Israel vows to 'press harder' in Gaza after US blocks UN ceasefire

11 Dec 2023 08:12am
Palestinians check the damage of a house in which a man and his daughter were killed and others wounded, during an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec 9, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)
Palestinians check the damage of a house in which a man and his daughter were killed and others wounded, during an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec 9, 2023. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

GAZA - Gazans sought refuge in bombed-out hospitals as Israel vowed to "press harder" in its war with Hamas, after the United States blocked a ceasefire bid at the United Nations.

Aid groups say Gaza faces an "apocalyptic" humanitarian situation and is on the verge of being overwhelmed by disease and starvation.

At least 17,700 people, mostly women and children, have died in two months of fighting in the narrow strip of territory, according to the latest figures from Gaza's health ministry.

Washington vetoed a UN resolution that would have called for a ceasefire on Friday, a move strongly condemned by Palestinian and humanitarian groups.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he appreciated "the correct stance the US took" and vowed to "continue our just war to eliminate Hamas".

Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas after its unprecedented attacks on October 7, when they broke through Gaza's militarised border, killed 1,200 people and seized hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel on Saturday said 137 captives remain in the Palestinian territory.

An AFP journalist said thousands of Gazans were sheltering in the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, which is no longer functioning and partly destroyed following an Israeli raid last month.

Hundreds of makeshift tents fashioned from scraps of fabric and plastic filled the hospital's courtyards and garden amid collapsed walls.

Suheil Abu Dalfa, 56, from the city's Shejaiya district, said he fled heavy bombardment by Israeli planes and tanks.

"It was madness. A shell hit the house and wounded my 20-year-old son," he told AFP.

"We fled to the Old City, everything was just strikes and destruction... we didn't know where to go," he said. "We don't know if they will storm the hospital again."

- 'Without anaesthetic' -

Hamas health authorities said 71 dead arrived at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in Deir al-Balah over 24 hours, and 62 at Nasser hospital in the southern city of Khan Yunis.

An AFP correspondent in Nasser hospital saw a child on a makeshift stretcher and others waiting for care on the floor, while firefighters outside tried to douse a burning building hit by an Israeli strike.

Alexandra Saieh, of Save the Children, spoke of "maggots being picked from wounds and children undergoing amputations without anaesthetic".

The situation "is not just a catastrophe, it's apocalyptic," added Bushra Khalidi of Oxfam.

Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi said it needed to "press harder" in its campaign in Gaza. "We're seeing more and more terrorists killed, more and more terrorists wounded, and in recent days we're seeing terrorists surrendering -- this is a sign their network's falling apart," he said at a ceremony in Jerusalem.

National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi told Israeli TV that 7,000 "terrorists" had been killed, without elaborating on the source of the figure.

In Tel Aviv, some Israelis held a pro-peace demonstration.

Hundreds of others gathered in what has come to be known as Hostages Square, calling for action to save the captives held by Hamas with signs bearing messages such as "They trust us to get them out of hell".

The Israeli army says it has lost 93 soldiers in the campaign, with two others injured in a failed bid to rescue hostages on Thursday night.

Hamas said a hostage, 25-year-old Sahar Baruch, was killed in the operation, later confirmed by his kibbutz community in Beeri, one of the worst-hit on October 7.

- 'Israel protection council' -

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called a rare Security Council vote on a ceasefire on Friday.

But it was vetoed by the US, whose envoy Robert Wood said it was "divorced from reality" and would leave Hamas in power in Gaza.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he "holds the United States responsible for the bloodshed of Palestinian children, women and elderly people" after the veto.

Avril Benoit, head of the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity, described the US veto as a "sharp contrast to the values it professes to uphold".

There was anger, too, in a residential area of Rafah decimated by an Israeli strike.

"What resolution did the Security Council ever approve and was implemented for our cause and Palestinian people?" local resident Mohammed al-Khatib said amid the rubble.

Iran, which backs Hamas, warned it could lead to an "uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region", while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the UN body as the "Israel protection council".

- 'Weapons in school' -

An estimated 1.9 million of Gaza's 2.4 million people have been displaced. Blocked from leaving the narrow territory, they have turned Rafah near the crossing with Egypt into a vast camp.

With air, naval and ground combat continuing, Israel's military said they found weapons in a school in Gaza City and were fired upon from an UN agency school and mosque.

Hamas's armed wing said it fired rockets towards Reim in southern Israel -- the site of the Supernova music festival where 364 people were killed on October 7, according to Israeli figures.

There are fears of a wider regional conflict, with regular exchanges between Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.

Israel's army said it retaliated on Saturday after unspecified "launches" from Lebanon, including with fighter jets.

Violence has also surged in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the health ministry said three people were killed on Saturday.

The military earlier said it has arrested 2,200 people in the West Bank, 1,800 of them Hamas members, since the Israel-Hamas war began. - AFP