GAZA STRIP (Palestinian Territories): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that peace can only be achieved in Gaza if Hamas is destroyed, the territory demilitarised and Palestinian society “deradicalised”, after warning the war is set to accelerate.
The statement came as the World Health Organization Monday reported “harrowing” accounts of entire families killed from Christmas Eve strikes on a refugee camp in Gaza.
Relentless Israeli strikes have devastated the Palestinian territory and the conflict has heightened tensions across the Middle East, with global pressure for a ceasefire increasing. But in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal on Monday night, Netanyahu vowed to stay the course.
“Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarised, and Palestinian society must be deradicalised. These are the three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbours in Gaza,” Netanyahu said.
He said demilitarisation “will require establishing a temporary security zone on the perimeter” of the territory.
“For the foreseeable future Israel will have to retain overriding security responsibility over Gaza,” he said.
Earlier on Monday Netanyahu visited Gaza, telling a meeting of his Likud party after his return: “We’re not stopping”.
“We’re intensifying the fighting in the coming days,” he said, according to a party statement.
Vast areas of Gaza lie in ruins and its 2.4 million people are enduring dire shortages of water, food, fuel and medicine, alleviated only by the limited arrival of aid trucks.
An estimated 1.9 million Gazans have been displaced, according to the UN, many fleeing south and crowded into shelters or makeshift tents in the winter cold.
“A humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza is the only way forward,” said the head of the UN refugee agency, Filippo Grandi.
In Monday’s Likud meeting, Netanyahu said he was ready to support the voluntary migration of civilians out of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
He reportedly told party members “our problem is not whether to allow an exit, but that there will be countries that are willing to absorb an exit”.
Hamas rejected any discussion of such a plan as “absurd”.
Palestinians “refuse to be deported and displaced. There can’t be exile and there is no other choice than to remain on our land”, it said in a statement.
Netanyahu also addressed parliament on Monday during a special session about the 129 hostages Israel says remain in Gaza. He was booed by families awaiting their loved ones’ return after 80 days in captivity.
“Now! Now!” relatives chanted as Netanyahu said Israeli forces needed “more time” to increase military pressure on Hamas, which he argued would help to secure the captives’ release.
The number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza has risen to 160, with an army spokesman announcing two more deaths early Tuesday morning.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said an Israeli air strike in Syria had killed Razi Moussavi, who state media described as “one of the most experienced advisers” of the military force’s foreign arm.
Yemen’s Huthi rebels, also Iran-backed, have fired at cargo vessels in the Red Sea, leading the United States to build a naval taskforce to deter the missile and drone strikes.