Israel battles Hamas in Gaza City

Palestinian Mohammed Hamdan, who lost 35 family members of three generations in an Israeli air strike, rests on a couch near the rubble of his family home that was destroyed in the strike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Nov. 7, 2023. (Credit: Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Israel's campaign to destroy Hamas pushed into its second month Wednesday as its forces battled the Palestinian militants in Gaza City, despite mounting calls for a cease-fire.

Underlining Israel's plan to crush Hamas, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described Gaza as "the largest terrorist base ever built."

"We are in the heart of Gaza City," he said.

Israel launched a massive campaign in the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants staged an unprecedented attack on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.

According to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza Strip, Israel's relentless bombardment has killed more than 10,300 people, many of them children.

Calls for a halt in the fighting have gone unheeded, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisting there would be no pause until the more than 240 hostages seized by Hamas are freed. 

United Nations rights chief Volker Turk said the past month was one marked by "carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair."

'Death and suffering'

In Jerusalem on Tuesday night, sobs pierced memorial ceremonies and crowds lit candles while mourning the 1,400 dead, including families slain in their homes and young people killed at a music festival in the worst attack in Israel's history.

"There's not one person not impacted by these horrible attacks," said 52-year-old Sharon Balaban, one of thousands of Israelis attending the vigils. 

"Everyone knows somebody who was hurt, killed, murdered or impacted."

In densely packed Gaza — where more than 1.5 million people have fled their homes in a desperate search for safety — the suffering is immense.

Entire city blocks have been leveled and bodies in white shrouds are piling up outside hospitals, where surgeons operate on bloodied floors by the light of phones.

The World Health Organization said an average of 160 children are killed every day in Gaza by the war.

"The level of death and suffering is hard to fathom," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

Hamas's media office said on Telegram that several cemeteries in Gaza had "no more space for burials," while the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said most of the territory's sewage pumping stations were shut.

Israel accuses Hamas of building military tunnels underneath hospitals, schools and mosques — charges the militant group denies. 

OCHA says Israel has ordered all 13 hospitals still operational in northern Gaza to evacuate patients.

Netanyahu has said no fuel will be delivered to besieged Gaza, but may allow possible "tactical pauses" to free hostages and deliver aid.

G7 meeting

Netanyahu has said Israel will assume "overall security" in Gaza after the war ends, while Ron Dermer, Israel's minister of strategic affairs, said the prime minister was not referring to any future reoccupation of the territory.

Israel withdrew its troops from the territory, which it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War, in 2005. 

"After Hamas is removed from power, after we dismantle this infrastructure, Israel is going to have to retain overriding security responsibility indefinitely," Dermer told MSNBC television.

Key ally Washington said it opposed a long-term occupation of Gaza.

"We're having active discussions with our Israeli counterparts about what post-conflict Gaza ought to look like," White House security spokesman John Kirby told reporters.

"The president maintains his position that a reoccupation by Israeli forces is not the right thing to do," Kirby added, saying there were also debate on what future "governance in Gaza" would look like.

Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanou roundly rejected the proposal to eject Hamas.

"What Kirby said about the future of Gaza after Hamas is a fantasy," he said in a post on Telegram. "Our people are symbiotic with the resistance, and only they will decide their future."

In the occupied West Bank on Sunday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken suggested the Palestinian Authority under president Mahmud Abbas should retake control of Gaza.

The PA exercises limited autonomy in only parts of the West Bank, and Abbas said it could only potentially return to power in Gaza if a "comprehensive political solution" is found for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Blinken, following a Middle East tour of crisis diplomacy, is in Japan for a meeting of G7 foreign ministers to seek a common line on Gaza.

The ministers called in a joint statement for "humanitarian pauses" in Gaza, while stopping short of urging a cease-fire — in line with US policy on the war.

"All over Gaza, helpless people are losing their family members, homes, and their own lives, while world leaders fail to take meaningful action," medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said.

In its statement, MSF detailed how a staff member was killed on Monday along with his family in Gaza's Shati refugee camp when the area was bombed.

'We don't want war'

Israel has hammered Gaza with more than 12,000 air and artillery strikes and sent in ground forces that have effectively cut it in half.

It has air-dropped leaflets and sent texts ordering civilians in northern Gaza to flee south, but a US official said Saturday at least 350,000 civilians remained in the worst-hit areas.

Clutching one of her toddlers, Amira al-Sakani said she fled Gaza City after coming across the air-dropped Israeli flyers.

"Our life is tragic; we don't want war … we want peace," she added.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, which said one of its humanitarian convoys in Gaza was hit by gunfire on Tuesday, demanded an end to the suffering of civilians.

"Children have been ripped from their families and held hostage. In Gaza, ICRC surgeons treat toddlers whose skin is charred from widespread burns," the organization's president Mirjana Spoljaric said.

Military analysts warned of weeks of gruelling house-to-house fighting ahead in Gaza, with around 30 Israeli soldiers already killed in the offensive.

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 vast tunnel network.

Israel's campaign to destroy Hamas pushed into its second month Wednesday as its forces battled the Palestinian militants in Gaza City, despite mounting calls for a cease-fire.

Underlining Israel's plan to crush Hamas, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described Gaza as "the largest terrorist base ever built."

"We are in the heart of...