Israel says troops pushing deep into Gaza City as it seeks ‘indefinite period’ of control

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Key points

  • Israel said its forces were pushing deep into Gaza City.
  • Residents said tanks were positioned on the outskirts of Gaza’s urban heartland.
  • Spokesperson for the military suggested that the encircling troops could be making raids inside.
  • The military wing of Hamas said its fighters were inflicting heavy losses and damage on advancing Israeli forces.
  • White House spokesman John Kirby said US President Joe Biden opposed Israeli reoccupation.

Gaza/Jerusalem: Israel said its forces were pushing deep into Gaza City, where residents said tanks were positioned on the outskirts for a potential storming of Gaza’s urban heartland.

“For the first time in decades, IDF is fighting in the heart of Gaza City. At the heart of terrorism,” Major General Yaron Finkelman, commanding officer of the Southern Command of the Israeli Defence Forces, told reporters near the Gaza border.

Israeli flares light up the sky above the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.Credit: Bloomberg

“Every day and every hour the forces are killing militants, exposing tunnels and destroying weapons and continuing onward to enemy centres.”

Israel previously said it had surrounded Gaza City, home to around a third of the Gaza Strip’s 2.3 million people, and would soon attack it to annihilate Hamas fighters who assaulted Israeli towns across the border one month ago.

There was no indication on the ground that Israeli forces had thrust en masse further into the city, but a spokesperson for the military, Richard Hecht, suggested that the encircling troops could be making raids inside.

Asked whether such raids had taken place, he said: “I’m not going to talk about how we are operationally acting from within our encirclement around Gaza City. You are in the right direction, that’s all I can say.”

The military wing of Hamas said its fighters were inflicting heavy losses and damage on advancing Israeli forces.

It was not possible to verify the battlefield claims of either side.

Month of carnage

War began on October 7 when Hamas fighters burst across the fence enclosing Gaza and killed 1400 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted more than 200, according to Israeli tallies. Since then, Israel has unrelentingly bombarded Hamas-run Gaza, killing more than 10,000 people, around 40 percent of them children, according to tallies by health officials there.

“It has been one full month of carnage, of incessant suffering, bloodshed, destruction, outrage and despair,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Volcker Turk said in a statement at the start of a trip to the region, during which he will visit the Rafah crossing from Egypt, the sole route for aid.

Israel gave residents a window from 10 am to 2pm to leave Gaza City. Residents say Israeli tanks have been moving mostly at night, with Israeli forces largely relying on air and artillery strikes to clear a path for their ground advance.

“For your safety, take this next opportunity to move south beyond Wadi Gaza,” the military announced, referring to the wetlands that bisect the narrow, coastal territory.

Gaza’s interior ministry says 900,000 Palestinians are still sheltering in northern Gaza including Gaza City.

“The most dangerous trip in my life. We saw the tanks from point blank (range). We saw decomposed body parts. We saw death,” resident Adam Fayez Zeyara posted with a selfie of himself on the road out of Gaza City.

While Israel’s military operation is focused on the northern half of Gaza, the south has also come under attack. Palestinian health officials said at least 23 people were killed in two separate Israeli air strikes early on Tuesday (local time) in the southern Gaza cities of Khan Younis and Rafah.

“We are civilians,” said Ahmed Ayesh, who was rescued from the rubble of a house in Khan Younis where health officials said 11 people had been killed. “This is the bravery of the so-called Israel – they show their might and power against civilians, babies inside, kids inside, and elderly.”

As he spoke, rescuers at the house used their hands to try to free a girl buried up to her waist in debris.

Israel seeks ‘indefinite period’ of control

Israel has so far been vague about its long-term plans for Gaza, should it succeed in its operation to vanquish Hamas. In some of the first direct comments on the subject, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would seek to have security responsibility for Gaza “for an indefinite period”.

“We’ve seen what happens when we don’t have that security responsibility,” he told US television’s ABC News.

Israel pulled its troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, and two years later, Hamas took power there, defeating the Palestinian Authority which exercises limited self-rule in a separate, Israeli-occupied territory, the West Bank.

Simcha Rothman, a lawmaker in Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition, said in a social media post: “Our forces must not shed blood to give the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority wrapped in a bow…. Only full Israeli control and a complete demilitarisation of the strip will restore security.”

But White House spokesman John Kirby said US President Joe Biden opposed Israeli reoccupation: “It’s not good for Israel, it’s not good for the Israeli people,” Kirby told CNN.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with leaders in the region about what governance of Gaza could look like after the war, Kirby said: “Whatever it is, it can’t be what it was on October 6. It can’t be Hamas.”

The leader of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, Merav Michaeli, said Israel needed to work with the United States, Arab countries and the PA on a plan for a “political victory” in Gaza to make Israel safe once Hamas is defeated militarily.

Both Israel and Hamas have rebuffed calls for a halt in fighting. Israel says hostages should be freed first. Hamas says it will not free them or stop fighting while Gaza is under attack. Washington has backed Israel’s position that a ceasefire would help Hamas.

Since last week, hundreds of Gazans who hold foreign passports have been permitted to exit through the Rafah crossing into Egypt. But the overwhelming majority remain trapped inside the strip.


More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Cascading violence: Tremors from the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have reached far beyond the border. But what would all-out war in the Middle East look like?
  • The human cost: Hamas’ massacre in Israel has traumatised – and hardened – survivors. And in Gaza, neighbourhoods have become ghost cities.
  • ‘Hamas metro’: Inside the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels, which the Palestinian militant group has commanded beneath war-ravaged Gaza for 16 years. The covert corridors have long provided essential channels for the movement of weapons and armed combatants.
  • What is Hezbollah?: As fears of the conflict expanding beyond Israel and Hamas steadily rise, all eyes are on the militant group and political party that controls southern Lebanon and has been designated internationally as a terrorist group. How did it form and what does Iran have to do with it?

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