ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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US says Israel promised no more photos of stripped prisoners

Israeli leaders: War to go on until Hamas defeated, ‘with or without’ world’s approval

Netanyahu says ‘nothing will stop’ Gaza op, while FM Cohen tells visiting Australian minister ceasefire would be a ‘gift’ to Hamas; Washington welcomes recent humanitarian efforts

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a detention facility in southern Israel where Hamas operatives detained in the Gaza Strip are being questioned by the IDF's 504 human intelligence unit, December 13, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a detention facility in southern Israel where Hamas operatives detained in the Gaza Strip are being questioned by the IDF's 504 human intelligence unit, December 13, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen both vowed Wednesday that the military offensive against the Hamas terror group will continue “until the end,” indicating Israel would not buckle to mounting international pressure for a ceasefire.

Netanyahu made his remarks during a visit to a detention facility in southern Israel where Hamas gunmen captured in the Gaza Strip are being questioned by the Israel Defense Forces’ human intelligence unit 504.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu received a briefing about the unit’s work and the interrogation procedures.

He told the unit’s soldiers that “we are continuing until the end, until victory, until the elimination of Hamas” — even in the face of international pressure. “Nothing will stop us,” he said.

“Let there be no doubt on this matter,” he added.

Netanyahu also expressed appreciation for the military’s work in Gaza, adding that “yesterday we had a very tough day,” when 10 soldiers were killed in Gaza — nine of them in a Hamas ambush in the Strip’s north.

Echoing the prime minister’s sentiments, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also said the war against Hamas will continue “with or without international support.”

“A ceasefire at the current stage is a gift to the terrorist organization Hamas, and will allow it to again threaten the residents of Israel,” Cohen told Australia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tim Watts, according to a statement issued by his ministry.

The comments by the premier and top diplomat came a day after the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages.

And US President Joe Biden, who has provided unprecedented support for Israel since the outbreak of the war, went after Netanyahu and members of his hardline coalition over their opposition to a two-state solution while warning that Israel was losing global support due to its “indiscriminate bombing” in Gaza.

War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern Israel October 7, massacring 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 people hostage. Israel then launched its campaign against the terror group, vowing to eliminate its military and government in the Gaza Strip, where it has ruled since 2007.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that, since the start of the war, more than 18,600 people have been killed, mostly civilians. These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include some 7,000 Hamas terrorists, according to Israel, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Another estimated 1,000 terrorists were killed in Israel during the October 7 onslaught.

Under a previous ceasefire deal, which was broken by Hamas, 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, in exchange for 210 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors.

Touching on an issue that sparked some friction this week, US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Wednesday that Israel has informed the Biden administration that photographs published of Palestinian men stripped down to their underwear after being detained by the IDF in Gaza for suspected Hamas ties should not have been taken or disseminated.

An apparent Hamas member with his hands up turns in an assault rifle after surrendering to troops in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, on December 9, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Israelis “made it clear going forward that that will not be their practice, and that if they do conduct searches of detainees, they will give them their clothes back immediately,” Miller said during a briefing.

Hundreds of young and old Palestinian men were seen in the recent pictures and videos. Israel has said they were not formally disseminated by the IDF but that those arrested included surrendering Hamas fighters.

Miller acknowledged Israel’s security concerns for initially ordering Palestinians to strip, pointing to the history of Palestinian suicide attacks against Israel using concealed explosive belts. However, “the important thing is that they immediately return their clothes to them and that they behave in a way that’s consistent with the humane treatment of detainees,” he said.

Miller also said that the Biden administration has identified progress in Israel’s humanitarian effort in Gaza over the past day.

The progress has amounted to the establishment of “enduring deconfliction routes” in southern Gaza for civilians to be able to move out of harm’s way and for humanitarian aid to be able to reach those in need, Miller stated.

Israel has implemented four-hour pauses in the fighting in different southern Gaza neighborhoods, Miller added.

Miller also noted Israel’s decision to allow more fuel to enter Gaza in recent days, as well as a decision to open its Kerem Shalom Crossing for inspections — which further boosts the amount of aid entering the Strip — are both welcome steps.

However, he said the US would like to see Kerem Shalom also opened for the transfer of aid, and not just inspection, and noted that Israel’s cabinet was slated to discuss doing so.

Fully reopening Kerem Shalom “would alleviate some of the traffic” at Egypt’s Rafah Crossing, which is currently the only crossing open for the entry of humanitarian aid, Miller said, adding that opening Kerem Shalom would allow for a significant increase in the delivery of assistance into the Strip.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby later claimed that Netanyahu has said the crossing will likely be reopened for the entry of aid, and that the topic will be on the agenda when National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan arrives in Israel Thursday for meetings with top government officials.

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