Shelling and missile strikes rocked the length of the Gaza Strip overnight after Israel’s army warned its war against the territory’s Hamas rulers will last through 2024.
Nearly three months of the war have claimed almost 22,000 lives in Gaza, according to the enclave’s health ministry, and devastated much of the besieged territory.
Despite relentless global demands for a ceasefire, military spokesman Daniel Hagari said the army was preparing for “prolonged fighting” expected to last “throughout this year.”
On Monday night into Tuesday morning, eyewitnesses reported missiles fired towards the city of Rafah in the south and shelling around the Jabalia refugee camp in the north.
‘The worst year of our lives’
Fighting was also reported around the central areas of Maghazi and Bureij, as well as the main southern city of Khan Younis.
“It’s the worst year of our lives,” Gaza resident Sami Hamouda, 64, told reporters. “Every new day is like the previous one: bombings, death and mass killings.”
Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad, says that its fighters fought a battle with Israeli soldiers in the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, which resulted in injuries among the ranks of the soldiers.
The armed wing also announced that they targeted the Israeli military with mortar shells in Al-Mahatta area in Khan Younis.
Israel launched its offensive after Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,140 people, most of them civilians, according to a tally based on official figures. The fighters also took around 250 people hostage that day, more than half of whom remain in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, launching an offensive that has reduced vast areas of Gaza to a ruined wasteland and killed at least 21,978 people, mostly women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.
The Palestinian Ministry of Education says that 4,156 students have been killed in the war. At least 381 schools have also been bombed or damaged, the ministry added.
The Israeli army says 173 soldiers have been killed inside Gaza in the battle against Hamas. Witnesses in northern Gaza told reporters that they had seen Israeli forces leaving several areas in and around Gaza City, likely suggesting redeployment rather than permanent withdrawal.
‘Fighting will continue’
Hagari said the Israeli army was “adapting the planning of the force deployment in Gaza,” including for reserve soldiers, as “the fighting will continue and they will still be required.”
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, meanwhile, said residents of some towns and villages near the Gaza border – many of which have been evacuated since the October 7 attacks – “will soon be able to return home.”
Since Israel imposed a siege at the outset of the war, Gazans have been facing dire shortages of food, water, fuel and medicine – eased only by aid trucks, about 120 of which entered on Sunday.
The UN says that 85 percent of the territory’s population has been displaced since the start of the war.
In the southern border town of Rafah, 43-year-old Mostafa Shennar, from Gaza City, told journalists that “living conditions… are just hopeless.”
A new hostage exchange proposal?
Days after a Hamas delegation visited Egypt to offer feedback on a new ceasefire plan, U.S. news outlet Axios, citing unnamed Israeli sources, reported that the group had presented Israel with a proposal for a new hostage exchange deal via Qatari and Egyptian mediators.
One official said the proposal included three phases, each linked to a pause in fighting of more than a month, in return for the release of some hostages.
It would also involve the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the territory, with the final phase of the plan putting an end to war.
The official told Axios the proposal had been discussed by the Israeli war cabinet and deemed unacceptable, but suggested progress could be made towards a more amenable plan going forward.
Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank, where more than 300 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces and settlers since October.
Israel carried out raids around several occupied West Bank cities overnight, including Ramallah, Jericho, Jenin and Qalqilya, the official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported.
According to Wafa, one young man was wounded by Israeli gunfire in Qalqilya, and another was injured by shrapnel in Jenin.
The Israeli military said it is investigating a soldier suspected of shooting dead a Palestinian who had been captured and detained by troops in the Gaza Strip.
‘Most violent’ year
Israeli watchdog Yesh Din said 2023 was the “most violent” year on record for settler attacks in the territory, which Israel has occupied since 1967, “in both the number of incidents and their severity.”
Israel is withdrawing some forces from Gaza to shift to more targeted operations against Hamas, and is partially returning reservists to civilian life to help the economy as the country enters the new year set for a prolonged war, an Israeli official said.
The official said the war will continue in the Palestinian enclave until Hamas is toppled, adding that some of the troops withdrawn will prepare for a possible second front in Lebanon.
With tanks and troops having now overrun much of the Gaza Strip, largely asserting control despite Palestinian fighters continuing their ambushes from hidden tunnels and bunkers, the military is moving to the third stage of the war, said the official, who could not be identified by name given the sensitivity of the issue.
“This will take six months at least, and involve intense mopping-up missions against the terrorists. No one is talking about doves of peace being flown from Shajaia,” the official told reporters, referring to a Gaza district ravaged by fighting.