Wed. Apr 17th, 2024

Israel said on Tuesday its forces attacked Hamas gunmen inside the Islamists’ vast tunnel network beneath Gaza, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls for a halt to fighting to ease the Palestinian enclave’s humanitarian crisis.

The tunnels are a key objective for Israel as it expands ground operations inside Gaza to wipe out the ruling Hamas movement following its gun rampage three weeks ago that Israeli authorities say killed over 1,400 people.

“Over the last day, combined IDF combat forces struck approximately 300 targets, including anti-tank missile and rocket launch posts below shafts, as well as military compounds inside underground tunnels belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization,” the Israel Defernce Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

Militants responded with anti-tank missiles and machine gun fire, it added.

“The soldiers killed terrorists and directed air forces to real-time strikes on targets and terror infrastructure,” the IDF said.

A general view shows the interiors of what the Israeli military say is a cross-border attack tunnel dug from Gaza to Israel. REUTERS

Witnesses said Israeli forces targeted Gaza’s main north-south road on Monday and attacked Gaza City from two directions.

Israel said its troops freed a soldier from Hamas captivity.

Hamas, an armed Islamist group that governs Gaza, has so far released four civilians from the 239 hostages Israel says were captured on Oct. 7.

The tunnels are imperative for Israel as it expands ground operations inside Gaza to wipe out the ruling Hamas movement. REUTERS

Many of the hostages are believed to held in the Hamas tunnel network.

The al-Qassam brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, said militants clashed early on Tuesday with Israeli forces “invading the southern Gaza axis, (including) with machine guns, and targeted four vehicles with al-Yassin 105 missiles,” referring to locally produced anti-tank missiles.

The militants also targeted two Israeli tanks and bulldozers in northwest Gaza with the missiles, al-Qassam said.

Reuters was not able to confirm the reports of fighting. Israel’s military had no immediate comment.

Gaza health authorities say that 8,306 people, including 3,457 minors, have been killed in Israeli attacks since Oct. 7.

U.N. officials say more than 1.4 million of Gaza’s civilian population of about 2.3 million have been made homeless.

A Palestinian fighter from the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, gestures inside an underground tunnel in Gaza. REUTERS

The mounting death toll has drawn calls from the US, Israel’s top ally, other countries and the U.N. for a pause in fighting to allow more humanitarian aid to reach the enclave.

Netanyahu said late on Monday that Israel would not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas in Gaza and would press ahead with its plans to wipe out the group.

“Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks.

An Israeli tank moves inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from Israel on Oct. 31, 2023. REUTERS

Military specialists said Israeli forces are moving slowly in their ground offensive in part to keep open the possibility that Hamas militants will negotiate the release of the hostages.

The relative caution with which Israeli troops have taken and secured slices of territory in the first days of sustained ground operations in Gaza stands in contrast to the past three weeks of unrelenting air strikes on the Mediterranean enclave, as well as to Israel’s previous land offensives there.

‘DISASTER ON TOP OF A DISASTER’

Israel’s military said it struck more than 600 militant targets in recent days in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are in dire need of fuel, food and clean water.

Young Palestinians holding weapons walk in a tunnel during a military exercise graduation ceremony at a summer camp organized by Hamas’s armed wing, east of Gaza City. REUTERS

The U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) said that water supply through a pipeline from Israel to southern Gaza was cut off on Monday “for unknown reasons”, and that an announced repair of another pipeline to central Gaza did not take place.

“At the time of writing, no water is provided to Gaza from Israel,” OCHA said on its website.

Significantly fewer humanitarian aid trucks have reached the besieged enclave than are required, U.N. officials said, and civil order has broken down with people storming U.N. warehouses in search of food.

A lighting flare, fired by Israel illuminates the sky in Al-Sudaniya, region in the northwest of Gaza on Oct. 30, 2023. Anadolu via Getty Images

That has put four U.N. aid distribution centres and a storage facility out of action, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Monday.

“It’s a disaster on top of a disaster. Health needs are soaring and our ability to meet those needs is rapidly declining,” World Health Organization regional emergencies chief Rick Brennan said, reiterating international calls for a ceasefire to enable a larger humanitarian operation.

Aid trucks have been trickling into Gaza from Egypt over the past week via Rafah, the main crossing that does not border Israel.

Armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, military wing of Hamas, deploy at a tunnel in Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza City, Gaza. Getty Images

It has become the main point of aid delivery since Israel imposed a “total siege” of Gaza after Oct. 7.

The White House said it was working to get more aid trucks into Gaza.

HOSTAGES

Hamas released a video on Monday that showed three hostages seized by the Islamist movement on Oct. 7.

The women – identified by Netanyahu as Yelena Trupanob, Danielle Aloni and Rimon Kirsht – sat side by side against a bare wall, and Aloni addressed an angry message to the prime minister.

Israeli forces conduct ground operations in the Gaza Strip on Oct. 29, 2023. Xinhua/Shutterstock

Netanyahu condemned the video as “cruel psychological propaganda” and said Israel’s ground campaign created possibilities for rescuing the hostages.

The conflict has led to demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians, and antisemitic and Islamophobic harassment.

Biden administration officials, voicing alarm at reports of anti-Jewish incidents at US universities, met American Jewish leaders on Monday to discuss steps to counter the surge, a White House official said.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin accused the West and Ukraine of stirring up unrest inside Russia after rioters in the predominantly Muslim Dagestan region stormed an airport to “catch” Jewish passengers on a flight from Tel Aviv.

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