‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’ Day 86: Israel Falls in ‘Serious Strategic Trap’ in Gaza as Netanyahu Vows to Fight ‘for Months’

PALESTINE - ISRAEL, 1 Jan 2024

Mustafa Abu Sneineh | Mondoweiss - TRANSCEND Media Service

Gaza massacre damage Dec 2023 – via Wikimedia Commons

31 Dec 2023 – The Israeli war cabinet pressures Netanyahu to discuss “the day after” in Gaza as Hamas broadcasts videos of targeting Israeli tanks, and the PFLP says a captive soldier died during an Israeli airstrike. Meanwhile, UNRWA warns of widespread hunger.

Casualties

  • 21,822+ killed* and at least 56,451 wounded in the Gaza Strip.
  • 316 Palestinians killed in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem
  • Israel revises its estimated October 7 death toll down from 1,400 to 1,147.
  • 504 Israeli soldiers killed since October 7, and at least 1,952 injured.

*This figure was confirmed by Gaza’s Ministry of Health on December 31. Due to breakdowns in communication networks within the Gaza Strip, the Ministry of Health in Gaza has been unable to regularly and accurately update its tolls since mid-November. Some rights groups put the death toll number closer to 28,000 when accounting for those presumed dead.

Key Developments

  • Israeli airstrike kills Yousef Salama, former Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs, in his home in Al-Maghzai refugee camp.
  • UNRWA warns of widespread hunger in Gaza Strip as Israeli forces choke off aid, food, water, and fuel supplies from entering.
  • With scarcity of staples such as flour, dozens of Palestinian families resort to sea for food, throwing primitive nets to catch fish for a meal, Al-Jazeera Arabic reported.
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says fighting in Gaza will continue “for months” as government postpones local election until February.
  • Haaretz newspaper warns Israel is finding itself in “strategic trap” in Gaza as it battles Hezbollah in Lebanon, Ansar Allah in Yemen, and Islamic Resistance movement in Iraq.
  • Netanyahu says “if Hezbollah widens the fighting, it will absorb strikes it never dreamed of. And so, too, Iran.”
  • PFLP’s Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades announces death of Israeli soldier in captivity, spokesperson Abu Jamal says PFLP fighters destroyed 95 Israeli vehicles since late October.
  • Hamas’s Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades broadcasts video compilation of fighters attacking Israeli tanks and bulldozers with 105mm Palestinian-made Al-Yaseem anti-tank shells.
  • Israeli drones fire missiles in Nour Shams refugee camp in Tulkarem, injuring two residents.

Israeli air raid kills Yousef Salama, former Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs

Gaza’s Ministry of Health announced on Sunday morning that 21,822 Palestinian martyrs were killed and 56,451 injured in the 86 days of Israel’s aggression in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds remain missing under the rubble and are believed to be dead.

In the past 24 hours, Israeli airstrikes and artillery shelling killed at least 50 martyrs in 12 massacres; according to the Ministry of Health, 64 of them were killed in Israeli attacks in central Gaza.

Yousef Salama, the former Palestinian Authority’s (PA) Minister of Endowments and Religious Affairs, was killed in an Israeli raid on his home in Al-Maghzai refugee camp on Sunday morning.

Salama, who was an Imam and a preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem, was killed along with other members of his family.

UNWRA warns of widespread hunger in Gaza 

Thomas White, the director of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, warned of widespread hunger in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces are choking off sufficient supplies of aid, food, water, and fuel from entering the enclave.

“People are hungry and just desperate for food,” he wrote on X, sharing a video of hundreds of people swarming and climbing one of the few UNRWA aid trucks allowed into Gaza last week.

“40% of the population [are] at risk of famine. More regular supplies needed – require safe and sustainable humanitarian access everywhere including to the North of Gaza,” he added.

Journeys of UNRWA’s conveys to and from north Gaza were fraught with risk. White said that last week, Israeli soldiers opened fire at a UNRWA convoy while it was heading back from north Gaza, damaging one vehicle.

