Israel launches airstrikes in southern Gaza city amidst hostage standoff with Hamas

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11th December 2023 – (Gaza) Israeli forces bombed the main city in southern Gaza on Monday following a warning from Hamas that no Israeli hostages would be released unless their demands for prisoner releases were met.

The conflict was triggered by Hamas, which carried out a devastating attack on Israel on 7th October, resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people, according to Israeli figures. Hamas also took approximately 240 hostages back to Gaza. In response, Israel launched a military offensive that has caused extensive damage in Gaza, leading to the deaths of at least 17,997 people, predominantly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Reports from an Agence France-Presse (AFP) correspondent indicated that Israeli airstrikes on Monday targeted the city of Khan Yunis. Additionally, the militant group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for blowing up a house where Israeli soldiers were searching for a tunnel. The Israeli army reported rocket fire from Gaza into Israel on the same day and stated that fierce fighting had taken place on Sunday in Gaza City and Khan Yunis.

On Sunday, Hamas warned that Israel would not receive their prisoners alive unless an exchange, negotiation, and meeting the demands of the resistance took place. Israel claims that there are still 137 hostages held in Gaza, while activists argue that around 7,000 Palestinians are in Israeli jails.

The months-long bombardment and clashes have severely strained Gaza’s health system, with most hospitals no longer functioning and nearly two million people displaced. The dire situation has left residents without electricity, water, flour, bread, and necessary medicine for sick children.

The United Nations estimates that 1.9 million out of Gaza’s 2.4 million population have been displaced from their homes, with approximately half of them being children. Despite Israel’s call for people to seek refuge in the south, the expansion of the conflict to include southern targets has left few safe places for civilians.itarian organizations continue to press Israel for greater protection of civilians in the conflict. Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for the Palestinian territories, condemned the mapping software deployed by Israel’s army to reduce non-combatant deaths as inadequate. She emphasized that a unilateral declaration by an occupying power that certain areas are “safe zones” does not guarantee safety when there is a lack of infrastructure, food, water, healthcare, and hygiene.

The collapsing health system in Gaza has become a major concern. According to the World Health Organization, only 14 out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are functioning to some degree. Urgent and unimpeded aid deliveries are required to address the dire situation.

Israel’s army chief, Herzi Halevi, stated that significant force was being used in Gaza, claiming “significant achievements” in the war. The military reported striking over 250 targets in 24 hours, including a Hamas military communications site, underground tunnel shafts in southern Gaza, and a Hamas military command centre in Gaza City. Israeli officials reported 98 soldiers killed and around 600 wounded in the Gaza war, while National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi claimed that around 7,000 “terrorists” had been killed.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, expressed concern over the Security Council’s undermined authority and credibility after the United States blocked a ceasefire resolution. Guterres vowed to continue his efforts for peace. Qatar, where Hamas’s leadership is based, stated that it is working on a new truce, similar to the one last month that saw 80 Israeli hostages exchanged for 240 Palestinian prisoners and humanitarian aid. However, Israel’s continued bombardment is narrowing the window for successful negotiations, according to Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected a ceasefire on Sunday, stating that as long as Hamas remains intact and with the intent to repeat its attacks, a ceasefire would only perpetuate the problem. However, Blinken acknowledged the terrible toll the conflict is taking on innocent civilians.

There are concerns of regional escalation, with frequent cross-border exchanges between Israel and Lebanese militants, as well as attacks by pro-Iran groups against U.S. and allied forces in Iraq and Syria. Israel reportedly carried out strikes near Damascus on Sunday, targeting Hezbollah sites, according to Syria’s state news agency. In a separate development, Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels threatened to attack any vessels heading to Israel unless more aid was allowed into Gaza. France reported that one of its frigates in the Red Sea had shot down two drones launched from Yemen.