Renewed airstrikes and a ground offensive by Israeli forces have brought increasing death and destruction across Gaza as the conflict enters its 12th week. Ongoing clashes have dashed hopes for a diplomatic solution despite urgent calls from global leaders and the UN Security Council urging de-escalation and a ceasefire agreement.
Mounting Casualties As Bombardment Intensifies
Intense bombardments across Gaza over the New Year period have led to over 200 additional deaths with some estimates putting the overall death toll since late September at nearly 30,000 according to Palestinian authorities. Footage emerging from the territory shows scenes reminiscent of all-out urban warfare with collapsed buildings, craters dotting roads and residential areas, and frantic civilians fleeing in terror.
Casualty figures spiked significantly as airstrikes hit densely packed areas like the Nuseirat refugee camp on December 24 where over 100 lives were lost. While Israel has expressed regret for civilian deaths, Prime Minister Netanyahu emphasized that Hamas sites embedded in residential zones will continue being targeted. He justified the refugee camp attack as an attempt to kill senior militant commanders which remains a key goal of the ongoing operation.
Southern cities such as Khan Younis and Rafah have faced relentless bombardment over the past week as tanks and troops push further into Gaza. Dozens have been killed in the intensified ground campaign aiming to destroy tunnel networks used by militants for movement and storage of weapons.
Netanyahu Rules Out Ceasefire As Offensive Expands
In a New Year’s address, Netanyahu asserted that the offensive dubbed “Operation Guardian of the Walls” will continue for “many months” until long-term security for Israelis is guaranteed. He stated that crippling Hamas’ military capabilities will require Israeli control over Gaza’s borders including the southern boundary with Egypt to prevent the smuggling of arms.
His speech came shortly after rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad also rebuffed the latest mediation attempts led by Egypt. Both groups issued defiant statements saying the conflict will only end when Israel lifts the blockade it has imposed since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.
As the leading mediator between the warring sides, Egypt has been trying to broker a renewed ceasefire building on the 4 month truce reached last August. However, those fragile agreements have repeatedly come under strain with the latest round of hostilities sparked by an Israeli special forces raid in Gaza during late September.
International Pressure And Aid For Civilians Mounting
The renewed offensive and stubborn deadlock in ceasefire talks has attracted strong condemnation from many international leaders. UN human rights chief Volker Türk criticized the “utter disregard for civilian lives by all parties” while UN Secretary General Guterres submitted a Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire and increased humanitarian access.
While the council unanimously passed the resolution on December 29, it noticeably lacked an explicit demand for a truce. This was reportedly watered down to assure support from the US which continues balancing its diplomatic relations with Israel and the Palestinians.
Many Middle Eastern nations have also weighed in such as Turkey which pledged support for the “Palestinian resistance”. More moderate Arab states like Jordan, Saudi Arabia and UAE called for restraint fearing the conflict could further destabilize the region.
With much of Gaza’s infrastructure destroyed by prolonged fighting, the UN warns that essential services like electricity, sanitation and health-care are nearing total collapse. Apart from the staggering civilian deaths, over 100,000 Gazans have been displaced by the bombardment and street battles according to UN estimates.
|Total figures for Gaza
|17 out of 28
|Health workers killed
|At least 38 medical staff and 33 Red Cross personnel
Shortages of food, water and medicine combined with outbreaks of disease in the densely packed territory have compounded the humanitarian crisis. The UN humanitarian coordinator for the region stated that “if hostilities persist, we risk catastrophic conditions and loss of life on a massive scale.”
Despite the dire warnings, international relief continues being blocked with recent aid convoys again turned back at the Israeli controlled Gaza crossing points. Human rights groups allege this contravenes international laws regarding civilian access guarantees during armed conflicts.
Instability Spreads Across Palestine
Apart from Gaza, the occupied West Bank has also plunged deeper into turmoil over the past month as Israeli forces intensified raids against suspected militants. Night time operations and sweeping closures have become commonplace across cities like Hebron, Bethlehem and Jenin – the site of fierce gun battles during raids on organized militant cells based in the densely packed refugee camps.
The fighting has stoked wider unrest making January one of the deadliest months in the West Bank since the second intifada two decades ago. Funerals for slain fighters often erupted into street protests and clashes with Israeli troops who responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition.
With over 60 Palestinians killed this month alone, 9 UN experts recently expressed outrage over “excessive, lethal and unlawful use of force” by Israeli security personnel. They stated these practices “fuel a cycle of violence and markedly undermine peace prospects”.
What Next For The Crisis?
While international criticism mounts alongside attempts to broker another temporary truce, the Netanyahu government remains defiant in extracting security concessions from Hamas. His hawkish coalition has benefited from a surge in domestic approval for the Gaza offensive despite the staggering civilian losses. Israelis, long threatened by cross-border violence, demand meaningful deterrence be imposed on militants.
However, previous wars in Gaza have shown that periodic flare-ups shatter truces while entrenching extremism on both sides. As bloody stalemates with ever climbing death tolls become the norm, voices across from Gaza to Washington are questioning how sustainable this cycle of violence has become.
With peace talks in Qatar not yielding results so far, the conflict looks set to rage on with civilians continuing to pay the price. The UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process Tor Wennesland offered a grim assessment in his latest brief – “2024 has begun in Gaza much like 2023 ended, under the strain of conflict and mounting casualties with little hope for resolution.”
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