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Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to fight on in the war against Hamas, despite a mounting death toll and growing international calls to alleviate the humanitarian suffering in the Palestinian enclave and halt the war.
The Israeli military said on Sunday that 14 of its soldiers had been killed in Gaza over the weekend as it expanded its ground operations and engaged in “complex combat in densely populated areas”. This included in the southern city of Khan Younis, considered a Hamas stronghold, and the central refugee camps that had been largely spared so far.
The death toll among Israeli forces has climbed steadily since a week-long ceasefire collapsed earlier this month, with 153 soldiers killed since the launch of a ground offensive into the strip in late October.
More than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the start of hostilities, according to health authorities in the Hamas-run territory, with 80 per cent of the population displaced and swaths of the territory reduced to rubble.
International aid groups have warned of a humanitarian “catastrophe” in the besieged enclave, with food and medical care difficult to access and the chances of disease growing.
The UN Security Council on Friday passed a resolution calling to urgently expand the humanitarian aid flow into Gaza, but stopped short — amid US pressure — from demanding an immediate end to the fighting.
Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that the war was “taking a very heavy toll on us, but we have no choice but to keep fighting”. He added: “We continue with all our might . . . until we complete all our goals.”
US President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday but told reporters that he “did not ask for a ceasefire” from his Israeli counterpart.
At least 1,200 Israelis were killed during the attack by Hamas militants on Israel on October 7 that sparked the war, according to Israeli figures.
Despite 11 weeks of fighting, much of it now being done in close-quarters, Israel has yet to achieve its stated objectives of “destroying” Hamas as a military and governing force in the territory and safely returning more 100 Israeli hostages who remain in captivity.
Tensions have been rising across the region, with daily cross-border fire between Israel and the Iran-backed Hizbollah militia in Lebanon.
Thirteen Israeli soldiers and civilians have been killed in the exchanges, with nearly 100,000 Israeli border community residents evacuated from their homes. More than 100 Hizbollah and other Palestinian militants have been killed in fighting that, for now, has been contained to southern Lebanon and northern Israel.
There have been growing calls from hawkish members of Netanyahu’s coalition, and even some opposition figures, to strike Hamas and Hizbollah even harder.
Israeli plans to shift to a “lower-intensity” phase of the Gaza war in the new year, encouraged by the US, have been criticised by senior far-right ministers who have threatened to topple Netanyahu’s government.
Netanyahu has sought to assuage his cabinet, telling them on Sunday he had informed Biden “that we will fight until absolute victory — however long it takes,” and that “the US understands this”.