Israel indicates Gaza conflict could extend through the year

JERUSALEM — Israel has intensified its military operations in Gaza, particularly in Rafah, and officials now suggest that the conflict with Hamas could persist throughout the year, despite international calls for de-escalation.

On Wednesday, Israeli tanks conducted raids into the heart of Rafah, following their first major entry into the city on Tuesday.

This move came despite a directive from the International Court of Justice demanding an end to attacks on the city, which has become a refuge for many Palestinians amid widespread bombardment.

Residents of Rafah reported that Israeli tanks advanced into neighborhoods such as Tel Al-Sultan in western Rafah and near Shaboura in the center, before retreating toward a buffer zone along the Egyptian border. “We received distress calls from residents in Tel Al-Sultan where drones targeted displaced citizens as they moved from areas where they were staying toward safe areas,” said Haitham al Hams, the deputy director of ambulance and emergency services in Rafah.

The Israeli military claims it now controls three-quarters of this buffer zone and aims to secure the entire area to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons.

Majed Abu Ramadan, the Palestinian Health Minister, indicated that there is no expectation that the Rafah border crossing would reopen for aid deliveries in the near future.

Tzachi Hanegbi, National Security Advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, underscored the extended timeline for military engagement, indicating that the fighting in Gaza is anticipated to continue at least through 2024. This statement comes as Israel rejects Hamas’s demands for a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages held by the group in return for Palestinian prisoners.

“The fighting in Rafah is not a pointless war,” Hanegbi stated, emphasizing that Israel’s goal is to end Hamas’s governance in Gaza and curtail its capacity to launch attacks against Israel.

Meanwhile, the United States, Israel’s closest ally, reiterated its opposition to a major Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, maintaining that no such operation is currently underway.

Efforts to mediate the conflict continue, with Qatar expected to relay Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage release proposal to Hamas. As of Wednesday, there was no response from Hamas, which has previously stated that negotiations are futile unless Israel halts its offensive on Rafah.