Israel suffers biggest blow since start of war on Gaza

Published January 24, 2024
Israeli soldiers watch the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, January 23, 2024. — Reuters
Israeli soldiers watch the Israel-Gaza border, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, as seen from southern Israel, January 23, 2024. — Reuters

GAZA STRIP: Israel said on Tuesday 24 soldiers were killed in the biggest single-day losses since the start of its ground war in Gaza amid growing pressure on the government to find a way to end the conflict.

The heavy clashes came as a White House official was due in the region for talks aimed at securing more hostage releases, and as US media reported a new Israeli proposal for a deal that would involve a two-month pause in fighting.

Twenty-four soldiers were killed on Monday, with the army saying 21 of them were reservists slain when rocket-propelled grenade fire hit a tank and two buildings they were trying to blow up.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said an investigation was launched into the “disaster” and that Israel “must learn the necessary lessons”. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said the “deaths of 24 of our fighters, our best sons…is a heavy blow”.

More than 200 people attended the funeral of one of the reservists, Hadar Kapeluk, whose coffin was draped with an Israeli flag, at Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jerusalem.

24 soldiers killed in strike on Israeli tank, buildings; US, UK renew attack on Yemen’s Houthis

An analyst said the mounting toll of soldiers killed — now 221 — since Israel launched its ground offensive in Gaza would heap pressure on the government.

“Everybody is mourning the soldiers this morning and I think people will demand clear answers about the purpose and the goal of this operation in Gaza,” said Israela Oron of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

On the ground, fighting raged in Khan Yunis, the biggest city in southern Gaza, which the army said it had “encircled”.

Witnesses said powerful explosions rocked Khan Yunis, as well as Deir al-Balah in north Gaza and Rafah in the south.

Famine threat

UN agencies and aid groups have sounded the alarm about the growing threat of disease and famine in Gaza, where 1.7 million people are estimated to have been uprooted.

“The situation in Gaza is of course slipping every day into a much more catastrophic situation,” with “a looming threat of famine”, said Abeer Etefa, the World Food Programme’s senior spokeswoman for the Middle East.

Abu Iyad, his belongings piled on a donkey-drawn cart, said he was moving for the seventh time, fleeing Khan Yunis for Rafah on the Egyptian border, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinians have sought shelter, many in makeshift tents.

“I’m heading to the unknown,” he told AFP. “They told us to go to Rafah — where to go in Rafah? Is there any space left?”

US, UK hit Yemen’s Houthis

The Gaza war spurred fears of a wider escalation, with a surge in violence involving Iran-backed Hamas allies across the region.

Hezbollah movement said on Tuesday it struck the Israeli air control base of Meron for a second time in recent weeks, in response to Israeli assassinations and attacks on civilians.

The United States and Britain launched a new wave of air strikes against Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis on Tuesday over their attacks on Red Sea shipping. In response, the Houthis warned that “these attacks will not go unanswered and unpunished”.

New deal proposed

US news outlet Axios reported on Monday night that Israel had proposed to Hamas, via Qatari and Egyptian mediators, a new deal to free all the hostages.

The report, citing unnamed Israeli officials, said the proposed deal would be carried out in multiple stages, and would also involve the release of an undetermined number of Palestinian prisoners. The plan was expected to take about two months to complete.

The proposal does not include promises to end the war, but it would involve Israeli troops reducing their presence in major cities in Gaza and gradually allowing residents to return to the territory’s devastated north, Axios said.

News of the proposal comes as US media said the White House’s coordinator for the Middle East, Brett McGurk, was expected in Egypt and Qatar for meetings aimed at securing a new hostage exchange deal.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2024

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