Street fighting raged in Gaza City with Hamas militants using tunnels to ambush Israeli forces as the United States said the Palestinians should rule Gaza post-war, countering Israeli comments that it would control security indefinitely .
Palestinian officials said 10,569 people had been killed by Wednesday, 40 percent of them children. Israel says 33 of its soldiers have been killed, although the number is likely to be higher.
The Israeli army claimed its troops had advanced into the “heart of Gaza City”, Hamas’ main bastion and the largest city in the coastal enclave, while the resistance group said its fighters had inflicted heavy casualties on the invading forces.
Hamas’ armed wing released a video on Wednesday that appears to show intense street fighting next to bombed buildings in Gaza City.
Israeli tanks faced heavy resistance from Hamas fighters who use underground tunnels to set up ambushes, according to sources within Hamas and the breakaway Islamic Jihad resistance group.
As the conflict and subsequent siege of Gaza enters its second month, Washington has begun discussing with Israeli and Arab leaders a future for the Gaza Strip without Hamas rule.
While a plan has yet to emerge, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined Washington’s expectations for the beleaguered coastal region.
“No reoccupation of Gaza after the end of the conflict. No attempt to block or besiege Gaza. No reduction in Gaza territory,” Blinken said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.
Blinken said there may be a need for “some transition period” at the end of the conflict, but post-crisis governance “must include Palestinian rule and Gaza united with the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority.”
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ABC News that Israel would “indefinitely” be responsible for the enclave’s security after the war.
Israeli officials have since sought to clarify that they do not intend to occupy Gaza after the war, but have yet to articulate how they might ensure security without maintaining a military presence. Israel withdrew its forces from Gaza in 2005.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says Gaza, where Hamas has ruled since 2007, is an integral part of what it envisions for a future Palestinian state.
Khalil al-Hayya, a member of the Hamas leadership, told the New York Times that the group’s attack on Israel was intended to shatter the status quo and open a new chapter in its fight against Israel.
“We managed to put the Palestinian issue back on the table and now nobody in the region experiences peace,” he said, according to the paper on Wednesday.
Saleh al-Arouri, an exiled Hamas commander, told Hamas-linked Al-Aqsa TV on Wednesday that his fighters are determined to inflict casualties on Israeli forces in ground battles in Gaza. “The more (Israel) spreads and expands on the ground, the deeper its losses will become,” he said.
A clip from the Hamas video released on Wednesday showed militants in Gaza walking past piles of rubble and stopping to fire anti-tank munitions at Israeli tanks. Another showed them shooting rifles from perches behind buildings and trash.
Israeli soldiers operate amid the ongoing ground invasion of Gaza. PHOTO: Reuters
Israel is looking for tunnels
The chief spokesman for the Israeli military, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, claimed on Wednesday that “Hamas has lost control of northern Gaza.”
Israel’s combat engineers were using explosive devices to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network that stretches hundreds of kilometers (miles) under Gaza, he said. The Israeli military claimed to have destroyed 130 tunnel shafts so far.
Israeli troops took foreign journalists to the outskirts of Gaza City on Wednesday. Journalists saw a devastated landscape where every building in sight was battle-scarred.
Walls were blown up, bullet holes and shrapnel littered the facades, and palm trees were sliced and broken.
Lt. Col. Ido, deputy commander of the 401st Brigade, who did not give his last name, claimed that by the time Israeli soldiers arrived at those buildings, all the families had left.
“So we know that everyone here is our enemy. We haven’t seen any civilians here. Only Hamas,” he said.
Soldiers on the press tour said that beneath the family apartment were two floors of workshops used to make weapons, including drones that were discovered in five wooden boxes. The claim could not be verified.
50,000 displaced Palestinians forced south
About 50,000 Palestinian civilians were forcibly expelled to the north on Wednesday during a four-hour “window of opportunity” announced by Israel.
An Israeli military vehicle maneuvers during the ongoing ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. PHOTO: Reuters
The Israeli military has repeatedly told residents to evacuate the north or risk being drawn into the violence. At least 19 people were killed Wednesday in an Israeli airstrike on a house near a hospital in the northern Gaza refugee camp of Jabalia, the enclave’s interior ministry said.
There was no immediate Israeli comment or details on the reported attack, which if confirmed would be the third in Gaza’s largest refugee camp in a week.
UN officials and G7 world powers have stepped up calls for a humanitarian pause in the war to help civilians in Gaza, where necessities such as food, medicine and fuel are running out.
Negotiations brokered by Qatar, which is home to several Hamas political leaders, are trying to secure the release of 10 to 15 hostages in exchange for a humanitarian pause of one to two days in Gaza, a source briefed on the talks said on Wednesday.
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