Israel bombed areas of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, with fighting throughout Sunday morning, residents and Palestinian media said, as Gaza health authorities and the Israeli military announced mounting death tolls in the Israel-Hamas war.
The Israeli military said eight soldiers had been killed, bringing to 154 its published combat losses since it began its ground incursion in response to Hamas’s Oct. 7 rampage into Israel in which militants killed 1,200 people and took 240 hostages.
Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza said on Sunday that at least 166 Palestinians were killed in Gaza over the previous 24 hours and 384 others were injured. The Health Ministry said that raises the toll to 20,424 Palestinians killed and 54,036 injured. Almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.
Israel said it has achieved almost complete operational control over northern Gaza and is preparing to expand a ground offensive to other areas in the Gaza Strip, with a focus on the south. But Jabalia residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks, which they said had moved further into the town on Saturday.
“We shall press ahead, for every fallen soldier, too. Until Hamas is eliminated. Until the hostages are returned,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz, a member of the security cabinet, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Israelis still stand firmly behind the country’s stated goals of crushing Hamas’s governing and military capabilities despite growing protests over the plan to recover remaining hostages.
Israel has long urged residents to leave northern areas of Gaza, but its forces have been bombarding targets in central and southern parts of Gaza.
“They ask people to head to Deir al-Balah [in central Gaza], where they bomb day and night,” Ziad, a medic and father of six, told Reuters by phone.
“International law has collapsed,” said Ramzy Aidy, a Gaza resident with a doctorate in law. “If Israel were in the Palestinians’ position, the world would not stand still and would act.”
Hamas’s armed wing al-Qassam Brigades said Saturday it destroyed five Israeli tanks around Jabalia, killing and injuring their crews after reusing two undetonated missiles launched by Israel. Reuters could not independently verify the report.
Israel Defence Forces said they had fired decoy shots in the area of Issa in Gaza City that lured dozens of militants from a building that served as a Hamas headquarters in the north of the enclave, “eliminating the terrorists.”
The army released a video that it said showed Hamas tunnels in the Issa area. Reuters could not independently verify the location or the date.
Israel accuses the militant group of placing tunnels and other military infrastructure among civilians to use them as human shields, something Hamas denies. Hamas said it had lost contact with a group it said was responsible for five of the Israeli hostages due to Israeli bombardment.
The conflict has spread as Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi forces disrupt global trade with missile and drone attacks on vessels in the Red Sea in retaliation for Israel’s assault on Gaza.
The United States shot down four drones launched from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen toward a U.S. destroyer in the southern Red Sea on Saturday, bringing to 15 the number of such attacks on commercial shipping, U.S. Central Command said.
A drone launched from Iran struck a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, the U.S. Defence Department said. An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander said the Mediterranean Sea could be closed if the U.S. and its allies kept committing “crimes” in Gaza, Iranian media reported, without elaborating.
U.S. maintains support for Israel
The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had discussions.
It said in a statement that Biden “emphasized the critical need to protect the civilian population including those supporting the humanitarian aid operation, and the importance of allowing civilians to move safely away from areas of ongoing fighting.”
“The leaders discussed the importance of securing the release of all remaining hostages.”
Netanyahu “made clear that Israel will pursue the war until all of its objectives are fully met,” his office said.
Israel’s main ally has maintained its support while expressing concern over the casualty toll and humanitarian crisis in Gaza. U.S. officials have said they expect Israel to shift soon to a lower-intensity phase, with operations targeting the Hamas leadership and its infrastructure.
The United Nations Security Council averted a threatened U.S. veto on Friday, after days of wrangling, by removing from a draft resolution a call for an immediate end to the war and diluting Israeli control over aid deliveries. The U.S. and Israel oppose a ceasefire, contending it would let Iran-backed Hamas regroup and rearm.
On the weekend, six Palestinians were killed and several wounded in an Israeli airstrike on a house at the Bureij refugee camp, in the centre of the Gaza Strip, where the Israeli army ordered people to evacuate and head west toward Deir al-Balah city, medics said.
Joudat Imad, 55, a father of six, had to leave an area in the Nusseirat refugee camp in central Gaza after a map published by the army marked it as a place people had to evacuate.
“I was lucky to get a tent in Rafah,” he told Reuters by phone. “From an owner of two buildings to a refugee in a tent
awaiting aid — that is what this brutal war has turned us to.”
In Rafah, on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, an Israeli airstrike on a house killed two people, Palestinian medics
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported an attack on one of its main bases in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. It said a 13-year-old child had been shot dead by an Israeli drone while inside the Al-Amal Hospital.
The Israeli military has expressed regret for civilian deaths, but it blames Hamas for operating in densely populated areas or using civilians as human shields, an allegation the group denies.
Bethlehem marks Christmas with vigil, prayers
The war has led to a subdued Christmas in Bethlehem, where there were candle-lit hymns and prayers for peace in Gaza instead of the usual festive celebrations this weekend.
Most years, Bethlehem basks in the central place it holds in the Christian story of Jesus’s life, born there in a stable because there was no room for his parents at the inn and placed in an animal’s manger, the humblest of all possible beds.
Some 2,000 years later, pilgrims usually flock to the reputed location of that stable in Bethlehem’s Byzantine-era Church of the Nativity, where most Christmases there are joyful displays of lights and trees in Manger Square.
But with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the mostly Palestinian population of Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank are in mourning, too.
This year, they decided to have no large tree, the usual centrepiece of Bethlehem’s Christmas celebrations, because of the fighting taking place only 50 kilometres away.
In place of the usual nativity scene, as Christians call the traditional display of figurines representing the holy family, Bethlehem churches this year placed the models amid rubble and barbed wire in solidarity with the people of Gaza.
“Bethlehem is a message. It is not a city, it is a message of peace to the whole world. From this sacred place we convey a message of peace … stop the war, stop the blood, the killing and the revenge,” said Rev. Ibrahim Faltas, a friar at the vigil.
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