Netanyahu vows to press on with Gaza war despite heavy Israeli soldier losses

Nine killed and 75 wounded in Israeli strike on centre sheltering tens of thousands of displaced Palestinians, UNRWA says

Israeli women during a protest to demand action to ensure the immediate release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip. AP
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to continue with the war on Gaza, as his government reeled from the death of 24 soldiers on Monday and amid growing concern over the fate of Israeli hostages held by Hamas.

“We will continue to strive with determination to defeat the cruel enemy and continue the national renaissance, thus fulfilling the wishes of our mighty sons, mighty in spirit and action,” he said in an address to parliament.

Mr Netanyahu spoke as the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said a training centre sheltering hundreds of displaced people has been struck on Wednesday.

At least nine people were killed and 75 others wounded in the attack, Thomas White, director of UNRWA affairs in Gaza, said on X, formerly Twitter.

"Two tank rounds hit the building that was sheltering around 800 people in the southern Gaza Strip," he said.

"Safe access to and from the centre has been denied for two days, people are trapped," Mr White said.

Monday was the deadliest day for Israel since October 7, when Hamas fighters infiltrated its territory and the latest Gaza war began.

Twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed in central Gaza on Monday, when a militant fired a rocket-propelled grenade towards troops who were rigging two buildings with explosives, to demolish them.

Three other soldiers died in separate incidents in the enclave.

A veteran Palestinian politician in Gaza described the casualties as a “reality check because Israelis are not yet accustomed to an open war of four months.”

“You could see from the local media and statements that Israelis were in shock: how can this number of soldiers be killed after more than 100 days of war?” he said.

The politician, who asked to remain anonymous, said Mr Netanyahu found no way out but to issue a joint statement with war council members who "declared in unison that the event was very painful, but the war would continue".

Fighting in Gaza continued to rage on Wednesday, particularly in the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli forces said they killed a number of Hamas operatives.

“This announcement had no meaning other than to tell the Israelis and the world that Israel has no choice but to complete the path toward the declared goals," said the Palestinian politician.

“But the whole world believes that achieving those goals is almost impossible. Defeating the Palestinians in Gaza is an unattainable goal.”

Medics told The National on Wednesday that at least 50 Palestinians died and 120 were wounded in Israeli bombardment in the city, within a 24-hour period.

Meanwhile, residents in the north said that they heard intense clashes, accompanied by heavy Israeli artillery shelling, since the early hours of the day.

The continuing bloodshed is reflecting negatively on Israeli public opinion, particularly on the issue of whether the priority should be to eliminate Hamas or rescue the many Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Many Israelis favour a diplomatic process, rather than a military one.

Women’s groups blocked streets across Israel on Wednesday, demanding that the government do more to return hostages, mirroring a rise in similar demonstrations in recent weeks.

However, the majority of Israelis appear to still support the war.

The Israel Democracy Institute released a poll on Wednesday that found 60 per cent of Jewish Israelis oppose a hostage deal in exchange for a pause in fighting with Hamas and the release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails.

Updated: January 24, 2024, 3:47 PM