Israel steps up Gaza bombardment after talks on hostages

08:20PM Sun 17 Dec, 2023

Israel stepped up its bombardment of Gaza overnight and into Sunday, killing at least 40 people, Palestinians said, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that the only way to secure the release of hostages was intense military pressure on Hamas.

The Israeli attacks took place amid fierce fighting the length of the coastal enclave, according to residents and militants, with communications down for a fourth day, making it hard to reach the wounded.

"The communication blackout in #Gaza is the longest since the start of the Israeli escalation," the Palestinian Red Crescent said on X, adding that its teams were also hampered by shelling.

Israel's spy chief held talks on Friday with the prime minister of Qatar, which mediated earlier hostage releases in return for a week-long ceasefire and the freeing of Palestinian prisoners, a source with knowledge of the matter said.

But the militants have said they will not discuss freeing any more of those captured when they attacked southern Israel on October 7 while Israel continues the all-out war on Gaza it unleashed in response.

With no signs of compromise, the violence intensified.

Israeli missile strikes against a house belonging to the Shehab family killed 24 people and wounded dozens of others in Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, Hamas Aqsa radio said, quoting the director of the health ministry.

Health officials were not available for immediate comment but a medic said dozens of people had been killed or wounded in the Shebab family home and others nearby that were also hit.

"Jabalia suffered tank, air, and naval bombardment overnight, it has been suffering a brutal war for days, people are dying in the streets and we can't get to them," he said by telephone, using an e-sim that can connect to outside networks and declining to give a name fearing Israeli reprisal.

"We believe the number of dead people under the rubble is huge but there is no way to remove the rubble and recover them because of the intensity of Israeli fire."

In Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, medics said 12 Palestinians had been killed and dozens were wounded, while in Rafah in the south, they said an Israeli air strike left at least four people dead.

Israel said it had operated against "terrorist" targets.

Around 19,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza health officials, and thousands buried in the rubble of Israeli air strikes since October 7.

Israel's military said on Sunday that 121 soldiers had been killed since the ground campaign began on October 27, when tanks and infantry began to push into Gaza's cities and refugee camps.

Netanyahu read out a letter at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday which he said was written by relatives of dead soldiers.

"You have a mandate to fight. You do not have a mandate to stop in the middle," he quoted them as saying, responding: "We will fight to the end."


(By Reuters)