Israel hammers Gaza's south as hostage families urge Netanyahu to seek deal

Gaza - The Israeli army bombarded Khan Younis, the new epicenter of the assault on Gaza, on Monday as the families of hostages held by Hamas urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal to secure their release.

Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 22, 2024.
Smoke billows during Israeli bombardment over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 22, 2024.  © AFP

Witnesses reported deadly strikes overnight in Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza.

Netanyahu has vowed "complete victory" over Hamas after attacks by the groups military wing on October 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people, according to figures from the Israeli government.

Hamas militants also seized about 250 hostages, and Israel says around 132 remain in besieged Gaza.

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Since then, Israel has killed at least 25,105 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, in indiscriminate bombings and ground attacks, many of which have been carried out with munitions provided by the United States.

Gaza has been under Israeli occupation and blockade for decades, with Palestinians long suffering under the apartheid regime.

Israeli violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank since October. The area is not controlled by Hamas.

Israel rejects possibility of "Palestinian sovereignty"

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the possibility of Palestinian sovereignty as he continues to wage a brutal assault on the people of Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the possibility of Palestinian sovereignty as he continues to wage a brutal assault on the people of Gaza.  © REUTERS

Hamas said in its first public report on the events that triggered the war there had been "some faults" on its part but also called for an end to "Israeli aggression" in Gaza.

The October 7 attacks were a "necessary step" against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and a way to secure the release of Palestinian prisoners, it said in its 16-page report.

Israel vowed to "annihilate" Hamas after the attacks and launched a relentless offensive that has sparked accusations of genocide at the International Court of Justice in a landmark case brought by South Africa.

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The Israeli campaign has killed "around 20 percent to 30 percent" of Hamas fighters and is still far from its goal of destroying the Islamist movement, according to estimates by US intelligence agencies, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.

It said the United States, Qatar, and Egypt, the countries that mediated a temporary truce in November, were trying to convince Israel and Hamas to approve a plan that would free all the hostages in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

Netanyahu has maintained that Israel must retain security control after the war and has rejected the possibility of "Palestinian sovereignty."

Major ally the United States and others have recommended that a so-called two-state solution was the only way to guarantee Israel's long-term security.

Given Israel's history of oppression and encroachment on Palestinian lands, others have said that one democratic state where all can live in freedom and equality is the best way forward.

Netanyahu faces pressure to "bring hostages back"

A person holds an Israeli flag with an image depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as people protest against his government in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2024.
A person holds an Israeli flag with an image depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as people protest against his government in Tel Aviv on January 20, 2024.  © REUTERS

Netanyahu is also under intense pressure to secure the return of the hostages and account for security failings surrounding the October 7 attacks.

Relatives and supporters of the hostages again rallied near Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence on Sunday night for their return.

"We are asking our government to listen, to sit down at the negotiating table, and decide whether to accept this agreement or any other that would suit Israel," said Gilad Korenbloom, whose son is a hostage in Gaza.

John Polin, also the father of a hostage, said Israelis serve their country and in return "we expect the government to ensure our safety."

"We are asking the government to play its part, to propose an agreement, to bring it to a successful conclusion, and to bring the remaining hostages back alive," Polin said.

Netanyahu said in a video statement released after the Hamas report that, in exchange for the release of Israeli hostages, Hamas was demanding an end to the war, the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and guarantees that Hamas would stay in power.

"If we accept this, our soldiers have fallen in vain," and security would not be guaranteed, he said.

Humanitarian crisis ravages Gaza

UN agencies have warned of famine and disease as Gazans, 1.7 million of whom are displaced, struggle with shortages of water, medical care, and other essentials during daily bombardment.

Hamas' Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh had met Turkey's foreign minister to discuss the conflict and humanitarian aid, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.

Abdelrahmane Iyad, wounded in Gaza and now being treated aboard the French helicopter carrier Dixmude, docked in Egypt, said he did not have time to leave his house before it was hit.

"I was with my parents, my brother, my sister, my second sister and her husband and their daughter. They all died. I'm the only survivor," he said.

Cover photo: AFP

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