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At least 35 dead in Gaza strikes as Netanyahu says war will continue for months

Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people on Sunday, hospital officials said (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)
Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people on Sunday, hospital officials said (Tsafrir Abayov/AP)

Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people on Sunday, hospital officials said, as the military targeted areas in several parts of the territory a day after the country’s prime minister said the war will continue for “many more months”, resisting international calls for a ceasefire.

The military said Israeli forces were operating in Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis, and residents reported strikes in the central part of the tiny enclave, after Israel this week made that region the new focus of its war.

The war has raised fears of a broader regional conflagration.

The US military said on Sunday that it had shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired towards a container ship by Yemen’s Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Hours later, four boats tried to attack the same ship, but US forces opened fire, killing several of the armed crews, the US Central Command said.

Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas’s governing and military capabilities in Gaza, from where the group launched its October 7 attack on southern Israel which killed 1,200 people, and took 240 people hostage, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel’s unprecedented air and ground offensive has killed more than 21,600 Palestinians and wounded more than 55,000 others, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of Gaza residents facing starvation, according to the United Nations.

Israel’s bombardments have flattened vast swathes of the territory, making parts uninhabitable and displacing some 85% of Gaza’s inhabitants.

Israel Palestinians
Palestinians load the bodies of relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip on to a truck in Deir al Balah (Adel Hana/AP)

Israel expanded its offensive to central Gaza this week, targeting a belt of dense urban neighbourhoods which house refugees from the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 and their descendants. The fighting has left Palestinians in Gaza with the feeling that nowhere is safe.

In the area of Zweida in central Gaza, an Israeli air strike killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens of others, according to witnesses. The bodies were draped in white plastic and laid out in front of a hospital, where prayers were held before burial.

“They were innocent people,” said Hussein Siam, whose relatives were among the dead. “Israeli warplanes bombarded the whole family.”

Officials from Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Deir al-Balah said the 13 were among 35 bodies received on Sunday.

The Israeli military said it is battling militants in Khan Younis, where Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding.

It also said its forces operating in Shati, in northern Gaza, found a bomb in a nursery school and defused it.

Eman al-Masri, who gave birth to quadruplets a week ago at a hospital in Deir al-Balah, is now sheltering with them in a room with 50 other people at a school-turned-shelter.

“There is a shortage of diapers, they are not available, and no milk,” she said.

Israel Palestinians
Israeli security forces take up positions during a military raid in the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Hamas continues to launch rockets towards southern Israel.

Israel has faced stiff resistance from Hamas since it began its ground offensive in late October, and the military says 172 soldiers have been killed during that time.

The magnitude of the destruction in Gaza coupled with the war’s length has raised questions about the achievability of Israel’s goal to quash Hamas as well as about its plans for post-war Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip, without saying what would come next.

At a news conference on Saturday, where he said the war will continue for “many more months”, he reiterated his intention to preserve an Israeli military foothold in a narrow strip of land in southern Gaza near the border with Egypt.

Israel Palestinians
Israeli security forces arrest two Palestinian men during a military raid in the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

“(It) must be in our hands, it must be sealed. It’s clear that any other agreement will not guarantee the demilitarisation that we need and require,” he said.

Israel says Hamas has smuggled weapons in through the Egyptian border, but Egypt is likely to oppose any Israeli military presence there.

In his public remarks about Israel’s plans for the Gaza Strip, Mr Netanyahu has also said he will not allow the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers some parts of the West Bank, to participate in any future rule over Gaza.

That position has put him at odds with the Biden administration over who should run Gaza after the war.

The US backs the idea that a unified Palestinian government should run both Gaza and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to eventual statehood.

Israeli media have reported that Mr Netanyahu has repeatedly dodged holding meetings with his War Cabinet about the post-war possibilities.

On Sunday, Israel’s far-right finance minister said it should “encourage migration” from Gaza and re-establish Jewish settlements in the territory, from which it withdrew settlers and soldiers in 2005.

“If in Gaza there were only 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs and not two million, the entire discussion about ‘the day after’ would be completely different,” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Army Radio.

Mr Smotrich has been largely sidelined by a War Cabinet that does not include him. But his comments risked worsening tensions with neighbouring Egypt, which is deeply concerned about a possible mass influx of Palestinian refugees, as well as other friendly Arab countries.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said late on Sunday that Israel was withdrawing some forces from Gaza as part of its “smart management” of the war. He did not say how many, and held out the possibility they would return at a later point in the war.

Israeli media said up to five brigades, numbering thousands of soldiers, would be withdrawn, but it was not immediately clear if it represented a normal troop rotation or a new phase in the fighting.

Mr Hagari also said some reservists would return to civilian life to bolster Israel’s wartime economy.

A former member of Mr Netanyahu’s Cabinet has offered one of the party’s first public apologies for the internal strife that preceded Hamas’s October 7 attack.

Knesset member Galit Distel Atbaryan was speaking in an interview with Israel’s Channel 13 on Sunday.

She said: “I’m here sitting and telling you, the democratic, secular public: I sinned against you, I caused pain for you, I caused you to fear for your lives here, and I am sorry for this.”

Ms Distel Atbaryan added she was also taking responsibility for her role in the massive protests and civil discord that erupted after Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing government attempted to implement a far-reaching overhaul of the judicial system.