With the scarcity of essential food, such as flour, dozens of Palestinian families resorted to the sea, throwing their nets to catch fish or crab for a meal.

In the early days of Israel’s pummelling of Gaza, dozens of bakeries were bombed, some of them while people were queuing to get their ration of bread for the day.

Al-Jazeera Arabic reported that Palestinians went back to the damaged seaside by Israeli tanks and bombardment. One fisherman told Al-Jazeera that Israeli forces destroyed all motorized boats in the Gaza port, leaving intact a few hasakahs, or small fishing boats that cannot venture deeply into the sea.

Israeli forces continue bombing Palestinian houses in Gaza

As of Saturday evening, 25 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli bombing of houses in Al-Maghazi and Al-Nuseirat refugee camps and Al-Zawaida neighborhood in central Gaza, and Rafah in the south.

Wafa news agency reported that three people were killed when Israeli forces attacked the house of the Salem family in Al-Nuseirat’s Al-Sawarha area, while dozens of people were injured from the Abu Hamda family, west of the camp.

The Shehadeh family saw five members killed in an Israeli airstrike on their house in Al-Maghazi, and dozens were injured in the attack and were transferred to the nearby Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.

Israel also bombed the Abu Jumaa family home in Al-Zawaida in central Gaza, killing 12 people and injuring others, while in eastern Rafah, Israeli warplanes bombed the house of Eid Rafiq Salman Abu Rashid in the Al-Salam neighborhood.

In Rafah’s Tal Al-Sultan neighborhood, the house of Abu Jamous was also bombed.

On Sunday morning, Israeli forces destroyed three mosques in different areas in the Gaza Strip. Al-Muhajireen and Al-Sahaba mosques were bombed in Al-Maghazi camp, and Al-Furqan mosque in the Al-Hakar area in Deir Al-Balah.

The house of the Qandil family was attacked by Israel on Sunday morning, as well as the offices of the Al-Salah Association in Al-Maghazi refugee camp, Wafa reported.

Wafa reported that the Al-Awda Hospital received dozens of injured and dead Palestinians in Israeli airstrikes in Al-Nuseirat camp on Sunday morning. In the east of Khan Younis, an Israeli helicopter fired machine gun rounds at Palestinians while ground forces shelled the eastern part of Al-Bureij and Al-Nuseirat refugee camps.

The Al-Tahrawi family’s house, west of Rafah, was targeted by an Israeli drone missile on Sunday. Dozens were reportedly killed and injured.

Israel’s Netanyahu says fighting will drag on for months

Armed battles between Palestinian resistance fighters and Israeli forces are now focused in northern Gaza’s neighborhoods and in the towns around Khan Younis in central Gaza.

Israeli forces released a video on Friday of targeting a Palestinian fighter from the air, killing him while he was running. He was identified as Tayseer Abu Ta’imeh, a fighter in the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades.

His gesture before his last breath in Khan Yunis went viral on social media. Abu Ta’imeh raised the index finger of his right hand in a sign of Shahada, a testimony in Islam, before bowing down on the ground and dying.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that fighting in Gaza will continue “for months” as his government postponed the local election to February.

Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure from the war cabinet to discuss “the day after” in Gaza, as well as widespread and continued protests in Tel Aviv calling for his resignation.

His two coalition ministers, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, are also pushing him to carry on with the war in Gaza. Ben-Gvir previously threatened to resign if the war stopped, while Smotrich had objected to last week’s meeting about “the day after” in the war cabinet, which led Netanyahu to cancel it altogether.

Though Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are not members of the war cabinet, they have immense leverage over Netanyahu’s government, as their alliance won 14 seats in the Knesset.

Haaretz says Israel fell into ‘serious strategic trap’

The Israeli political analyst Amos Harel warned in Haaretz that Israel is finding itself in a “strategic binding” in Gaza as it is battling the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon, Yemen’s Ansar Allah group (commonly known as the “Houthis”), and Iraq’s Islamic Resistance movement.

