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The Israeli army is advancing in southern and eastern Gaza City after taking full control of the enclave’s largest hospital as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to resist international pressure to of a ceasefire.
Fighting in the Zeitoun and Jabalia neighborhoods, east of al-Shifa hospital, resumed overnight even as a winter storm took hold. Nine Israeli soldiers were killed over the weekend, the army said.
Hundreds of people left the hospital on Saturday – the center of Israel’s three-week ground offensive – joining more than a million displaced people living either outside or in crowded UN shelters.
Speaking on Saturday evening, Netanyahu said a limited amount of fuel – no more than two trucks per day – would now be allowed into Gaza to avoid a feared outbreak, a concession he said he made after pressure American.
“This is not a change in policy but a limited and localized response aimed at preventing the outbreak of epidemics,” Netanyahu said, adding that the spread of the disease would affect both Israeli soldiers and the inhabitants of Gaza.
But he also appeared to reject US President Joe Biden’s call, made in a Washington Post op-ed, that the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ political rival based in the West Bank, would play a greater role in Gaza after the war. Without naming the PA, he said he would not support the presence of any element that “supports terrorism, pays terrorists and their families.”
Netanyahu promised a “diplomatic Iron Dome” – a reference to Israel’s air defense system – to resist growing international pressure for a ceasefire unless it accompanied the release of held hostages by Hamas. “I reject these pressures and tell the world: we will continue to fight until victory,” he said.
Israel launched its air and ground offensive on the Gaza Strip after the devastating Hamas attack on October 7, which killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. The Palestinian Islamist group, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, also captured around 240 hostages.
More than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, many of them women and children, the Health Ministry said, but warned that it had not been able to update the toll since the start of the week. last due to a communication breakdown. More than 3,000 people are buried under the rubble, the ministry estimates.
Israel’s Western allies have advised caution as the army expands its operations into southern Gaza, where the Israeli army had initially asked civilians to flee during its invasion from the north. The United States has asked Israel to keep its operations in the south “targeted and precise” to avoid civilian casualties and allow people to move to safe areas, a person familiar with the discussions said Saturday.
But Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday that all of Gaza would soon feel “the deadly force of the IDF,” according to a recording of his remarks broadcast on Israeli Kan radio.
The expansion of military operations comes as Israeli forces scour al-Shifa hospital for evidence to support their claims that Hamas built a vast underground command and control center underneath. So far, they have found a tunnel, a small weapons cache and a few radios, according to videos released by the IDF.
Doctors and patients fled the hospital on Saturday, forced to leave behind at least 32 sick babies and around 120 patients too ill or injured to move, the UN said. Fewer than twenty employees remain, the UN added. In recent days, the hospital has housed 2,500 people as well as doctors, nurses and at least 600 patients.
Yousef Aboul Rish, head of Gaza’s health ministry, told Al Jazeera that people left al-Shifa pushing the wounded onto hospital beds and wheelchairs along a road littered with bodies from fights. “It was a terrifying scene with injured families and children, some with amputated hands who were asked to walk in a straight line (single file) between two Israeli tanks,” he said.
The UN also reported explosions at two schools where civilians had taken refuge. The head of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, said he had received “horrific images and images of dozens of people killed and injured” after the attack on the United Nations school in Al -Fakhoora.
A second school in Zeitoun, where the Israeli army has expanded its operations, was hit twice, leaving “dozens dead, including children”, wrote Philippe Lazzarini, UN commissioner general for UNRWA , on the social networking site X. The Israeli military said it was investigating the incident.
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