Israel rejects Gaza ceasefire calls
JERUSALEM: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas “will not happen”, as ground forces fought inside Gaza and air strikes pounded the besieged Palestinian territory.
Netanyahu spoke to foreign press after telling his war cabinet Israeli forces were making “systematic progress” against Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks — the deadliest in the country’s history.
Israel’s intensifying military operations have sharply heightened fears for the 2.4 million inhabitants of Gaza, where the Hamas-controlled health ministry says more than 8,300 have been killed.
Netanyahu told the press briefing a ceasefire would amount to surrendering to Hamas, whose gunmen killed 1,400 people and took more than 230 hostages, according to the latest Israeli figures.
“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism… this will not happen,” he said, vowing Israel would “fight until this battle is won”.
The Israeli military said a woman soldier was released from captivity after an operation in the Hamas-run territory.
“Ori Megidish was released during a ground operation,” the army said, adding she had been “medically checked” and was “doing well”. Netanyahu’s office published a photo of her surrounded by family members.
The Israeli leader said the international community must demand the captives remaining in Gaza “be freed immediately, unconditionally”.
As Israeli forces fought deadly battles with Hamas fighters inside the narrow Palestinian territory and sent tanks to the outskirts of Gaza City, concern has surged about the widening humanitarian crisis.
Many hospitals in Gaza have been affected and the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned patients cannot be safely moved out of the war zone.
The Hamas attack set off the bloodiest-ever Gaza war, marked by weeks of withering aerial bombardment and three continuous nights of ground operations centred on northern Gaza, which Israel has told civilians to evacuate.
In heavy clashes overnight, the Israeli army said it had killed dozens of fighters hiding “inside buildings and tunnels”.
Columns of Israeli tanks and armoured bulldozers were seen churning through the sand, and snipers took positions inside emptied residential buildings, in footage released by the army.
Dozens of tanks advanced for more than an hour into the southern fringes of Gaza City and blocked the main north-south highway, “firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it”, an eyewitness told AFP by phone.
Air strikes also cratered the road and brought down buildings, residents said, before the tanks withdrew from the area.
The Israeli ground forces were supported by heavy fire from the air and artillery, with the army striking more than 600 targets within 24 hours, up from 450 reported by the military a day earlier.
Hamas said it had fired anti-tank missiles at two Israeli armoured vehicles and that “blows delivered by the resistance have prevented” Israeli troops from establishing a presence in Gaza.
Hamas also released a video of what it said were three women hostages, seated against a tile wall, although the time and place of the recording could not be verified.
One called in an agitated tone for Netanyahu to agree to Hamas’ proposed exchange of the hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Netanyahu in a statement decried the clip as “cruel psychological propaganda”. He named the three as Yelena Trupanov, Daniel Aloni and Rimon Kirsht, and vowed “to bring all the abducted and missing people home”.
The more than 230 hostages — aged between a few months and above 80 — are believed to be held in a network of underground tunnels where Hamas has hid its military infrastructure from Israeli surveillance and air attacks.
Israel confirmed the death of one of those missing — German-Israeli Shani Louk, 23, who was captured by Hamas when its gunmen stormed a music festival in the desert.
Fear and desperation have spiralled in Gaza, under weeks of siege that have cut off water, food, fuel and other essentials to the long-blockaded territory.
Internet access had been severed for days but restored Sunday following US pressure, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
“We made clear to the government of Israel over the weekend that communications networks needed to be restored,” he said on Monday.
“It is about ensuring that vital information flows, humanitarian coordination continues, and families can stay in touch.”
The United Nations had reported Sunday that civil order was starting to break down after “thousands of people” ransacked aid warehouses.
Donkey carts were lining up to load water, as safe drinking water has become scarce, in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.
According to the UN, all 10 hospitals in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders — despite sheltering thousands of patients and about 117,000 of the displaced.
“We were displaced from our homes to the hospital,” Gaza City resident Ashraf al-Muzani, 38, said from Al-Quds hospital where he and his family have been sheltering for a week.
“The bombing followed us,” he said. “We haven’t been able to sleep and our children are so frightened.”
Among those being treated are intensive care patients, infants and elderly people on life support systems.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that “it’s impossible to evacuate hospitals full of patients without endangering their lives.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres has said the situation in Gaza is getting “more desperate by the hour” and warned against the “collective punishment” of Palestinians.
Limited aid has entered Gaza from Egypt under a US-brokered deal, but its volume, 117 trucks so far, has fallen far short of the hundreds of trucks a day aid agencies say are needed.
Anti-Israel anger has flared across the region and beyond.
In Russia’s Muslim-majority Dagestan, police said they had arrested 60 people after a crowd stormed an airport on Sunday to attack Jewish passengers coming from Tel Aviv.
And Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday accused the United States of being responsible for what he called “deadly chaos” unfolding in the Middle East.
Washington has warned Israel’s enemies — in particular Iran-allied “axis of resistance” groups — not to become more fully involved after a series of attacks across the region.
The Israeli army has struck targets in Syria and traded cross-border fire with Hezbollah in Lebanon, where caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told AFP he was “doing my duty to prevent Lebanon from entering the war”.
Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank where health officials say about 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the Gaza war started.
In annexed east Jerusalem on Monday, police said a knife-wielding Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli police officer before the attacker was shot dead.
The UN agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) warned Monday the limited number of aid convoys entering Gaza were insufficient to meet the “unprecedented humanitarian needs” in the territory.
“The handful of convoys being allowed through Rafah is nothing compared to the needs of over two million people trapped in Gaza,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told the UN Security Council, referring to the sole border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
According to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, 33 trucks carrying water, food and medical supplies entered the Gaza through Rafah on Sunday.
Prior to the war, some 500 trucks carrying aid and other goods entered Gaza every day.
“The system in place to allow aid into Gaza is geared to fail unless there is political will to make the flow of supplies meaningful, matching the unprecedented humanitarian needs,” Lazzarini said, calling for the Security Council to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
He said that 64 of his UNRWA colleagues had been killed in just over three weeks, “the highest number of UN aid workers killed in a conflict in such a short time.”
He added that a UN worker named Samir, as well Samir’s wife and eight children, had been killed just hours before the meeting.
“My UNRWA colleagues are the only glimmer of hope for the entire Gaza Strip, a ray of light as humanity sinks into its darkest hour. But they are running out of fuel, water, food and medicine and will soon be unable to operate,” said the Swiss-Italian official.