Over 27,000 Killed in Israel’s Months-Long Offensive as Both Sides Agree to Ceasefire
After over 4 months of conflict that has left over 27,000 Palestinians in Gaza dead and thousands more injured, Israel and Palestinian militant groups have agreed to a ceasefire brokered by the United States and several Arab countries.
The ceasefire comes after over a week of intensified Israeli bombardment that killed over 1,700 Palestinians in Gaza in just 24 hours earlier this week, bringing the total death toll to over 27,000 since the conflict reignited last October. Both sides appear to be upholding the new ceasefire agreement after over 110 days of violence.
Health officials in Gaza say at least 27,019 people have been killed since October 2023, including at least 7,800 children, with over 66,000 injured. The recent death toll is significantly higher than in previous major conflicts between Israel and Gaza militants in 2008-2009 and 2014.
Escalation Leading Up to Latest Ceasefire
Tensions reignited in early October 2023 when Israel launched airstrikes in Gaza in response to rocket fire from Palestinian militants. What began as tit-for-tat exchanges quickly escalated into a full Israeli ground and air assault on the coastal enclave.
After over a month of Israeli bombardment that left over 5,000 dead, Egypt initially brokered a ceasefire agreement on November 15th. However, the truce quickly broke down after further rocket fire and Israeli assassination raids in Gaza killed several Palestinian militant commanders.
This triggered another round of intense fighting, with Israel Defense Forces (IDF) carrying out hundreds of airstrikes across Gaza daily while militants fired barrages of rockets towards Israeli cities. Both sides rejected repeated international calls for de-escalation.
Regional powers tried multiple times over the following months to broker another ceasefire, but agreements repeatedly collapsed due to further violence from both sides.
Week of Escalated Bombardment Kills Over 1,700 in 24 Hours
The conflict entered an even deadlier phase in late January 2024, when Israel markedly intensified its bombardment campaign across Gaza.
Over the course of just one week, the IDF carried out over 1,500 airstrikes across the territory – the most intense barrage since the war began. The bombings leveled numerous residential buildings and key infrastructure across Gaza.
Health officials reported that Israeli strikes on January 25th alone killed over 1,740 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded thousands more – the deadliest 24 hour period since fighting erupted in October. By January 28th, the total reported death toll surpassed 27,000.
Several mass-casualty incidents drove up the death toll during this period:
|Reported Death Toll
|Israeli strike destroys high-rise building in Gaza City
|Over 550 killed
|Overnight airstrikes strike major hospital, refugee camp
|At least 800 killed
|Israeli shelling hits United Nations school serving as shelter
|Over 300 killed, including over 100 children
The alarming spike in civilian casualties prompted a flood of international condemnation and calls for an immediate ceasefire. However, initial UN Security Council sessions failed to produce any concrete steps to halt hostilities due to opposition from the United States.
Many countries placed blame on both Israel and Hamas, the militant group governing Gaza, for the civilian deaths. However, the lopsided casualty count fueled accusations that Israel was carrying out collective punishment and disproportionate strikes against Gaza’s population.
The recent fighting also prompted legal action. Just a day before the deadliest 24-hour bombardment period, the International Court of Justice ruled that Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian territory violate international law. The non-binding decision was claimed as a moral victory by Palestinian supporters but dismissed by Israeli officials.
Behind-the-Scenes Ceasefire Negotiations
Even as the fighting raged at full intensity in late January, multiple regional mediators including Egypt, Qatar and Jordan began engaging in closed-door negotiations with Israeli and Hamas officials to broker another ceasefire.
These efforts got a boost after a change in the US position. After initially blocking any UNSC action on the conflict, the US signaled it would support a ceasefire resolution in late January after progress in the Egyptian-led talks.
According to officials briefed on the discussions, the agreement provides for a mutual and simultaneous cessation of hostilities within 72 hours. It also entails easing Israeli restrictions on goods allowed into Gaza, among other measures aimed at preventing further escalation.
The involvement of multiple high-level regional intermediaries appears to have convinced both sides to give the new ceasefire a chance after repeated prior failures. However, experts caution that the truce remains extremely fragile given the collapse of over a dozen prior attempts.
Assuming the ceasefire holds, the Gazan Health Ministry will finally be able to fully tally the staggering human toll from over four months of devastating conflict. Beyond the dead, tens of thousands now struggle with chronic injuries and psychological trauma from the violence.
Rebuilding the territory’s shattered infrastructure and economy will likely take years and require billions in international aid – aid that has not always reached Gazans in prior postwar periods due to Israeli limitations.
Officials will also begin assessing the damage to UN facilities sheltering Gazan refugees, several of which have sustained direct shelling despite their internationally protected status.
For broader reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, the road ahead remains steep. Militant groups in Gaza still oppose Israel’s right to exist, while Israeli leadership maintains that Hamas and its allies pose an irredeemable terrorist threat.
With tensions still simmering under the surface despite the ceasefire, experts lament the lack of serious diplomatic efforts to resolve core disputes fueling the cyclical outbreaks of deadly violence between the two sides. Absent political solutions to issues like the blockade of Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian territory, further escalations remain likely even if the present truce holds.
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