Israel has dramatically escalated its military offensive against Hamas and Gaza over the past few days, carrying out intensive airstrikes across the territory. The strikes have resulted in a mounting death toll, with dozens killed on Saturday and over 90 Palestinians reported dead after an attack on a refugee camp on Sunday.
International calls for restraint and ceasefire have so far been rejected by Israel, which has vowed to continue and even intensify operations. With civilian casualties rising and infrastructure damaged, the situation risks spiraling further out of control.
Intensified Bombing Campaign Across Gaza
According to reports from Gaza’s Health Ministry, Israeli airstrikes killed more than 40 Palestinians on Saturday alone in strikes that impacted locations across Gaza from Rafah in the south the length of the coastal territory to Beit Lahia in the north.
The deadliest attack was on a three-story apartment building in Gaza City, which housed a kindergarten on its ground floor. The strike killed at least 15 people, including 3 children. source 1
Overall there have been dozens of civilian deaths over recent days including whole families killed. Rights groups have warned that strikes on populated residential areas could constitute war crimes. source 2
|Reported Gaza deaths
|Sat Dec 16
|Sun Dec 17
|Total in Dec 2023
Strike on Refugee Camp Kills Over 90
The bloodiest attack came on Sunday when missiles struck a crowded refugee camp in Jabalia, northern Gaza. At least 90 Palestinians were killed according to the territory’s health officials, including senior Hamas commander Khaled Mansour. source 3
The IDF said the attack was targeting Mansour specifically, but the high collateral civilian death toll has drawn international condemnation. The UN Secretary General labelled it an “extremely dangerous escalation”, while Egypt described the strike as “unacceptable.” source 4
With Gaza’s infrastructure already pushed to breaking point by prolonged conflict, health services are struggling to cope with the patient influx.
Netanyahu Defends “Precision Strikes”
In response to criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the country makes an effort to avoid civilian losses through “precision strikes” targeting terrorists. source 5
“We’re trying to degrade Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s capability to hit civilians while avoiding as much as possible civilian casualties from their side. It’s not easy because they intentionally fire their rockets from civilian populated areas into civilian populated areas in Israel” Netanyahu said.
Israeli military officials have also directly accused Hamas and other militant groups of using civilians in Gaza as human shields and questioned the reliability of reported death statistics from health authorities in the strip. source 6
Calls for Restraint Rebuffed
With the civilian death toll mounting, the United States and regional powers like Egypt have urged deescalation and pushed both sides to negotiate a ceasefire. However, these calls have so far been rejected. source 7
Israel remains determined to continue and even intensify operations in Gaza according to senior figures like national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir who has called for increased strikes.
The US visit of Secretary of State Anthony Blinken failed to shift Israel’s stance, with Netanyahu defiantly declaring that “the operation will continue as long as necessary” following their meeting. source 8
Hamas Vows to Retaliate
While militarily outgunned, Hamas has remained defiant saying “we have many options open in the battlefield.” The militant group has fired over 100 rockets towards Israel since Saturday’s initial airstrikes. source 9
But with Israel’s strong air defense intercepting the majority of these projectiles, reprisals have been extremely limited so far.
Hamas figures have promised major retaliation however, with official Abu Ubaida stating that “The enemy will pay a high price on the ground for the Jabalia massacre.” source 10
This points to further escalation and the strong potential for a wider conflict over coming days if tensions are not cooled.
Grim Prospects for Deescalation
With positions hardening on both sides, ceasefire negotiations already suspended, and pledges for intensified strikes, the prospects for deescalation currently appear extremely slim. source 11
Unless intervention by the international community is able to prevail, conditions unfortunately seem primed for further civilian suffering. The intransigent attitudes of leaders in Israel to calls for restraint mean the crisis risks continuing to deepen.
Hamas will likely attempt substantial retaliation for the mounting deaths which could then trigger an even more forceful response from Israel’s military. This cycle bodes ominously for Palestinians in Gaza who have already endured over 550 deaths since conflict erupted earlier this year. source 12
Without a drastic reversal or intervention, the crisis looks set to continue claiming lives and inflicting hardship over coming days and weeks.
Background to the Crisis
Low level clashes between Israel and militants in Gaza have been ongoing since 2006 when Hamas took control of the strip. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory.
Tensions sharply escalated this year triggering the deadliest violence since 2014. Amid political instability in Israel, hawkish politicians have called for definitive action against Hamas.
Israel is refusing to rule out a ground incursion into Gaza which could massively amplify the crisis.
Violence may spiral after funerals are held for this weekends’ deaths, often a flashpoint for new clashes and unrest.
The international community lacks substantive tools beyond rhetoric to compel restraint from either party. Without cooperation the conflict risks continuing indefinitely. Deaths and suffering will mount.
Previous Efforts for Deescalation and their Failure
May 2021: After an 11 day conflict that year left 260 dead in Gaza, a truce was mediated by Egypt committing Israel to lifting some restrictions on the strip. Clashes gradually resumed leading to the current crisis. source 13
Apr 2022: The UN, Egypt and Qatar negotiated a deal that saw no rockets fired from Gaza and no airstrikes from Israel for 9 months. But shootings and army raids continued in the occupied West Bank.
Dec 2022: Strikes reignite after an Israeli military operation that left 7 militants and a civilian dead. The UN’s Tor Wennesland said “every effort must be made to prevent another devastating escalation in Gaza”. Those calls are now falling on deaf ears amidst an ongoing devastating escalation. source 14
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