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gaza: Israel vows to fight on in Gaza despite deadly ambush and rising international pressure

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Israel has vowed to keep fighting in Gaza until it crushes Hamas after one of the deadliest single battles of the war for its soldiers, even as it faces mounting international calls for a cease-fire and unease on the part of its closest ally, the United States.

The ambush a fresh reminder that Hamas is still able to fight after six weeks of devastating warfare aimed at crushing its military capabilities. Israel has imposed a total siege and flattened much of northern Gaza with a massive air and ground campaign, driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.

Hamas’ resilience has called into question whether Israel can defeat Hamas without wiping out Gaza. Support for Hamas has surged among Palestinians, in part because of the militant group’s stiff resistance to a far more powerful foe, while Israel’s most important ally, the U.S., has expressed growing discomfort over civilian deaths in what is already one of the 21st century’s most devastating military campaigns.

“We are continuing until the end, there is no question,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said late Wednesday. “I say this even given the great pain and the international pressure. Nothing will stop us.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was set to visit Israel on Thursday. The U.S. has pressed Israel to take greater measures to spare civilians, and President Joe Biden said earlier this week that Israel was losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing.”

The ambush took place Tuesday in the dense Gaza City neighborhood of Shijaiyah, which was also the scene of a major battle during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. The dead included two high-ranking officers. A total of 116 soldiers have been killed in the ground offensive, which began Oct. 27. Heavy fighting has raged for days in Shijaiyah and other areas in and around eastern Gaza City that were encircled earlier in the war. Tens of thousands of people remain in the north despite repeated evacuation orders, saying they don’t feel safe anywhere in Gaza or fear they may never return to their homes if they leave them. A HEAVY CIVILIAN TOLL Israel’s air and ground assault, launched in response to Hamas’ unprecedented attack into southern Israel on Oct. 7, has killed more than 18,600 Palestinians, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Its latest count did not specify how many were women and minors, but they have consistently made up around two-thirds of the dead in previous tallies. Thousands more are missing and feared dead beneath the rubble.

Nearly 1.9 million Palestinians have been driven from their homes, with most seeking refuge in the south, even as Israel has continued to strike what it says are militant targets in all parts of the territory, often killing women and children.

Residents reported Israeli airstrikes overnight in Rafah, the southernmost town along the Egyptian border. An Associated Press reporter saw 27 bodies brought into a local hospital early Thursday.

New evacuation orders issued as troops pushed into the southern city of Khan Younis earlier this month have pushed U.N.-run shelters to the breaking point and forced people to set up tent camps in even less hospitable areas.

Heavy rain and cold in recent days has compounded their misery, swamping tent camps and forcing families to crowd around fires to keep warm.

Israel has sealed Gaza off to all but a trickle of humanitarian aid, and U.N. agencies have struggled to distribute it since the offensive expanded to the south because of fighting and road closures. Almost no aid has reached the north since the start of the war.

RISING SUPPORT FOR HAMAS Israel might have hoped that the war and its hardships would turn Palestinians against Hamas, hastening its demise, but as with previous rounds of violence, it seems to be having the opposite effect.

A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found 44% of respondents in the occupied West Bank said they supported Hamas, up from just 12% in September. In Gaza, the militants enjoyed 42% support, up from 38% three months ago.

That’s still a minority in both territories. But even many Palestinians who do not share Hamas’ commitment to destroying Israel and oppose its attacks on civilians see it as resisting Israel’s decades-old occupation of lands they want for a future state.

The poll meanwhile showed overwhelming rejection of Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with nearly 90% saying he must resign. The 88-year-old leader’s administration is widely seen by Palestinians as a corrupt and autocratic accomplice to the occupation because it works with Israel to suppress Hamas and other militant groups.

The U.S. wants Abbas’ internationally recognized Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, to also govern Gaza. Hamas seized Gaza from the PA in 2007. The U.S. also wants to revive the long-defunct peace process to negotiate the creation of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu’s government is firmly opposed to Palestinian statehood and has said it will maintain open-ended security control over Gaza.

Late Wednesday, Hamas’ supreme leader, Ismail Haniyeh, said any plans for Gaza that do not involve Hamas are an “illusion and mirage,” though he said the group is open to halting the fighting. Haniyeh lives in exile in Qatar, but it was not clear where he was when he made those comments.

Israelis remain strongly supportive of the war and see it as necessary to prevent a repeat of Oct. 7, when Hamas burst through the country’s vaunted defenses. Palestinian militants attacked communities across southern Israel that day, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 hostage.

Around half the hostages, mostly women and children, were released last month during a weeklong cease-fire in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

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