Netanyahu vows no let-up in war but UN worker says Gazans have no place to go By Reuters

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© Reuters. An armoured personnel carrier (APC) is seen silhouetted as the sun sets, amid the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, near the Israel-Gaza border, in Southern Israel, December 25, 2023. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura

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By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Bassam Masoud and Emily Rose

CAIRO/GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up the fight against Hamas militants, but a United Nations humanitarian team leader said Palestinian civilians in Gaza who honor Israeli evacuation orders cannot be guaranteed they will be safe.

Netanyahu, who visited Israeli troops in northern Gaza on Monday, told lawmakers from his Likud Party that the war was far from over and dismissed what he cast as media speculation his government might call a halt to the fighting.

He said Israel would not succeed in freeing its remaining hostages held by Hamas without applying military pressure.

“We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less,” Netanyahu, who has defied international calls for a ceasefire, said during the Gaza visit.

Retaliating against Hamas for its deadly Oct. 7 cross-border rampage, Israel has been under pressure from its closest ally the United States to shift operations in Gaza to a lower-intensity phase and reduce civilian deaths.

But Gemma Connell, a U.N. team leader deployed in Gaza for several weeks now, described what she called a “human chess board” in which thousands of people, displaced many times already, are on the run again and there is no guarantee a destination will be safe.

“There’s so little space left here in Rafah that people just don’t know where they will go and it really feels like people being moved around a human chessboard because there’s an evacuation order somewhere,” Connell, who on Monday visited the Deir al-Balah neighborhood in central Gaza.

“People flee that area into another area. But they’re not safe there,” she told Reuters.

Washington has for weeks pressured Israel to take further steps to minimise civilian harm by designating safe areas and clearing humanitarian routes for people to escape. But the death toll keep rising and Israeli operations have intensified.

Asked for the army’s response, a spokesperson said the military has sought to evacuate civilians from areas of fighting but Hamas systematically attempts to prevent that effort. The army spokesperson said the Palestinian militant group uses civilians as human shields, an accusation the group denies.

The spokesperson said the army takes all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians.

MORE AIRSTRIKES

Early on Tuesday, Palestinian residents reported several airstrikes near Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, the largest medical facility in the southern Gaza Strip.

Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a house in Al-Amal neighbourhood in Khan Younis.

Palestinians mourned more than 100 people who Gaza health officials said were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Sunday night, one of the deadliest nights in the 11-week-old battle between Israel and Hamas.

At a funeral in Gaza, a line of Palestinian mourners touched the white shrouds wrapped around the bodies of at least 70 people who Palestinian health officials said were killed by an airstrike that hit Maghazi in the centre of the strip.

“LITTLE JESUSES”

Pope Francis issued a strongly worded message saying that children dying in wars, including in Gaza, were the “little Jesuses of today’. He said Israeli strikes were reaping an “appalling harvest” of innocent civilians.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts did not offer much relief.

Hamas and the allied Islamic Jihad rejected an Egyptian proposal that they relinquish power in the Gaza Strip in return for a permanent ceasefire, two Egyptian security sources told Reuters on Monday. The sources said the groups rejected offering any concessions beyond the possible release of more hostages.

Hamas and smaller militant ally Islamic Jihad, both sworn to Israel’s destruction, are believed to be holding more than 100 hostages from among 240 they captured during their Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli towns, when they killed 1,200 people.

Since then, Israel has laid much of the narrow strip to waste. Nearly 20,700 Gazans have been killed, including 250 in the last 24 hours, according to authorities in Hamas-ruled Gaza.

The vast majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million population have been driven from their homes, and the United Nations says humanitarian conditions are catastrophic.

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