Diplomats strive to contain Gaza war at three-month mark amid rising deaths

Three months into the Gaza conflict, international diplomats intensified efforts Sunday to prevent the war’s escalation beyond Israel and the Palestinian territories. The conflict has claimed thousands of lives, both military and civilian, according to authorities from both sides.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, embarked on separate missions in the region. Their goal is to prevent the conflict, which began three months ago, from spilling into Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Incidents of cross-border fire between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon are frequent. Meanwhile, tensions simmer in the West Bank, and the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen have indicated intentions to continue targeting Red Sea shipping in response to Israeli actions in Gaza.

Blinken visited Amman, Jordan, following stops in Turkey and Greece, while Borrell was in Lebanon from Jan. 5-7. Both emphasized their focus on preventing further conflict escalation.

“We are dedicated to stopping the spread of this conflict,” Blinken stated in Chania, Greece, marking his fourth visit to the region since Oct. 7, when Hamas initiated a cross-border assault on Israel.

On the eve of the conflict’s three-month anniversary, Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari reported a strategic shift by Israel to reduce forces amidst growing international concerns over civilian casualties and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Hagari detailed Israeli efforts against Hamas in northern Gaza, claiming the deaths of approximately 8,000 militants in that region. “Our current operations are concentrated on neutralizing Hamas in central and southern Gaza,” he said during an online briefing.

The Israeli offensive began after Hamas militants from Gaza attacked Israel on Oct. 7, resulting in 1,200 Israeli deaths and 240 hostages, as per Israeli sources. Over 100 hostages reportedly remain in Hamas’s custody.

According to Palestinian health officials, Israel’s campaign has led to 22,722 Palestinian deaths and widespread destruction in Gaza, affecting the majority of its 2.3 million residents. The Palestinian health ministry’s figures do not distinguish between combatants and civilians but indicated that 70% of the casualties are women and minors. The conflict has caused widespread displacement, with severe shortages of essentials like food, water, and medicine in the region.