Bombing reported in northern Gaza as Israel says over a dozen soldiers killed in clashes with Hamas

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Israel bombed areas of Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, with fighting throughout Sunday morning, residents and Palestinian media said as the Israeli military announced a mounting death toll in clashes with Hamas militants.
 
Israel said it has achieved almost complete operational control over northern Gaza and is preparing to expand a ground  offensive to other areas, but Jabalia residents reported persistent aerial bombardment and shelling from Israeli tanks,  which they said had moved further into the town on Saturday.

A chief military spokesperson for Israel says it has achieved almost complete operational control of northern Gaza and is preparing to expand the ground offensive to other areas in the Gaza Strip, with a focus on the south.

The military said more than a dozen Israeli soldiers were killed in combat over the weekend. 

“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 taken by Hamas and other militant groups on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking roughly 240 hostages.

Health officials in Hamas-run Gaza say 20,258 Palestinians have been killed since Israeli troops retaliated with a ground and air offensive into the enclave, with thousands more bodies believed trapped under rubble. Almost all of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced.

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.

Conflict spreads

“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.

Israeli 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 it said showed Hamas tunnels in the Issa area. Reuters could not independently verify the location or the date.

Palestinians collect food at a donation point in a refugee camp in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday. With the majority of the enclave’s population of 2.3 million displaced, there is an imminent threat of famine and the spread of diseases. (Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

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 towards 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 United States 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.”

WATCH | The UN passes resolution on aid for Gaza:

UN Security Council passes compromise resolution on Gaza aid

Humanitarian aid is slow to enter Gaza — just 10 per cent of what humanitarian groups say is needed to sustain people trapped there — as the United Nations Security Council passes a compromise resolution to try to deliver more aid and to create ‘conditions’ for peace. Most security council members wanted the resolution to demand an immediate ceasefire.

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 UN 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.

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.

People hold a flag
People hold a giant Palestinian flag in Manger Square, near the Nativity Church, which is traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, on Christmas Eve in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday. (Mahmoud Illean/The Associated Press)

But with the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the mostly Palestinian population of Bethlehem in the 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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