42% support, up from 38% three months ago.
That’s still a minority in both territories. But even many Palestinians who do not share Hamas’ commitment to destroying Israel and oppose its attacks on civilians see it as resisting Israel’s decades-old occupation of lands they want for a future state.
Israelis, meanwhile, remain strongly supportive of the war and see it as necessary to prevent a repeat of Oct. 7, when Palestinian militants attacked communities across southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 hostage. A total of 116 soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive, which began Oct. 27.
Around half the hostages, mostly women and children, were released last month during a weeklong cease-fire in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Chehayeb reported from Beirut. Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman in Tel Aviv, Israel contributed.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war