Death toll in Gaza soars above 25,000 as Netanyahu seeks ‘complete victory’

Death Toll In Gaza Soars Above 25,000 As Netanyahu Seeks ‘Complete Victory’
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By Najib Jobain and Samy Magdy, Associated Press

The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas has soared past 25,000, the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip has said, while the Israeli government appears far from achieving its goals of crushing the militant group and freeing more than 100 hostages.

The level of death, destruction and displacement from the war is without precedent in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Israeli officials say the fighting is likely to continue for several more months.


The conflict and the plight of hostages held in Gaza have divided ordinary Israelis and their leaders, while the offensive threatens to ignite a wider war involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen that support the Palestinians. In Lebanon, Hezbollah forces have engaged in near-daily clashes with Israeli troops along the border.

An Israeli air strike on Sunday hit a car near a Lebanese army checkpoint in the southern town of Kafra, killing at least one person and injuring several others, Lebanese state media reported. The identities of those killed and injured were not immediately clear.

The United States, which has provided essential diplomatic and military support for Israel’s offensive, has had limited success in persuading Israel to put civilians at less risk and to facilitate the delivery of more humanitarian aid.

Air strike debris
Palestinians surround a car which was hit by an Israeli air strike in Rafah, Gaza Strip (Hatem Ali/AP)


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US and international calls for post-war plans that would include a path to Palestinian statehood.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the refusal to accept a two-state solution “totally unacceptable”.

Speaking on Sunday, he added: “The Middle East is a tinderbox. We must do all we can to prevent conflict igniting across the region.


“That starts with an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to relieve the suffering in Gaza.”

The war began with Hamas’s surprise attack into Israel on October 7, in which Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 250 hostages.

Israel’s military announced the death of 19-year-old Sergeant Shay Levinson, who was among the hostages.

His date of death was given as October 7, but there were no further details.


According to Israeli media, his body is still in Gaza.

Tel Aviv demo
A man holds a sign calling for the release of the hostages taken by Hamas during a demonstration in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday (Leo Correa/AP)

Israel responded with a three-week air campaign and then a ground invasion into northern Gaza that flattened entire neighbourhoods.


Gaza’s Health Ministry said 25,105 Palestinians have been killed in the territory since October 7, and another 62,681 have been injured.

The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its death toll but says around two-thirds of those killed were women and children.

The toll included the 178 bodies brought to Gaza’s hospitals since Saturday, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra said. Another 300 people were injured in the past day, he added.

Israeli ground operations are now focused on the southern city of Khan Younis and built-up refugee camps in central Gaza dating back to the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

“The plumes of smoke from tanks, artillery and the planes of the air force will continue to cover the sky over the Gaza Strip until we will achieve our goals,” defence minister Yoav Gallant said.

Israel’s military said the demolition last week of a key building at Israa University in Gaza was under review, and asserted that preliminary findings indicated Hamas had used the compound for military purposes.

The university has said the “attack” came weeks after Israeli forces occupied the building.

Israel continues to carry out air strikes throughout the besieged territory, including areas in the south where it told civilians to seek refuge. Many Palestinians have ignored evacuation orders, saying nowhere feels safe.

UN officials say a quarter of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million is starving as only a trickle of humanitarian aid enters because of the fighting and Israeli restrictions.

The Israeli military says it has killed around 9,000 militants, without providing evidence, and blames the high civilian death toll on Hamas because it positions fighters, tunnels and other militant infrastructure in dense neighbourhoods, often near homes, schools or mosques.

The military released footage of a tunnel under a residential neighbourhood in Khan Younis where the army believes at least 20 hostages were kept at different times.

Benjamin Netanyahu
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he seeks ‘complete victory’ over Hamas (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Mr Netanyahu has vowed to keep up the offensive until Israel achieves “complete victory” over Hamas and returns all remaining hostages. But even some top Israeli officials have begun to acknowledge those goals might be mutually exclusive.

Hamas is believed to be holding the captives in tunnels and using them as shields for its top leaders. Israel has managed to rescue just one hostage, and Hamas says several have been killed in Israeli air strikes or during failed rescue operations.

A member of Israel’s war cabinet, former army chief Gadi Eisenkot, said last week the only way to free the hostages is through a ceasefire. In an implicit criticism of Mr Netanyahu, he said claims to the contrary amount to “illusions”.

Hamas has said it will not free more hostages until Israel ends its offensive. The group is expected to make any further releases conditional on securing freedom for thousands of Palestinians imprisoned in Israel, including high-profile militants involved in attacks that killed Israelis.

Israel’s government has ruled that out for now, but it faces growing pressure from families of the hostages, who are pushing for an exchange like the one that took place during a week-long ceasefire in November.

Some Israelis are also frustrated by the security failures that preceded the October 7 attack and by Mr Netanyahu’s handling of the war. Thousands of people gathered in Tel Aviv over the weekend to call for new elections.

But Mr Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners are pushing him to step up the offensive, with some calling for the “voluntary” emigration of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from Gaza and the re-establishment of Jewish settlements there.

Israel withdrew soldiers and settlers from the territory in 2005, two years before Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces.

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