Israel says intensive phase of war with Hamas will soon end

This photo taken Jan 15, 2024, from Rafah shows a flare and smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment, amid battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. [AFP]

Israel’s defense minister said Monday that the intensive phase of Israel’s war with Hamas would soon end, but he ruled out a cease-fire.

At a news conference, Yoav Gallant said the "intense maneuvering stage" that the Israeli military has been carrying out in southern Gaza “will end soon.” He said the military had recently ended its intensive ground operation in northern Gaza.

“In both places, we will reach the moment for the next stage,” he said.

Gallant said Israel could not fully stop its military operations in Gaza because Hamas would not agree to release any more hostages without military pressure.

Gallant's comments came as Hamas announced the deaths of two of the Israeli hostages it abducted during its October attack.

In a video Hamas released Monday, the group showed the dead bodies of two people it said were Israeli hostages. In a statement accompanying the video, Hamas said the Israeli military killed the hostages.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari denied that Israeli forces caused the deaths.

“That is a Hamas lie,” he said.

Earlier Monday, Israeli forces launched new airstrikes across the Gaza Strip, while the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said that Israeli attacks had killed more than 130 people during the past day.

Israel’s military said its operations included killing five militants in northern Gaza “who were attempting to locate weapons,” along with airstrikes and ground attacks that destroyed weapons storage facilities in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis area.

The Gaza health ministry, which does not differentiate between fighters and civilians in its casualty totals, said Monday that the number of dead from Israel’s military campaign had risen to at least 24,100, with more than 60,000 others injured.

Sparked by October 7 attack

Israel began its military campaign to wipe out Hamas after Hamas fighters crossed  into southern Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 people hostage in the terror attack.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres renewed his appeal Monday for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, saying it was urgently needed to get aid to Palestinians, facilitate the release of Hamas' hostages and halt the spread of the war throughout the Mideast.

“I am profoundly worried by what is unfolding,” Guterres told reporters at the United Nations.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong called Monday for a “sustainable cease-fire” in Gaza, becoming the latest diplomat to travel to the region to discuss the conflict and humanitarian efforts.

"No cease-fire can be one-sided, and no cease-fire can be unconditional,” Wong said at a news conference ahead of her departure on a trip that includes stops in Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and the United Arab Emirates.

During a temporary cease-fire in late November, militants in Gaza released more than 100 hostages, while Israel released 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Also on Monday, the World Food Program, World Health Organization and UNICEF warned that the amount of humanitarian aid entering Gaza was "far short of what is needed to prevent a deadly combination of hunger, malnutrition and disease."

The agencies called for new routes for aid to enter Gaza, along with more trucks allowed in each day, as well as fewer restrictions on aid worker movements and better safety protections.

“People in Gaza risk dying of hunger just miles from trucks filled with food,” WFP Executive Director Cindy McCain said in a statement. “Every hour lost puts countless lives at risk. We can keep famine at bay, but only if we can deliver sufficient supplies and have safe access to everyone in need, wherever they are.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue his country’s war against Hamas until victory.

Netanyahu said at a news conference late Saturday that Israel would not be deterred by accusations that it was committing genocide against Palestinians.

The prime minister spoke after a two-day hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where South Africa accused Israel of genocide in a case before the court. Israel has rejected the accusation as libelous and hypocritical.

Israel says that ending the war now would mean victory for Hamas, an Islamic militant group that has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Britain, among others. Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2007 and says it is bent on Israel's destruction.

An interim ICJ ruling is expected in a few weeks. Rulings are binding but difficult to enforce.

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