Heavy fighting was reported across Gaza late into the evening on Monday, as Israel’s defence minister pushed back against international calls to wrap up the country’s military offensive in the territory, saying the current phase of the operation against Hamas would “take time”.
Yoav Gallant told the Associated Press the current phase of the conflict, characterised by heavy ground fighting backed up by air power, could stretch on for weeks and that further military activity could continue for months.
Gallant said the next phase would be lower-intensity fighting against “pockets of resistance” and would require Israeli troops to maintain their freedom of operation.
Gallant spoke as Israeli forces battled militants in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where the military opened a new line of attack last week.
On Monday, militants and residents said fighters were preventing Israeli tanks moving farther west, while clashes with Israeli forces in northern Gaza continued, despite Israel saying its mission there was largely complete.
Israeli bombing continued into the night on Monday, residents and health officials said. Medics said Israeli airstrikes killed at least 15 people in separate strikes in the central and southern Gaza Strip.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Hamas to “surrender now”, with his government claiming thousands of militants have been killed during the war, now in its third month.
Two months of airstrikes, coupled with the ground invasion, have resulted in the deaths of more than 18,200 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Israel launched the campaign after Hamas militants stormed across its southern border on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and kidnapping about 240 others.
On Monday, the White House expressed concern over reports that Israel used US-supplied white phosphorus in attacks on Lebanon, adding that it was seeking more details about the allegations.
Lebanon accused Israel of using the incendiary weapon in October, while the Washington Post on Monday said analysis of shell fragments from one attack showed the rounds were US-made.
“We’ve seen the reports, we’re certainly concerned about that. We’ll be asking questions to try to learn a little bit more,” said national security council spokesperson John Kirby.
The use of white phosphorus as a chemical weapon is prohibited under international law, but it is allowed for illuminating battlefields and can be used as a smokescreen.
Amid growing pressure over the humanitarian conditions, Israel announced it would be screening aid to Gaza at two additional checkpoints, before sending them to Gaza through Rafah gateway.
UN humanitarian agency OCHA said on Sunday that about 100 trucks a day were bringing humanitarian supplies from Egypt into Gaza since the week-long truce ended on 1 December, compared with a daily average of 500 before the war.
The additional checkpoints will screen “trucks containing water, food, medical supplies and shelter equipment”, according to a joint statement from the Israeli army and COGAT, the defence ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs.
It emphasised that “no supplies will be entering the Gaza Strip from Israel”, only via Egypt.
Aid agencies have warned that hunger is worsening in the territory, with the UN World Food Programme saying half of the population was starving.
UN officials say 1.9 million people – 85% of Gaza’s population – are displaced and describe the conditions in the southern areas where they have concentrated as hellish.
On Tuesday, the 193-member UN general assembly will meet to discuss the humanitarian crisis, after the US last week vetoed a security council resolution for a ceasefire.
The draft resolution to be voted on mirrors the language of the one that was blocked at the security council. General assembly resolutions are not binding but carry political weight and reflect global views.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
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