KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will have “overall security responsibility” in Gaza for an indefinite period after its war with Hamas, the clearest indication yet that Israel plans to maintain control over the coastal enclave that is home to some 2.3 million Palestinians.
In an interview with ABC News that aired late Monday, Netanyahu expressed openness to “little pauses” in the fighting to facilitate the release of some of the more than 240 captives seized by Hamas in its Oct. 7 attack into Israel, which triggered the war exactly one month ago.
But he ruled out any general cease-fire without the release of all the hostages, and the White House said there was no agreement with United States President Joe Biden’s call for a broader humanitarian pause after a phone call between the leaders on Monday.
Israeli troops have been battling Palestinian militants inside Gaza for over a week, and have succeeded in cutting the territory in half and encircling Gaza City.
The war has come at a staggering cost. Airstrikes have leveled entire city blocks across the territory, and around 70% of the population has fled their homes, with many heeding Israeli orders to head to the southern part of the besieged territory, which is also being bombed. Food, medicine, fuel and water are running low, and United Nations-run schools-turned-shelters are overflowing.
The Palestinian death toll has surpassed 10,000, the Health Ministry of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said Monday, including over 4,100 children. More than 2,300 people are missing and believed to be buried under the rubble of destroyed buildings, the ministry said. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants, and Israel says it has killed thousands of fighters.
About 1,400 people in Israel have died, mostly civilians killed in the Oct. 7 incursion by Hamas that started the war.
The war has quickly become the deadliest Israeli-Palestinian violence since Israel’s establishment 75 years ago, with no end in sight as Israel vows to remove Hamas from power and crush its military capabilities.
Israel is focused on Gaza City, which before the war was home to some 650,000 people — about equal to the population of Washington, D.C. Israel says Hamas has extensive militant infrastructure in the city, including a vast tunnel network, and accuses it of using civilians as human shields.
Several hundred thousand people are believed to remain in the north in the assault’s path. The military says a one-way corridor for residents of Gaza City and surrounding areas to flee south remains available. But many are afraid to use the route, part of which is held by Israeli troops.
Residents in northern Gaza reported heavy battles overnight into Tuesday morning in the outskirts of Gaza City. The Shati refugee camp, a built-up district housing refugees from the 1948 war and their descendants, has been heavily bombarded from the air and sea over the past two days, residents said.
Marwan Abdullah, who is among thousands of people sheltering at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, said they heard constant explosions overnight as ambulances brought dead and wounded in from the Shati camp. “We couldn’t sleep. Things get worse day by day,” he said.
A strike early Monday hit the roof of Shifa Hospital, killing a number of displaced people sheltering on its top floor and destroying solar panels, said Mohamed Zaqout, general manager of all hospitals in Gaza. The panels have been helping keep power on in the facility, which has been reduced to using one generator because of lack of fuel.
In southern Gaza, where Palestinians have been told to seek refuge, an Israeli airstrike destroyed several homes early Tuesday in the town of Khan Younis. First responders pulled five bodies — including three dead children — from the rubble, according to an Associated Press journalist at the scene.
The war has also stoked wider tensions, with Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group trading fire along the border.
In another sign of growing unrest, a Palestinian man stabbed two members of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police in east Jerusalem on Monday before being shot dead. Police said one of the officers, a 20-year-old woman, later died.
In the occupied West Bank, Israeli forces shot to death four Palestinian men in a vehicle in the city of Tulkarem, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. The military said two of the men were high-ranking militants.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with Gaza and the West Bank, in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians want all three territories for a future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized by most of the international community; it considers the entire city its capital.
Israeli officials have said little about their plans for a post-Hamas Gaza, while indicating they don’t want to reoccupy the territory from which Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who wrapped up a dayslong trip to the region on Monday, has suggested a revitalized Palestinian Authority could govern Gaza. But the PA, whose forces were driven out by Hamas in 2007, has said it would only do so as part of a solution to the conflict that establishes a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines. Israel’s government is strongly opposed to Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu told ABC News that Gaza should be governed by “those who don’t want to continue the way of Hamas,” without elaborating.
“I think Israel will, for an indefinite period, will have the overall security responsibility, because we’ve seen what happens when we don’t have it. When we don’t have that security responsibility, what we have is the eruption of Hamas terror on a scale that we couldn’t imagine,” he said.
The military says 30 Israeli troops have been killed since the ground offensive began over a week ago. Hamas and other militants have continued firing rockets into Israel, disrupting daily life even as most are intercepted or fall in open areas. Tens of thousands of Israelis have evacuated from communities near the volatile borders with Gaza and Lebanon.
Hundreds of trucks carrying aid have been allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt since Oct. 21. But humanitarian workers say the aid is far short of mounting needs. Egypt’s Rafah Crossing has also opened to allow hundreds of foreign passport holders and medical patients to leave Gaza.
Magdy reported from Cairo.
Full AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war