A weekend of combat in Gaza kills 14 Israeli soldiers as public support for the war is tested

A weekend of combat in Gaza kills 14 Israeli soldiers as public support for the war is tested © Provided by The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Fourteen Israeli soldiers were killed in combat in Gaza over the weekend, the Israeli military said Sunday, in some of the bloodiest days of battle since the ground offensive began and a sign that Hamas is still putting up a fight despite weeks of brutal war.

The mounting death toll among Israeli troops — 153 since the ground offensive began — is likely an important factor in Israeli support for the war, which was sparked when Hamas-led militants stormed communities in southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,200 and taking 240 hostage.

The war has devastated parts of Gaza , killed roughly 20,400 Palestinians and displaced almost all of the besieged territory’s 2.3 million people. The Health Ministry in Gaza said 166 people were killed in the coastal enclave over the past day.

Israelis still stand behind the country’s stated goals of crushing Hamas’ governing and military capabilities and releasing the remaining 129 captives. That support has stayed mostly steady despite rising international pressure against Israel’s offensive and the soaring death toll and unprecedented suffering among Palestinians.

As Christmas Eve fell, smoke still rose over Gaza from the fighting while Bethlehem in the West Bank was hushed, its holiday celebrations called off.


The 14 Israeli soldiers killed on Friday and Saturday died in central and southern Gaza, a sign of how Hamas still puts up tough resistance even as Israel claims to have dealt the militant group a serious blow.

“The war exacts a very heavy price from us but we have no choice but to continue fighting,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Cabinet meeting.

There has been widespread anger against Netanyahu’s government, which many criticize for failing to protect civilians on Oct. 7 and promoting policies that allowed Hamas to gain strength over the years. Netanyahu has avoided accepting responsibility for the military and policy failures.

Efforts toward another cease-fire continued. On Sunday, the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group also involved in the Oct. 7 attack, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, arrived in Cairo for talks. The militant group said it was prepared to consider releasing hostages only after a cease-fire. Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyeh traveled to Cairo for talks days earlier.

Egypt and Qatar have been key mediators in the conflict.


Israel’s offensive has been one of the most devastating military campaigns in recent history. More than two-thirds of the 20,000 Palestinians killed have been women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza, which does not differentiate between civilians and combatants.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed in an Israeli drone attack while inside al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis, a part of Gaza where Israel’s military believes Hamas leaders are hiding.

An Israeli strike overnight hit a house in a refugee camp west of the city of Rafah, on Gaza’s border with Egypt. At least two men were killed, according to Associated Press journalists in the hospital where the bodies were taken.

At least two people were killed and six others wounded when a missile stuck a building in the Buriej refugee camp in central Gaza.

And Palestinians reported heavy Israeli bombardment and gunfire in Jabaliya, an area north of Gaza City that Israel had claimed to control. Hamas’ military arm said its fighters shelled Israeli troops in Jabaliya and Jabaliya refugee camp.

“Sounds of explosions and gunfire never stopped,” said Jabaliya resident Assad Radwan.

Israel has come under international criticism for the civilian death toll but it blames Hamas, citing the militants’ use of crowded residential areas and tunnels. Israel has launched thousands of airstrikes since Oct. 7, and has largely refrained from commenting on specific attacks.

Israel also faces allegations of mistreating Palestinian men and teenage boys detained in homes, shelters, hospitals and elsewhere during the offensive. It has denied abuse allegations and said those without links to militants are quickly released.

Speaking to the AP from a hospital bed in Rafah after his release, Khamis al-Burdainy of Gaza City said Israeli forces detained him after tanks and bulldozers partly destroyed his home. He said men were handcuffed and blindfolded.

“We didn’t sleep. We didn’t get food and water,” he said, crying and covering his face.

Another released detainee, Mohammed Salem, from the Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, said Israeli troops beat them. “We were humiliated,” he said. “A female soldier would come and beat an old man, aged 72 years old.”

Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas militants, without presenting evidence, and says it is dismantling Hamas’ vast tunnel network and killing off top commanders — an operation that leaders have said could take months.


The United Nations Security Council has passed a watered-down resolution calling for the speedy delivery of humanitarian aid for hungry and desperate Palestinians and the release of all the hostages, but not for a cease-fire.

But it was not immediately clear how and when deliveries of food, medical supplies and other aid, far below the daily average of 500 before the war, would accelerate. Trucks enter through two crossings — Rafah, and Kerem Shalom on the border with Israel. Wael Abu Omar, a spokesman for the Palestinian Crossings Authority, said 93 aid trucks entered Gaza through Rafah on Saturday.

The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, reiterated U.N. calls for a humanitarian cease-fire, adding on social media that “the decimation of the Gaza health system is a tragedy.”

Israel’s allies in Europe have stepped up calls for a stop to the fighting. But the U.S., Israel’s top ally, appeared to remain firmly behind Israel despite intensifying its calls for greater protection for civilians.

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu on Saturday, a day after Washington shielded Israel from a harsher U.N. resolution. Biden said he did not ask for a cease-fire, while Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister “made clear that Israel would continue the war until achieving all its goals.”

Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip. Magdy reported from Cairo

Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Source: Tia Goldenberg, Wafaa Shurafa And Samy Magdy, The Associated Press