Israel’s military says Gaza City surrounded, rejects ceasefire calls

Hamas’s armed wing warns that invading Israeli soldiers will go home ‘in black bags’.

Israel has bombarded Gaza for nearly a month in response to Hamas's October 7 attacks on southern Israeli communities [File: Mohammed al-Masri/Reuters]

Israel’s military has announced that its forces have surrounded Gaza’s main city while rejecting growing international calls for a ceasefire to halt bloodshed in the besieged Palestinian territory.

Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said on Thursday that Gaza City has been encircled nearly a week after its forces expanded ground operations in the Hamas-governed enclave.

“Israeli soldiers have completed the encirclement of the city of Gaza, the centre of the Hamas terror organisation,” Hagari told journalists.

Hagari said a “ceasefire is not currently on the table at all”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who last week said the war against Hamas had entered the “second stage” amid an escalating ground war, said on Thursday night that Israeli forces were at the “height of the battle”.

“We’ve had impressive successes and have passed the outskirts of Gaza City,” he said. “We are advancing.”

Israel’s military said in a separate statement on social media that its priorities “are to bring home the children, women and men who are being held hostage by Hamas and to make sure Hamas will no longer have the ability to attack Israelis”.

Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, warned in response that Gaza would be the “curse of history for Israel” and that Israeli soldiers entering the enclave would go home “in black bags”.

Israel’s announcement came after United States President Joe Biden voiced support for a humanitarian “pause” in fighting to allow the release of captives held by Hamas.

White House officials later clarified that the Biden administration did not support a full ceasefire, but would press for temporary, localised pauses in fighting to allow the aid and release of hostages.

On Thursday, seven UN special rapporteurs issued a statement calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, expressing their concern that Palestinians face a “grave risk of genocide”.

Israel’s assault on Gaza has come under growing condemnation since its forces earlier this week carried out successive air raids on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza.

At least 195 people were killed and hundreds of others wounded in the strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to officials in the Hamas-governed enclave.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday the attacks could amount to war crimes given the “high number of civilian casualties” and “the scale of destruction” at the refugee camp.

Israel said the air raids had targeted a Hamas commander and a “vast” network of tunnels under the site of the camp.

At least 9,061 Palestinians have been killed in the bombardment of Gaza, which Israeli forces launched in response to Hamas’s October 7 attacks on communities in southern Israel.

At least 1,405 people, mostly civilians, were killed in Hamas’s surprise attack involving incursions from land, sea and air, according to Israeli officials.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies