Israel PM Netanyahu says no peace in Gaza until Hamas ‘destroyed’

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted peace can only be achieved in Gaza if Hamas is “destroyed,” the territory “demilitarized” and Palestinian society “deradicalized,” after warning the war is set to intensify.

The declarations came as the World Health Organization on Monday reported “harrowing” accounts of entire families killed from Christmas Eve strikes on a refugee camp in Gaza.

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Relentless Israeli strikes have devastated the Palestinian territory and the conflict has heightened tensions across the Middle East, with global pressure for a ceasefire mounting.

But in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday night, Netanyahu vowed to stay the course.

“Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized, and Palestinian society must be deradicalized. These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza,” Netanyahu said.

He said demilitarization “will require establishing a temporary security zone on the perimeter” of the territory.

“For the foreseeable future Israel will have to retain overriding security responsibility over Gaza,” he said.

Earlier on Monday Netanyahu visited Gaza, telling a meeting of his Likud party after his return: “We’re not stopping.”

“We’re intensifying the fighting in the coming days,” he said, according to a party statement.

‘Harrowing accounts’

The war in Gaza erupted when Palestinian militants broke through the militarized border and attacked southern Israel on October 7, killing about 1,140 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

Fighters also seized about 250 hostages, Israel says.

Israel vowed to crush Hamas in response, and launched a military campaign including extensive aerial bombardment and a siege of the territory. The campaign has killed at least 20,674 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry.

On Monday, some residents of al-Maghazi refugee camp returned to the ruins of their homes after strikes the previous day that Gaza’s health ministry said killed at least 70 people. AFP was unable to independently verify that toll.

Zeyad Awad said there was no evacuation warning before the strikes.

“What should we do? We are civilians, living peacefully and wanting only safety and security,” he said.

“Yet we are suddenly struck by Israeli warplanes without any warning.”

WHO staff visited a hospital treating victims of the al-Maghazi strikes.

The “team heard harrowing accounts shared by health workers and victims,” the UN health agency’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on social media.

“One child had lost their whole family in the strike on the camp. A nurse at the hospital suffered the same loss,” he added.

Sean Casey, a WHO emergency medical teams coordinator who joined the mission to the hospital, described the fate of a nine-year-old being treated who was expected to die.

“He was crossing the street in front of the shelter where his family is staying and the building beside him blew up,” he said.

The Israeli army said it was “reviewing the incident,” adding it was “committed to international law including taking feasible steps to minimize harm to civilians.”

‘Real hunger’

Vast areas of Gaza lie in ruins and its 2.4 million people are enduring dire shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine, alleviated only by the limited arrival of aid trucks.

Grasping empty containers, dozens of Gazans waited on a street in Rafah, in southern Gaza, for food to be distributed.

“Now there is real hunger. My children are dying of hunger,” said one of them, Nour Ismail.

An estimated 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced, according to the UN, many fleeing south and crowded into shelters or makeshift tents in the winter cold.

“A humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is the only way forward,” said the head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi.

In Monday’s Likud meeting, Netanyahu said he was ready to support the voluntary migration of civilians out of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.

He reportedly told party members “our problem is not whether to allow an exit, but that there will be countries that are willing to absorb an exit.”

Hamas rejected any discussion of such a plan as “absurd.”

Palestinians “refuse to be deported and displaced. There can’t be exile and there is no other choice than to remain on our land,” it said in a statement.

‘Free our hostages’

Netanyahu also addressed parliament on Monday during a special session about the 129 hostages Israel says remain in Gaza. He was booed by families awaiting their loved ones’ return after 80 days in captivity.

“Now! Now!” relatives chanted as Netanyahu said Israeli forces needed “more time” to increase military pressure on Hamas, which he argued would help to secure the captives’ release.

The number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza has risen to 158, with an army spokesman announcing two more deaths early Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, fears of regional escalation only increased Monday.

Iran’s IRGC said an Israeli air strike in Syria had killed Razi Moussavi, who state media described as “one of the most experienced advisers” of the military force’s foreign arm.

There was no immediate comment from Israel, which has intensified strikes on targets in Syria since the Israel-Hamas war began.

Yemen’s Houthi militants, also Iran-backed, have fired at cargo vessels in the Red Sea, leading the United States to build a naval taskforce to deter the missile and drone strikes.

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Gaza’s Christians celebrate Christmas amid ruins of church

Two Palestinians killed, more injured after Israeli strike hits residence in Rafah

Israeli strikes kill 100 in one of war’s deadliest nights, Gaza officials say

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