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Israeli strikes in Gaza kill at least 35 as Netanyahu says war will continue

Israeli’s counterattacks have so far killed more than 21,800 Palestinians and wounded some 55,000 others
Families and supporters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza hold their photos and shout slogans during a rally calling for their release, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023. More than 100 Israeli hostages are held in Gaza after being abducted in a Hamas cross-border attack on Oct. 7. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israeli strikes in central Gaza killed at least 35 people Sunday, hospital officials said, as fighting raged across the tiny enclave a day after Israel’s prime minister said the war will continue for “many more months,” resisting international calls for a cease-fire.

The military said Israeli forces were operating in Gaza’s second-largest city, Khan Younis, and residents reported strikes in the central region, the latest focus of the nearly three-month air and ground war that has now engulfed most of the territory.

The war has raised fears of a broader regional conflagration. The U.S. military said Sunday that its forces shot and killed several Iran-backed Houthi rebels when they tried to attack a cargo ship in the Red Sea, an escalation in a maritime conflict linked to the war in Gaza.

Israel says it wants to destroy Hamas’ governing and military capabilities in Gaza, from where it launched its Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel. The militants killed some 1,200 people and took 240 others hostage after breaking through Israel’s extensive border defenses, shattering its sense of security.

Israel’s unprecedented air and ground offensive has killed more than 21,800 Palestinians and wounded more than 55,000 others, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. The war has sparked a humanitarian crisis, with a quarter of Gaza residents facing starvation, according to the United Nations. Israel’s bombardments have levelled vast swaths of the territory, making parts uninhabitable and displacing some 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.


Israel expanded its offensive to central Gaza this week, targeting a belt of dense, built-up communities that house refugees from the war surrounding Israel’s creation in 1948 and their descendants. The fighting has pushed much of the population south, where people have flooded shelters and tent camps near the border with Egypt, even as Israel has also struck those areas.

In the area of Zweida in central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike killed at least 13 people and wounded dozens of others, according to witnesses. The bodies were draped in white plastic and laid out in front of a hospital, where prayers were held before burial.

“They were innocent people,” said Hussein Siam, whose relatives were among the dead. “Israeli warplanes bombarded the whole family.”

Officials from Al-Aqsa Hospital in central Deir al-Balah said the 13 were among 35 bodies received on Sunday.

The Israeli military said it was battling militants in Khan Younis, where Israel believes Hamas leaders are hiding. It also said its forces operating in the urban Shati refugee camp, in northern Gaza, found a bomb in a kindergarten and defused it. Hamas continued to launch rockets toward southern Israel.

Israel has faced stiff resistance from Hamas since it began its ground offensive in late October, and the military says 172 soldiers have been killed during that time.


The magnitude of the destruction in Gaza coupled with the war’s length has raised questions about whether Israel can succeed in its goal of dismantling Hamas and what would come after.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel must maintain open-ended security control over the Gaza Strip. At a news conference Saturday, he said the war would continue for “many more months” and that Israel would assume control of the Gaza side of the border with Egypt.

“(It) must be in our hands, it must be sealed. It’s clear that any other agreement will not guarantee the demilitarization that we need and require,” Netanyahu said. Israel says Hamas has smuggled weapons from Egypt, but Egypt is likely to oppose any Israeli military presence there.

Netanyahu has also said he won’t allow the internationally-backed Palestinian Authority, which administers some parts of the West Bank, to participate in any future rule over Gaza, putting him at odds with President Joe Biden’s administration, which has provided crucial military aid for the offensive.

The U.S. wants a unified Palestinian government to run both Gaza and parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank as a precursor to eventual statehood. The last Israeli-Palestinian peace talks broke down over a decade ago, and Israeli government since then have been staunchly opposed to Palestinian statehood.

Israeli media have reported that Netanyahu has repeatedly dodged holding meetings with his War Cabinet about the post-war possibilities.


Israelis, who still largely stand behind the war’s goals, are showing signs they are losing patience.

On Saturday night, thousands took part in one of the largest demonstrations against Netanyahu since the war began. The country, which is sharply divided over the long-serving leader and a judicial overhaul plan he set in motion before the war, has remained mostly united since Oct. 7.

“It is true that the state of Israel has many enemies and threats, but unfortunately today Prime Minister Netanyahu and his continued rule is the most significant existential threat to our country and our society,” said protester Gal Tzur.

A separate protest Saturday called for the release of the estimated 129 remaining hostages held by Hamas. Families of hostages and their supporters have demanded that the government prioritize hostage releases over other war objectives, and have staged large protests every weekend.

Egypt, one of the mediators between Israel and Hamas, has proposed a multistage plan that would kick off with a swap of hostages for prisoners, accompanied by a temporary cease-fire. A similar deal in November saw Hamas free over 100 hostages and Israel release 240 Palestinian prisoners.

But the sides still appear far from striking a new deal. Both Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group say no more hostages will be freed until Israel ends the offensive and withdraws from Gaza.


Mroue reported from Beirut and Goldenberg from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Wafaa Shurafa, Bassem Mroue And Tia Goldenberg, The Associated Press