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Bid to minimise civilian losses not successful, says Netanyahu

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Picture: AFP / Taken on October 18, 2023 – People search through debris outside the site of the Ahli Arab hospital in central Gaza in the aftermath of an overnight strike there on October 18. A blast ripped through a hospital in war-torn Gaza killing hundreds of people late on October 17, sparking global condemnation and angry protests around the world.

By Reuters and Sputnik

Fighting raged in the Gaza Strip yesterday, nearly six weeks after a Hamas attack in Israel sparked retaliatory bombings and a ground offensive by Israeli forces, which vow to destroy the Palestinian militant group.

Israeli troops carried out searches at Gaza’s main hospital complex after a communications blackout in the Palestinian territory compounded fears for civilians trapped inside the facility.

Israeli soldiers raided Al-Shifa hospital on Wednesday, hunting for a command centre they say militant group Hamas operates at the site.

Hamas and hospital managers deny that charge, and there has been international concern about thousands of wounded patients believed to be inside.

The Israeli army said soldiers found a tunnel shaft used by Hamas militants at Al-Shifa hospital, Reuters reported.

The army released a video it said showed a tunnel entrance in an outdoor area of Al-Shifa, Gaza’s biggest hospital. The video, which Reuters could not immediately verify, showed a deep hole, littered with and surrounded by concrete and wood rubble and sand.

Hospitals cannot be attacked under any circumstances even during an armed conflict, Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin said yesterday, commenting on developments in the Gaza Strip.

“There are several places that should be protected even during the war. It concerns primarily hospitals, and there should be no obstacles to the work of medical staff. The church insists on it,” Parolin told the Sky TG24 broadcaster.

Hamas said claims by the Pentagon and US State Department that the group used Al-Shifa hospital for military purposes “is a repetition of a blatantly false narrative, demonstrated by the weak and ridiculous performances of the occupation army spokesperson”.

The Israeli army also said it killed at least five militants in the West Bank, as Hamas admitted a number of its fighters were killed in the overnight raid.

Israeli forces carried out the operation overnight Thursday-Friday in a refugee camp in Jenin – a city in the north of the West Bank.

In Gaza, the two telecoms companies said all services in the territory were down as energy supplies had run out.

With communications out and in the absence of fuel, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it was impossible to co-ordinate humanitarian aid truck convoys. The UN voiced concern that no aid would be delivered to Palestinians yesterday via the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

Gaza health authorities deemed reliable by the UN said at least 11,500 people had been confirmed killed in an Israeli bombardment and ground invasion – more than 4,700 of them children.

US television’s CBS News asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu whether Israel’s killing of thousands of Palestinians as it retaliates for the October 7 attack by Hamas militants would fuel a new generation of hatred.

Israel was doing all it can to get civilians out of harm’s way as it battles Hamas in Gaza, including dropping leaflets warning them to flee, but its attempts to minimise casualties were “not successful”, Netanyahu said on Thursday. “Any civilian death is a tragedy. And we shouldn’t have any because we’re doing everything we can to get the civilians out of harm’s way, while Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way.”

Israel has said the goal of its military campaign is to destroy Hamas.

“The other thing that I can say is that we’ll try to finish that job with minimal civilian casualties. That’s what we’re trying to do: minimal civilian casualties. But unfortunately, we’re not successful,” Netanyahu said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, on his visit to Israel, called on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

“I understand your rage but let me ask you not to be consumed by rage,” he said.

In Israel, opposition leader Yair Lapid said this week that it was time to replace Netanyahu and that there would be broad support to form a unity government led by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.

Centrist Lapid, who served briefly as prime minister last year, said he believed most of the 120 legislators in the Knesset (parliament) would sign on to such a coalition.

“The time has come – we need to establish a national reconstruction government,” Lapid wrote on social media platform X.

Netanyahu’s Likud is the largest party in the ruling coalition, which includes ultra-nationalist and religious parties. They control 64 seats in parliament. Lapid refused to join Netanyahu’s war cab-inet at the start of the war, although other centrist lawmakers agreed to do so and help manage the conflict.

“I hear those saying this is not the time. We waited 40 days, there is no more time. What we need now is a govern¬ment that will deal with nothing other than security and the economy.”

Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) lawsuit filed by Türkiye against Netanyahu would have political consequences for the Israeli state, Belgian military expert Pierre Henrot told Sputnik.

Earlier this week, lawyers for the ruling Justice and Development Party in Türkiye said the country had filed a lawsuit against Netanyahu with the ICC, accusing him of “committing genocide” in the Gaza Strip.

“The risks for Netanyahu are personal with an impossibility to travel to many countries, including European states that recognise the role of the ICC. But the political risks for Israel are much worse,” Henrot said, suggesting there could be, among other things, growing demands for Israel to give up Palestinian territory and make territorial concessions to Syria or Lebanon. – Reuters and Sputnik