- Associated Press
Israel Faces New Calls for Truce after Killing of Hostages Raises Alarm about Its Conduct in Gaza
11:43 JST, December 18, 2023
DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s government faced calls for a cease-fire from some of its closest European allies on Sunday after a series of shootings, including the mistaken killing of three Israeli hostages, fueled global concerns about the conduct of the 10-week-old war in Gaza.
Israeli protesters are urging their government to renew negotiations with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, whom Israel has vowed to destroy. Israel is also expected to face pressure to scale back major combat operations when U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits Monday. Washington is expressing growing unease with civilian casualties even as it provides vital military and diplomatic support.
The war has flattened large parts of northern Gaza, killed thousands of civilians and driven most of the population to the southern part of the besieged territory, where many are in crowded shelters and tent camps. Some 1.9 million Palestinians — about 90% of Gaza’s population — have fled their homes.
They survive off a trickle of humanitarian aid. Dozens of desperate Palestinians surrounded aid trucks after they drove in through the Rafah crossing with Egypt, forcing some to stop before climbing aboard, pulling down boxes and carrying them off. Other trucks appeared to be guarded by masked people carrying sticks.
Israel said aid passed directly from Israel into Gaza for the first time Sunday, with 79 trucks entering from Kerem Shalom, where around 500 trucks entered daily before the war. Another 120 trucks entered via Rafah along with six trucks carrying fuel or cooking gas, said Wael Abu Omar, Palestinian Crossings Authority spokesman.
Aid workers say it’s still far from enough. “You cannot deliver aid under a sky full of airstrikes,” a spokesperson with the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, Juliette Touma, said on social media, while the agency estimated that more than 60% of Gaza’s infrastructure had been destroyed in the war.
Telecom services in Gaza gradually resumed after a four-day communications blackout, the longest of several outages during the war that groups say complicate rescue and delivery efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel “will continue to fight until the end,” with the goal of eliminating Hamas, which triggered the war with its Oct. 7 attack into southern Israel. Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people that day, mostly civilians, and captured scores of hostages.
Netanyahu has vowed to bring back the estimated 129 hostages still in captivity. Anger over the mistaken killing of hostages is likely to increase pressure on him to renew Qatar-mediated negotiations with Hamas over swapping more of the remaining captives for Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel has been defensively striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israel Defense Forces spokesperson. The group has ramped up attacks against Israel, he added, killing civilians and soldiers and displacing more than 80,000 Israelis from their homes.
“Hezbollah — a proxy of Iran — is dragging Lebanon into an unnecessary war that would have devastating consequences for the people of Lebanon,” Hagari said in a statement. “This is a war that they do not deserve.”
Hagari said Israel will continue to protect its borders “until and unless a diplomatic solution is found and implemented.”
CALLS FOR A NEW CEASE-FIRE
In Israel on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called for an “immediate truce” aimed at releasing more hostages, getting larger amounts of aid into Gaza and moving toward “the beginning of a political solution.”
France’s Foreign Ministry earlier said an employee was killed in an Israeli strike on a home in Rafah on Wednesday. It condemned the strike, which it said killed several civilians, and demanded clarification from Israeli authorities.
The foreign ministers of the U.K. and Germany, meanwhile, called for a “sustainable” cease-fire, saying too many civilians have been killed.
“Israel will not win this war if its operations destroy the prospect of peaceful co-existence with Palestinians,” British Foreign Secretary David Cameron and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock wrote in the U.K.’s Sunday Times.
The U.S. defense secretary is set to travel to Israel to continue discussions on a timetable for ending the war’s most intense phase. Israeli and U.S. officials have spoken of a transition to more targeted strikes aimed at killing Hamas leaders and rescuing hostages, without saying when it would occur.
Hamas has said no more hostages will be released until the war ends, and that in exchange it will demand the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants.
Hamas released over 100 of more than 240 hostages captured on Oct. 7 in exchange for the release of scores of Palestinian prisoners during a brief cease-fire in November. Nearly all freed on both sides were women and minors. Israel has rescued one hostage.
The Israeli military said Sunday it had discovered a large tunnel in Gaza close to what was once a busy crossing into Israel, raising new questions about how Israeli surveillance missed such conspicuous attack preparations by Hamas.
SHOOTINGS DRAW SCRUTINY
Military officials said Saturday that the three hostages who were mistakenly shot by Israeli troops had tried to signal that they posed no harm. It was Israel’s first such acknowledgement of harming hostages in the war.
The hostages, all in their 20s, were killed Friday in the Gaza City area of Shijaiyah, where troops are engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas. An Israeli military official said the shootings were against the army’s rules of engagement and were being investigated at the highest level.
Israel says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians and accuses Hamas of using them as human shields. But Palestinians and rights groups have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of recklessly endangering civilians and firing on those who do not threaten them, both in Gaza and the occupied West Bank, which has seen a surge of violence since the war began.
A shell struck the pediatric ward of a hospital in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza late Sunday, killing a girl, said Dr. Mohammed Abu Lihia, who works in the emergency department.
Footage shared by Gaza’s Health Ministry showed a burst ceiling and wall in the Mubarak Hospital for Children and Maternity in the Nasser Hospital complex with bloodstains near children’s cots and cribs on the third floor.
The doctor said he helped three others, two older adults and a child, escape the hospital. A videographer filming for The Associated Press said at least 5 people, including children, were wounded. The Israeli military didn’t immediately comment.
Israel continues to strike positions across Khan Younis. Palestinians from the north fled there in the early weeks of the conflict.
Also Sunday, five people were killed and many injured after a reported Israeli airstrike hit near a U.N.-run school in Khan Younis where displaced Palestinians were sheltering. A cameraman with AP counted five bodies delivered to a hospital.
The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem said two Christian women at a church compound in Gaza were killed by Israeli sniper fire.
Pope Francis called Sunday for peace, saying “unarmed civilians are being bombed and shot at, and this has even happened inside the Holy Family parish complex, where there are no terrorists but families, children and sick people with disabilities, nuns.”
In discussions Saturday between the Israeli military and representatives of the church community, no one reported a strike on the church or civilians being wounded or killed, the military said. It said a review of its initial investigation had supported that.
The offensive has killed more than 18,700 Palestinians, the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory said Thursday in its last update before the communications blackout. It has said that thousands more casualties are buried under the rubble. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, but has said that most of those killed were women and children.
The plight of Palestinian civilians has gotten little attention inside Israel, where many are still deeply traumatized by the Oct. 7 attack and where support for the war remains strong.
Israel’s military says 121 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza offensive. It says it has killed thousands of militants, without providing evidence.
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