Israel persists in its intense assault on Gaza as the new year begins

Netanyahu’s comments mark no break in the campaign that has killed thousands of people and razed parts of the Gaza Strip, while his pledge to restore Israeli control over the enclave’s border with Egypt has raised new questions about a possible two-state solution.

The Israeli army will release some reservists called up to fight Hamas in Gaza. On Sunday, he said the move would help the economy as the country prepares for a protracted war.

Airstrikes hit al-Maghazi and al-Bureij in central Gaza, killing ten people in a house and forcing others to flee the front line, where Israeli tanks are battling Hamas militants, towards Rafah, on the Egyptian border.

People take part in a demonstration in support of Palestinians in Gaza, near the US Embassy in Amman, Jordan. PHOTO: Reuters

Rockets fired from Gaza headed towards central Israel overnight, setting off sirens in the center and south of the country. Israeli media broadcast recordings of numerous wiretapping operations. No direct hits were reported. Hamas’ military wing said the blockade was a response to the “mass killings of civilians” in Gaza.

A Red Crescent video released Sunday shows rescuers working in the dark to pull an injured child from smoldering rubble in central Gaza. Health officials said six people were killed in an attack on the village of al-Mughraqa, outside Gaza City. Another attack on a house in Khan Younis left one person dead and others injured, she added.

As 2023 drew to a close, Palestinians in Gaza prayed for a ceasefire but had little hope that the new year would be better.

“Tonight, in every country in the world the sky will be lit up with fireworks and joyful laughter will fill the air. “In Gaza, our skies are now filled with rockets and Israeli tank shells hitting innocent and homeless civilians,” said Zainab Khalil, 57, a resident of the northern Gaza Strip who now lives in Rafah.

The Israeli military aims to eliminate Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group that launched a surprise cross-border attack on Israeli cities on October 7, 2023, killing 1,139 settlers and killing 240, according to Israel’s twice-revised census.

Health authorities in Gaza say Israeli air and artillery strikes have killed more than 21,800 people, thousands more are feared trapped under rubble and nearly all 2.3 million people have been forced from their homes. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 70% of deaths in the Gaza Strip involve women and people under the age of 18.

After the October 7 attack, Israel blocked most food, fuel and medicine. It was reported on Sunday that ships from some Western countries were ready to receive humanitarian supplies directly on the coast of the Gaza Strip after security checks in Cyprus.

Gemma Connell, head of the UN humanitarian agency OCHA, said that among the tens of thousands of people who fled to Rafah, many had no property or place to sleep.

“I am so afraid that the number of deaths we have seen will increase exponentially, both because of this new offensive and because of these circumstances, which are literally unbelievable,” she said.

‘Where will people go?’

The United States, Israel’s main ally, has called on the country to limit the war, and European states have expressed concern about the extent of the suffering of Palestinian civilians.

However, Netanyahu’s comments on Saturday, when he said he would not resign despite polls showing his government largely unpopular and defending his security record despite the October 7 attack, suggest no easing in the near future will take place.

Netanyahu said that “the war is at its peak” and that Israel must regain control of Gaza’s border with Egypt, an area now populated by civilians who have fled the carnage in the rest of the enclave.

The resumption of the border could also mark a near reversal of the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, raising new questions about the future of the enclave and the prospects for a Palestinian state.

Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system intercepts rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. PHOTO: Reuters

Washington has said Israel should hand control of Gaza to a Palestinian government once the conflict ends.

“We have a fundamentally different vision here of what Gaza should look like post-conflict,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said on ABC television.

Far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich on Sunday stoked concerns about the goals of the offensive by calling on Palestinians to leave Gaza and make way for Israelis who can “make the desert bloom.”

This contradicts the Israeli government’s official position that Gazans can return home. Smotrich and other hardline coalition ministers were excluded from the nuclear war cabinet but insisted on involvement in decisions about the conflict.

In his final remarks as Israel’s foreign minister before moving to the energy portfolio on Sunday, Eli Cohen said the border was likely the source of the weapons Hamas has acquired in recent years.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian Authority official in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said on social media that Israel’s takeover of the border was evidence of the decision to “fully return to occupation.”

“We moved here from Khan Younis because Rafah was a safe place. There is no space in Rafah because it is overcrowded with displaced people,” said Umme Mohammed, 45, a displaced Palestinian refugee at the border.

“If they control the border, where will people go? she asked and said it would be “a disaster.”

Maersk cargo ship attacked

The war threatens to turn into a broader regional conflict involving Hamas ally Iran and Tehran-backed groups in the Middle East.

Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah have regularly fired cross-border shots, with the Israeli army claiming to have hit targets in Lebanon on Sunday. Hezbollah’s attacks targeted Israeli border bases and troop groups. Using a wide range of weapons, the resistance group significantly undermined Israeli surveillance of the border area and caused numerous casualties.

Israel has also attacked resistance groups in Syria, while other groups in Iraq have attacked American targets in Iraq.

Yemen’s Iran-linked Houthi group, which has been attacking ships in the Red Sea for weeks in what it calls a response to Israel’s war in Gaza, has attacked a Maersk cargo ship, the US military said.

U.S. Navy helicopters sank three of the four small boats used by the Houthis in Sunday’s attack and landed the fourth, the military said.

Israel says 174 of its troops have been killed in fighting in Gaza, but its operations have made progress, including the destruction of some Hamas tunnels under the enclave.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad – both of which have vowed to end Israeli settler colonialism – have said they continue to target Israeli forces in the enclave.