Israel Pounds Rafah, Khan Younis; Over 100 Palestinians Killed
Israel continued its military offensive in Gaza on Sunday, carrying out intense airstrikes and artillery fire on Rafah and Khan Younis in southern Gaza. According to Palestinian health officials, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed over the past 2 days as Israel renews its push into Gaza City after over 3 months of conflict.
The Israeli military said it hit over 95 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets on Sunday alone, including underground tunnels and rocket launching sites. However, residents said several civilian homes were also struck in the bombardments.
“There is intense fighting going on in Rafah and Khan Younis as Israeli tanks push further into Gaza,” said Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. “Dozens of civilians have been killed and thousands displaced.”
US Vows “All Necessary Actions” After Jordan Drone Strike
The conflict took on an alarming new dimension on Saturday after 3 US troops were killed in a drone strike on a US military base in Jordan near the border with Israel. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the attack “deeply troubling” and said the US would take “all necessary actions” in response.
US and Jordanian officials have blamed the drone strike on Iran, although no group has officially claimed responsibility. It marks the first deadly attack against US forces related to the Israel-Hamas war, which has now entered its 4th month.
President Biden strongly condemned the attack in a tweet, saying “We will not allow the enemies of peace to threaten our steadfast support for Israel’s security.” There is concern the strike could impact ongoing US efforts to broker a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
International Pressure Mounts for Ceasefire
With the civilian death toll mounting and now the first American casualties related to the conflict, international pressure is intensifying on the warring sides to agree to an immediate ceasefire.
The UN Security Council held an emergency session on Sunday, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres urging Israel and Hamas to “put down their arms immediately.”
Several world leaders also called for restraint and de-escalation after the attack on US troops:
“The cycle of violence in Gaza must end,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani. “The loss of American lives in Jordan is tragic.”
French President Emmanuel Macron will host a summit in Paris on Monday between Israeli, Palestinian and US representatives to push for an end to hostilities.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has vowed to continue the Gaza offensive until “long-term quiet is assured for our citizens.” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said “We will not agree to any ceasefire until the blockade on Gaza is fully lifted.”
|Israel launches Operation Iron Swords, ground offensive in southern Gaza
|Hamas fires rockets at Tel Aviv after 3 Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza; Israel strikes Hamas tunnel network
|US troops killed in Jordan drone strike; over 100 Palestinians dead in Israeli strikes on Rafah, Khan Younis
Highlights from 3 Months of Israel-Hamas Fighting
The current clashes are the worst since the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. Here is a timeline of key events over the past 3 months:
- Oct 15, 2023: Violence erupts at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters. Hamas fires rockets at Israel in retaliation.
- Oct 22: Israel launches airstrikes on Gaza after Hamas sends incendiary balloons into Israeli territory.
- Nov 13: Israeli air strike kills senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza, sparking rocket fire from Gaza.
- Nov 26: Israel and Palestinian militants agree to ceasefire after 3 days of heavy fighting.
- Dec 18: Israeli troops enter Gaza territory after gun attack near Gaza border kills 2 Israeli soldiers. At least 12 Palestinians killed in subsequent clashes.
- Jan 2, 2024: Hamas resumes rocket fire after Israeli raid in West Bank. Israel strikes Hamas posts in response.
- Jan 12: Four Israeli civilians killed by Palestinian gunman. Israel approves plans for new settlements in West Bank.
- Jan 25: Israel launches ground offensive “Operation Iron Swords” in Gaza. Intense fighting since then.
Over 500 Palestinians, including at least 150 civilians, and 45 Israelis, including 15 civilians, have been killed since October 2023. Both sides have been accused of war crimes during the conflict.
Gaza Situation Remains Dire with Infrastructure Damage, Shortages
The situation for over 2 million Palestinian residents in Gaza meanwhile remains extremely challenging. Vast damage to infrastructure from Israeli airstrikes has left many without electricity and inadequate access to clean water or medical care.
Shortages of food, fuel and other critical supplies persist due to the blockade Israel and Egypt imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The recent fighting has led to fresh shortages, with long lines forming whenever new supplies sporadically enter via Israel.
“We have been displaced 4 times in the last 3 months because of bombings,” said Ahmed Abu Salah, a Rafah resident who fled with his family further south over the weekend. “My children are sick and traumatized from all the explosions. All we want is peace.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has also faced severe funding shortfalls during the conflict, forcing it to cut essential services to thousands in Gaza dependent on its food aid and healthcare programs. UN and other relief agencies have urged Israel to lift restrictions on the passage of humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
Regional Security at Stake with Increasing Violence
There are mounting concerns that continued fighting between Israel and Hamas risks further destabilizing the volatile Middle East region. The recent drone strike in Jordan and the death of US servicemen represents an alarming expansion of the conflict.
Some analysts warn of a “spillover effect”, where inflamed tensions over Gaza lead to violence erupting in the occupied West Bank or spark broader clashes involving militants in Lebanon or Syria.
Others fear extremist groups may be empowered or preexisting conflicts exacerbated, like strife between Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah. The growing civilian toll has also triggered protests globally, some of which have featured anti-American or anti-Israeli rhetoric.
“This conflict has gone on far too long, and lost far too many innocent lives,” said Jordan’s King Abdullah II. “It is imperative the world acts before the violence spreads further.”
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan traveled to Jordan and Israel over the weekend for emergency talks with leaders on deescalating tensions in the aftermath of the drone strike. However so far, the fighting shows no signs of abating anytime soon.
What Comes Next?
All indications are the Israel-Hamas war is set to intensify after the weekend’s developments:
- Israel will likely expand the scope and ferocity of its Gaza ground offensive after the Jordan attack. Airstrikes, artillery barrages and bloody urban battles in Palestinian cities could intensify.
- Hamas and other Gaza militant groups will respond with further rocket attacks over the coming days. Cities like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem will remain on high alert.
- The US may launch retaliatory strikes against Iranian assets or regional proxies like Hezbollah after its troops were targeted. This risks triggering an even wider regional conflagration.
- Global leaders will renew flurry of diplomatic activity to halt the fighting. But fundamental differences mean a negotiated end remains unlikely in the short term.
Ultimately the Gazan population faces the bleakest immediate future. Without a ceasefire they will continue bearing the brunt of devastating Israeli bombardments, as well as crippling shortages of essential supplies.
The coming days will prove crucial in determining whether cooler heads can prevail – or if the Middle East descends into an even more chaotic and lethal new chapter of violence.
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