DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Battles raged across Gaza on Sunday as Israel indicated it was prepared to fight for months or longer to defeat the territory’s Hamas rulers, and a key mediator said willingness to discuss a cease-fire was fading.
Israel faces international outrage after its military offensive, with diplomatic support and arms from close ally the United States, has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. About 90% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced within the besieged territory, where U.N. agencies say there is no safe place to flee.
The United States has lent vital support in recent days by vetoing a United Nations Security Council effort to end the fighting and pushing through an emergency sale of over $100 million worth of tank ammunition to Israel.
Israel’s air and ground war has killed thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians, since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and other militants killed 1,200 people and captured around 240. Over 100 of them were released during a weeklong cease-fire late last month.
With very little aid allowed in, Palestinians face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods. Some observers openly worry that Palestinians will be forced out of Gaza altogether.
“Expect public order to completely break down soon, and an even worse situation could unfold including epidemic diseases and increased pressure for mass displacement into Egypt,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told a forum in Qatar, a key intermediary.
Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, called allegations of mass displacement from Gaza “outrageous and false.”
Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told the forum that mediation efforts will continue to stop the war and have all hostages released, but “unfortunately, we are not seeing the same willingness that we had seen in the weeks before.”
Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s Channel 12 TV that the U.S. has set no deadline for Israel to achieve its goals. “The evaluation that this can’t be measured in weeks is correct, and I’m not sure it can be measured in months,” he said.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that as far as the duration and the conduct of the fighting, “these are decisions for Israel to make.” He added to ABC: “When it comes to a cease-fire in this moment, with Hamas still alive, still intact … that would simply perpetuate the problem.”
This is a war that cannot be won, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, asserted to the Qatar forum, warning that “Israel has created an amount of hatred that will haunt this region that will define generations to come.”
FIGHTING AND ARRESTS IN THE NORTH
Israeli forces face heavy resistance, including in northern Gaza, where neighborhoods have been flattened by air strikes and where ground troops have operated for over six weeks.
Israel’s Channel 13 TV broadcast footage showing dozens of detainees stripped to their underwear, hands in the air. Several held assault rifles above their heads, and one man walked forward and placed a gun on the ground.
Other videos have shown groups of unarmed men held in similar conditions, without clothes, bound and blindfolded. Detainees from a group who were released Saturday told The Associated Press they had been beaten and denied food and water.
Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the arrests took place in two Hamas strongholds, Jabaliya and Shijaiyah, and that people are undressed to make sure they are not hiding explosives. Those believed to be Hamas members are taken away for investigation, while others are told to head south.
“We have arrested dozens of terrorists,” Hagari asserted.
Residents said there was still heavy fighting in the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah and the Jabaliya refugee camp, a dense urban area housing Palestinian families who fled or were driven out of what is now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.
“They are attacking anything that moves,” said Hamza Abu Fatouh, a Shijaiyah resident. He said the dead and wounded were left in the streets as ambulances could no longer reach the area, where Israeli snipers and tanks positioned themselves among abandoned buildings.
“The resistance also fights back,” he added.
Israel ordered the evacuation of the northern third of the territory, including Gaza City, early in the war, but tens of thousands of people have remained, fearing that the south would be no safer or that they would never be allowed to return home.
Heavy fighting was also underway in and around the southern city of Khan Younis.
WAITING DAYS FOR FOOD
The price of dwindling food in Gaza has soared. Abdulsalam al-Majdalawi said he had come every day for nearly two weeks to a U.N. distribution center, hoping to get supplies for his family of seven.
“Every day, we spend five or six hours here and return home (empty handed),” he said. “Thank God, today they drew our name.”
One hundred trucks with humanitarian aid entered Sunday, said Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority. That’s far short of what’s needed.
With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,900, the majority women and children, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.
Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the militants put civilians in danger by fighting in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military says 97 Israeli soldiers have died in the offensive. Palestinian militants have continued firing rockets into Israel.
Netanyahu’s office said Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people killed in captivity or during the Oct. 7 attack. The militants hope to exchange them for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
Israel says it has provided detailed instructions for civilians to evacuate to safer areas, even as it strikes what it says are militant targets in all parts of the territory. Thousands have fled to areas along the border with Egypt — one of the last places where aid agencies are able to deliver food and water.
Demonstrations were again held in several cities in support of the Palestinians and calling for an end to the war, while thousands marched in Europe against antisemitism.
The war has raised tensions across the Middle East, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah trading fire with Israel along the border and other Iran-backed militant groups targeting the U.S. in Syria and Iraq. Israeli artillery, drone, and airstrikes over Lebanon border towns intensified.
France said one of its warships in the Red Sea shot down two drones that approached it from Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have vowed to halt Israeli shipping through the key waterway.
Israel’s national security adviser said Israel would give Western allies “some time” to organize a response but if the threats persist, “we will act to remove this blockade.”
Jobain reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press writers Melanie Lidman and Julia Frankel in Jerusalem, and Lujain Jo in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war