Escalating airstrikes bring Christmas bloodshed
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his refusal to stop the military offensive in Gaza despite growing international calls for a ceasefire, as airstrikes on the enclave killed over 70 people in one of the deadliest days since fighting erupted over 80 days ago.
Speaking to troops in northern Gaza on Monday, Netanyahu vowed Israel would keep up its bombardment of Hamas targets. “We are paying a heavy price, but we have no choice but to continue,” he said, per Reuters reports, referring to the 14 Israeli soldiers killed over the weekend.
The offensive has taken a heavy toll. Gaza officials said Israeli airstrikes killed more than 70 people on Christmas day, including over a dozen children, bringing the Palestinian death toll to well over 900. Health infrastructure in the impoverished and blockaded territory, home to 2 million people, has been pushed to the brink of collapse.
“People have no place to go,” said Matthias Schmale, Gaza director of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. “They cannot escape the violence.”
Netanyahu outlines prerequisites for peace
In an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal the same day, Netanyahu reiterated that Israel’s military campaign aimed to substantially weaken Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have launched over 3,000 rockets at Israel since fighting erupted in October, and outlined three prerequisites for peace:
- Demilitarization of the Gaza Strip
- Hamas’ surrender and recognition of Israel
- Establishment of security control from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan valley
“The linchpin is the demilitarization of Gaza,” Netanyahu wrote. Only when Gazans “can no longer threaten Israel’s cities and civilians will we be able to discuss a political settlement.”
His position echoed previous remarks that fighting would continue until Hamas was eliminated.
Diplomatic efforts stall as both sides dig in
Behind-the-scenes diplomatic efforts by Egypt and other regional mediators to broker a ceasefire have so far failed to make progress as both sides remain unyielding in their positions. Hamas has demanded lifting Israel’s blockade on Gaza as a condition for halting rocket attacks, a non-starter for Israel.
An ambitious Egyptian proposal reported by Fox News to not only end fighting but also sideline existing Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah and establish a transitional government with security cooperation from Israel, was touted by some analysts as having potential. But Israeli and Palestinian officials have not commented publicly on the plan.
With the civilian death toll mounting, the Biden administration has reportedly been pressing Netanyahu to wind down fighting. But U.S. influence may be limited, as Netanyahu reiterates plans to not just continue but intensify strikes on Hamas.
Factbox: Key events in Israel’s offensive in Gaza
|Fighting erupts after Israel launches strikes in Gaza over alleged Hamas plot
|Israel assassinates senior Hamas and PIJ commanders in Gaza airstrike
|Netanyahu says Israel “paying heavy price” but has “no choice” but to fight on
|70+ killed in Israeli airstrikes in one of deadliest days of conflict
|Netanyahu writes op-ed outlining demands for peace, vows military action until met
Data compiled from Al Jazeera and other sources
With over 80 days of fighting causing mounting casualties and no political solution in sight, the violence seems poised to continue and potentially escalate further despite the catastrophic humanitarian impact.
Hamas remains defiant and heavily embedded amongst Gaza’s civilian population, perhaps calculating that high numbers of civilian deaths will increase pressure on Israel.
For his part Netanyahu is constrained politically from appearing soft on Hamas ahead of elections in March, the 5th in under 4 years. His right wing electoral alliance made escalating strikes on Gaza a central campaign promise.
Ultimately some analysts say lasting peace may not be possible until the core issues fueling the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict ‒ which flared up dramatically with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip after 1967 ‒ are addressed.
“There can be no peace until the occupation ends,” said Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, a pro-Palestinian news site, on Twitter.
With over 320 Palestinians and 20 Israelis killed in clashes and attacks in the West Bank so far in 2023, it appears the violence sparked by the war in Gaza threatens to engulf the occupied Palestinian territories more broadly as well. Netanyahu has vowed the army will expand operations to uproot Hamas’ presence there.
How soon the bloodshed might end remains perhaps the most uncertain yet consequential question of all.
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