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Palestinians, Israelis end year in conflict

Updated: 2024-01-01 07:58
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A Palestinian man evacuates a wounded girl from the site of an Israeli strike in the Zawayda area of the central Gaza Strip on Saturday. AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

'Exhausted' Gazans pin hopes for 2024 while fighting rages on into 13th week

GAZA/JERUSALEM — Palestinians and Israelis end a dark year on Sunday, with no end in sight to the deadliest military offensive on Gaza.

Fighting raged over the weekend across Gaza, where displaced Palestinians said they were "exhausted "in the conflict, now in its 13th week.

Smoke billowed over the Gaza Strip's southern city of Khan Younis, the focus of recent fighting in the grinding offensive.

Further south, the border city of Rafah near Egypt was teeming with Gazans seeking safety from Israel's relentless bombardment in its fight against Palestinian militants.

"Enough with this war! We are totally exhausted," said Umm Louay Abu Khater, 49, who had fled her home in Khan Younis, taking refuge in Rafah.

"We are constantly displaced from one place to another in cold weather," she said. "The bombs keep falling on us day and night."

The Israeli army kept up its campaign in the face of mounting international pushback, reporting "fierce battles" and airstrikes across Gaza.

"We were hoping that 2024 would arrive under better auspices and that we would be able to celebrate the new year at home with our families," said Mahmoud Abou Shahma in a camp in Rafah.

"We hope that the war will end and that we will be able to return to our homes and live in peace," said the 33-year-old from Khan Younis.

Gaza's Hamas-run health ministry says the Israeli military campaign has killed at least 21,822 people, by far the heaviest death toll in any Israeli operation.

On Sunday, the ministry reported numerous deaths in overnight strikes on central Gaza's Zawayda and the nearby Al-Maghazi refugee camp.

On the Israeli side, about 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas attack on Oct 7.

Hamas also took about 250 people hostage, and Israel says 129 of them remain in captivity, Agence France-Presse reported. The Israeli army says 170 soldiers have been killed in combat inside Gaza.

As the conflict has raged, UN chief Antonio Guterres has condemned the "epic human suffering "and "collective punishment" of Palestinian civilians.

He and other world leaders have repeatedly called for a cease-fire.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel's war against Hamas will last for "many months" — until the Palestinian militant group has been eliminated.

"We will guarantee that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel," he told a news conference, adding that the military was involved in a "complex fight" and needed time to achieve its goals.

Hostages' release urged

As Netanyahu spoke, more than a thousand relatives and supporters of the hostages demonstrated in Tel Aviv to maintain pressure on his government to bring their loved ones home.

"I hope there's going to be another deal, even a partial deal or some will be released. I'm trying to hold on to every shred of hope," said Nir Shafran, 45.

International mediators — who in late November brokered a one-week truce that saw more than 100 hostages released and some aid enter Gaza — continue in their efforts to secure a new pause in fighting.

US news outlet Axios and Israeli website Ynet, both citing unnamed Israeli officials, reported that Qatari mediators had told Israel that Hamas was prepared to resume talks on new hostage releases in exchange for a cease-fire.

The Gaza conflict has also intensified tensions across the region.

Yemen's Houthi militia have repeatedly targeted vessels in the vital Red Sea shipping lane with strikes they say are in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

On Saturday, the US military said one of its destroyers shot down two anti-ship ballistic missiles fired from territory controlled by the Houthis.

Israel has also traded frequent cross-border fire with Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.

In Syria, at least 23 fighters were killed on Saturday in raids "likely" carried out by Israel, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Meanwhile, the Israeli government on Sunday approved the appointment of a new foreign minister to replace Eli Cohen, a statement said. Israel Katz, the current energy minister, will swap positions with Cohen as part of the ministerial rotation that is subject to parliamentary approval.

Agencies via Xinhua

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