Mounting Israeli army death toll highlights Hamas' resistance

AP , Ahram Online , Sunday 24 Dec 2023

More than a dozen Israeli soldiers were killed in combat in the Gaza Strip over the weekend, the Israeli military said Sunday, in some of the bloodiest days of battle since the start of Israel’s ground invasion in late October and a sign that Hamas is still putting up a fight despite weeks of brutal war.

Israeli funeral
Friends of an Israeli soldier mourn over his grave during his funeral at Kiryat Shaul cemetery in Tel Aviv, Israel. The mounting army death toll could undermine public support for Israel s war on Gaza. AP

 

The mounting death toll among the Israeli occupation army is likely to play an important factor in Israeli public support for the war. That support has stayed mostly steady despite rising international pressure against Israel’s atrocities in Gaza and the soaring death toll and unprecedented suffering among Palestinians.

The war has destroyed large swathes of the territory, killed nearly 20,500 Palestinians and displaced nearly 85 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

But the growing number of dead soldiers could undermine that support. Soldiers’ deaths are a sensitive and emotional topic in Israel, a country with compulsory military service for most Jews.

The names of fallen soldiers are announced at the top of hourly newscasts, and in a small country of about 9 million people, virtually every family knows a relative, friend or co-worker who has lost a family member in war.

HAMAS EXACTS A PRICE
 

The 14 Israeli soldiers killed on Friday and Saturday died in battles in central and southern Gaza, an indication of how the Palestinian groups are still putting up tough resistance against advancing Israeli troops, even as Israel claims to have dealt a serious blow to the Palestinian resistance groups.

According to Israeli Army Radio, four soldiers were killed when their vehicle was struck by an anti-tank missile. The others were killed in separate, sporadic fighting.

Another soldier was killed in northern Israel by fire from the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which has kept up low-level fighting with Israel since the war on Gaza began, raising fears of a wider regional conflict.

Their deaths bring the number of Israeli soldiers killed since the ground invasion began to 153.

“The war exacts a very heavy price from us but we have no choice but to continue fighting,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a meeting of his Cabinet Sunday. “We are continuing with all the force, until the end, until victory, until we reach all our goals.”

Even if Israelis have been supportive of the Israeli invasion, there has been widespread anger against Netanyahu's government.

On Saturday night, thousands of people demonstrated in pouring rain in Tel Aviv, chanting “Bibi, Bibi, we don’t want you anymore,” referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Netanyahu has avoided accepting responsibility for the military and policy failures leading up to Hamas' offensive, saying he would answer tough questions once the war is over.

PRESSING THE INVASION
 

On Saturday, Israeli occupation army spokesman Daniel Hagari said forces were expanding their offensive in northern and southern Gaza and troops were fighting in “complex areas” in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city.

Israel’s war has been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history and has claimed a staggering toll on Palestinian civilians. More than two-thirds of the 20,424 killed were women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Sunday morning that a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by an Israeli drone attack while inside the building of al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, as Israel continues targeting hospitals and schools housing displaced civilians.

Palestinians reported heavy Israeli bombardment and gunfire Sunday morning in the town of Jabaliya, an area north of Gaza City that Israel had previously claimed to control. Sounds of explosions and gunfire echoed across the town with Israeli warplanes flying over the area, they said. Hamas’ military wing, Al-Qassam Brigades, said its fighters shelled Israeli troops in Jabaliya and Jabaliya refugee camp and targeted two Israeli Merkava tanks in the area.

“There are bombings and fierce battles during the night,” said Assad Radwan, a Palestinian fisherman from Jabaliya. “Sounds of explosions and gunfire never stopped.”

On Saturday, rescuers and hospital officials said that more than 90 Palestinians, including dozens from an extended family, were killed in Israeli airstrikes on two homes in Gaza.

Israel has come under heavy international criticism for the rising civilian death toll, widespread damage and deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Israel claims it has killed thousands of Hamas militants since expanding its ground invasion to southern Gaza but has not presented evidence and refrained from commenting on specific attacks.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
 

The mounting Palestinian death toll came days after the United Nations Security Council passed a watered-down resolution calling for the speedy delivery of humanitarian aid for hungry and desperate Palestinians and the release of all captives, but not for a cease-fire.

Following the U.N. resolution, it was not immediately clear how and when aid deliveries would accelerate. Trucks enter through two crossings — Rafah on the border with Egypt and Karm Abu Salem on the border with Israel.

On Friday, fewer than 100 trucks entered, the U.N. said — far below the daily average of 500 before the war.

Filippo Grandi, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, on Sunday, reiterated calls by other top U.N. officials for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza to allow the delivery of aid and help release captives.

Israel's allies in Europe have also stepped up calls for a stop to the Israeli war. But the U.S., Israel’s top ally, appeared to remain firmly behind Israel even though it has intensified its calls for greater protection for civilians in Gaza.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday, a day after Washington shielded Israel from a harsher U.N. resolution. Biden said he did not ask for a cease-fire, while Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister “made clear that Israel would continue the war until achieving all its goals.”

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