The Israeli prime minister vowed on Wednesday to continue Israel’s war on Hamas despite suffering “painful losses” in ground fighting inside the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the losses were a necessary part of waging what he calls “the second stage” of an offensive that will destroy the Palestinian militant group’s governing and military capabilities. In a televised address, he said Israel would enact “mighty vengeance” against the organization after it killed more than 150 Israelis and took dozens of hostages in a surprise attack on Saturday.
The army confirmed at least 11 soldiers were killed in ground fighting on Tuesday, bringing the total number of Israeli fatalities in the Gaza war to more than 700. Israeli officials have warned that the death toll could rise significantly if the offensive drags on. Israel has also stepped up airstrikes against the densely populated Palestinian enclave, killing more than 1,000 people and destroying thousands of buildings since the war began.
Palestinians have suffered massive civilian casualties, including many women and children. The United Nations has condemned the rising levels of bloodshed in the Gaza conflict and called for a halt to the bombing. But Western governments have primarily backed Israel’s right to self-defense.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has warned that the army may be forced to launch a ground invasion in Gaza. The army’s chief of staff has said a full-scale invasion is possible and that the war is not over. But the government has not ruled out a ceasefire or talks aimed at restoring a long-broken truce with Hamas, whose leaders have vowed to destroy Israel.
At a rare emergency session of the General Assembly on Thursday, representatives from Israel and Palestine passionately argued their cases. The Palestinians’ Riyad Mansour accused Israel of a bloody campaign against his people, claiming that hospitals were being shut down and neighborhoods destroyed. “Israel cannot remain above the law,” he told the chamber.
One of Israel’s most trusted advisers, Ron Dermer, was summoned to testify before the assembly as the country faced mounting international criticism over the level of civilian casualties and a growing humanitarian crisis. A former ambassador to the United States, he was a key figure in Israel’s attempt to normalize ties with Saudi Arabia and to curb Iran’s nuclear program before the war began.
In a sign of how quickly Israel has shifted to a war footing, the Israeli cabinet named a new coalition minister, Likud member Yair Lapid. He is not expected to join the emergency government that Netanyahu has already established, focusing on battling Hamas. Netanyahu and Gantz also vowed that the emergency government wouldn’t take up any unrelated policy or legislation. It is unclear how much Lapid’s presence will affect Israel’s ability to bolster its armed forces in the face of an unprecedented Hamas onslaught. The Israeli government has mobilized roughly 360,000 reserves as the war enters its fourth day. The United States has deployed two carrier strike groups near Lebanon to deter regional escalation.