Israeli forces advance into Gaza City as Benjamin Netanyahu resists calls for a ceasefire

The Israeli army is advancing south and east of Gaza City after taking full control of the largest hospital in the Strip, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to resist international pressure for a ceasefire.

Fighting renewed in the Al-Zaytoun and Jabalia neighborhoods, east of Al-Shifa Hospital, during the night, even as an early winter storm struck. The army said nine Israeli soldiers were killed over the weekend.

On Saturday, hundreds of people left the hospital – the focus of Israel’s three-week ground offensive – to join more than a million displaced people living either in the open air or in overcrowded UN shelters. Heavy rain fell on the Gaza Strip on Sunday, with temperatures falling below 15 degrees Celsius, increasing the risk of disease as sewage flows into the streets.

Speaking on Saturday night, Netanyahu said a limited amount of fuel — no more than two truckloads per day — would now be allowed into Gaza to stave off an outbreak, a concession he said he made after American pressure.

“This is not a change in policy but a limited local response in order to prevent the spread of epidemics,” Netanyahu said, adding that the spread of the disease would affect Israeli soldiers as well as Gaza residents.

But he also appeared to reject US President Joe Biden’s call, made in a Washington Post opinion column, that the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’s political rival in the West Bank, would play a greater role in Gaza after the war. Without naming the Palestinian Authority, he said that he would not support the presence of any element that “supports terrorism and pays terrorists and their families.”

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Netanyahu pledged to establish a “diplomatic Iron Dome” – a reference to Israel’s air defense system – to resist growing international pressure for a ceasefire, unless this is accompanied by the release of hostages held by Hamas. He said: “I reject these pressures and say to the world: We will continue fighting until victory.”

Israel launched its air and ground attack on the Gaza Strip after the devastating attack launched by Hamas on October 7, which killed about 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. The Palestinian Islamic Group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, also took about 240 hostages.

The Ministry of Health said that more than 11,500 Palestinians were martyred, many of them women and children, but it warned that it had not been able to update this toll since early last week due to a communications outage. The ministry estimated that more than 3,000 people were buried under the rubble.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who is leading negotiations with Hamas over the release of the hostages, said at a news conference in Doha that “there has been good progress in the past few days” and minor obstacles remain between Israel and Hamas. Hamas reaches an agreement.

The expanded military operations come as Israeli forces searched Al-Shifa Hospital for evidence to support their claims that Hamas has built a vast underground command and control center beneath it.

The limited discoveries of any large-scale Hamas infrastructure, either at Shifa Hospital or at Rantisi Hospital, which Israel took control of earlier this week, have sparked widespread criticism of the IDF’s decision to attack the crowded facilities.

In Al-Shifa, the army has so far found a tunnel entrance, a small weapons cache, some radios and a laptop, according to videos published by the Israeli army. The army has not yet conducted a full investigation into the tunnel.

In Rantissi, Admiral Daniel Hajary showed TV crews a weapons cache that he said had been discovered there, then pointed to a calendar starting on October 7, the day of the Hamas attack, a piece of rope on the floor and a curtain. On a windowless wall as evidence that a hostage may be held there.

Israeli army officials said on Friday that they were frustrated by the pressure to provide more evidence. The IDF now has full control over the recovery and is expected to continue searching for evidence to support its assertions.

The World Health Organization visited Al-Shifa Hospital on Saturday and said that the hospital was a “death zone,” adding that its team had found a mass grave containing 80 bodies. In recent days, Al-Shifa has provided shelter to 2,500 people in addition to doctors, nurses and at least 600 patients. Fewer than two dozen staff remained after some doctors and patients fled on Saturday.

The United Nations said on Sunday that it had evacuated “31 seriously ill children” as well as some health workers and family members of staff. The children were transferred to the maternity hospital in Rafah. The remaining patients are at risk of infection due to medical and solid waste and drug shortages, the UN said, adding that more evacuation missions are being planned.

Premature newborns receiving treatment after being transferred from Al-Shifa Hospital to Rafah
Premature newborns receive treatment at Rafah Hospital after being transferred from Shifa © Abdul Rahim Al-Khatib/ German News Agency

Israel’s Western allies have advised caution as the army expands its operations into southern Gaza, where the Israeli army initially asked civilians to flee to during its invasion from the north. The United States has asked Israel to keep operations in the south “targeted and precise” to avoid civilian casualties and allow people to move to safe areas, a person familiar with the discussions said on Saturday.

But Defense Minister Yoav Galant said on Saturday that the entire Gaza Strip would soon feel the “lethal force of the Israeli army,” according to a recording of his remarks broadcast on Israeli Kan radio. The army refused to comment on the leaflets found in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, demanding that Palestinians leave their homes immediately.

The United Nations also reported explosions in two schools where civilians had taken refuge. The director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said that it received “horrific pictures and video footage of dozens of dead and wounded” after the bombing of the United Nations school in Al Fakhoura.

Philippe Lazzarini, the UN Commissioner-General for UNRWA, wrote on the social media site Consider the accident.

Additional reporting by Heba Saleh

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