Harel wrote that “the truth must be told: Israel finds itself in a serious strategic trap” following Hamas cross-fence attacks on October 7.

He added that “security threats that were repressed for years, in a manner that allowed most Israeli citizens to go about their daily routine with a limited sense of risk, escalated greatly, fundamentally altering Israeli everyday life.”

Harel said that it remains unclear how Israel could get out of the trap, warning that “a near-permanent situation could emerge in which a prolonged war of attrition will be waged along two borders at least,” referring to Gaza and Lebanon.

Israel had kept these two conflicts unresolved on the back burner, but after October 7, Harel wrote that “Palestinian conflict and the confrontation with Hezbollah…have returned to the center of the regional stage.”

On Saturday, Netanyahu threatened that “If Hezbollah widens the fighting, it will absorb strikes it never dreamed of. And so, too, Iran. We will fight by all means until we have restored security for the residents of the north.”

Since October 27, the Israeli military said that 174 soldiers were killed in battles with Palestinian fighters in Gaza. Maariv reported that since October, the Barzilai Hospital in Tel Aviv has treated 3,500 injured Israelis.

PFLP’s Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades announce death of Israeli soldier in captivity 

On Saturday, the military spokesperson of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the armed wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), announced the death of a soldier in its captivity during an Israeli airstrike.

The PFLP is the second-largest political group in the Palestine Liberation Organization after Fatah, as Hamas is not a formal member of the PLO.

Abu Jamal, the military spokesperson of the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, said that the airstrike took place after a botched operation by an Israeli special force to free the soldier. Several other captives were injured.

Abu Jamal said that the PFLP still holds the body of the Israeli soldier captive, and it seized some of the special force’s equipment, which included flash memory sticks and a laptop. A video showing the dead body of the Israeli soldier and electric equipment was broadcast.

Abu Jamal said that the PFLP fighters destroyed 95 Israeli vehicles since late October.

Hamas’s Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam also broadcast a video compilation of its resistance fighters attacking Israeli tanks and bulldozers with the 105mm Palestinian-made Al-Yaseem anti-tank shells.

A Hamas fighter appears to plant an explosive on the body of the Israeli Merkava tank after emerging from a tunnel shaft in Khan Younis. The fighter activates the bomb and then runs back to the tunnel.

Al-Qassam also released a video of its forces attacking Israeli soldiers in the Al-Daraj and Al-Tuffah neighborhoods in Gaza City, and of an Israeli Skylark-2 reconnaissance drone downed in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces raid Al-Fawwar and Nour Shams refugee camps

Israeli forces arrested dozens of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank cities of Nablus, Tulkarem, Hebron, and Jericho.

An Israeli drone fired missiles, injuring two Palestinians, in Nour Shams refugee camp in Tulkarem, while forces surrounded the Thabet Thabet Governmental Hospital in the city, Wafa reported.

The drone attacks were launched at Al-Ghanem and Al-Madars neighborhoods in Nour Shams, in an operation that lasted 10 hours.

Israel fears that Nour Shams will be turned into a launching pad of resistance attacks on settlers and military barracks in the northern West Bank, and its army has been raiding Tulkarem on a near daily basis for the past several months as part of its “mowing the lawn” counterinsurgency strategy.

Dozens of Israeli military vehicles raided Al-Fawwar refugee camp in Hebron on Saturday night following a car-ramming attack on a military checkpoint.

Ammar Abu Hussein injured four Israeli soldiers before being shot on Saturday afternoon. Israeli forces stormed his family house in Al-Fawwar camp and notified them of a demolition order. Several Palestinians from Al-Fawwar were also arrested during the raid.

Since October 7, Israeli forces and settlers killed at least 316 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.

_________________________________________

Mustafa Abu Sneineh is a journalist, poet and writer from the city of Al-Quds in Occupied Palestine. His first poetry book, A Black Cloud at the End of the Line, was published in Arabic in 2016. He writes for both English and Arabic publications.

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