Israeli Defense Chief: It Will Take Months To Defeat Hamas In Gaza


Israeli defense chief Yoav Gallant told visiting White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday that it will take several months for Israeli forces to defeat Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli defense minister said that Hamas has been building its “infrastructure under the ground and above the ground” in Gaza for more than a decade and that to destroy the Islamist group, “it will require a long period of time — it will last more than several months.”

“But we will win, and we will destroy them,” Gallant said. There was no immediate U.S. comment on Sullivan’s talks with Gallant.

With the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza now in its third month, Gallant’s office said the two officials also discussed the need to return Israelis to their homes near the border with Lebanon to the north after tens of thousands of people were displaced because of fighting with Iran-backed Hezbollah.

Palestinian civilian deaths

Israeli forces carried out more airstrikes Thursday in the Gaza Strip ahead of Sullivan’s visit. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters that Sullivan would use talks Thursday and Friday in Israel to talk about “efforts to be more surgical and more precise” in the military operations, to avoid the spiraling number of Palestinian civilian deaths.

“That is an aim of ours, and the Israelis say it is an aim of theirs, but it’s the results that count,” Kirby said.

Sullivan also planned to discuss U.S. calls for Israel to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing. That would expand current flows of aid that go only through the Rafah crossing. Israel this week began inspections of aid cargo at Kerem Shalom, but those shipments still must go to Rafah.

Sullivan stopped first in Saudi Arabia, where he talked with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about “efforts to create new conditions for an enduring and sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians” and work to increase the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza, the White House said Thursday.

While reiterating U.S. support for Israel and its military response to the deadly Hamas attack against Israel two months ago, U.S. President Joe Biden and other officials have expressed concern about the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 18,600 people have been killed during Israel’s offensive, about 70% of them women and children, since October 7, when fighters from Hamas — designated as a terrorist group by the U.S. and European Union — killed 1,200 people and took about 240 hostages in their surprise attack.

“Our support for Israel is not diminished,” Kirby said, “but we have had concerns and we have expressed those concerns about the prosecution of this military campaign, even while acknowledging that it’s Hamas that started this and it’s Hamas that is continuing it.”

Israel has defended its tactics, saying it takes steps to minimize civilian casualties, such as ordering people to evacuate areas where it plans to carry out military operations. Israel’s military has also blamed Hamas for intentionally operating in populated areas.

“As a military committed to international law and a moral code of conduct, we are devoting vast resources to minimizing harm to the civilians that Hamas has forced into the role of human shields. Our war is against Hamas, not against the people of Gaza,” Major Keren Hajioff said during an Israel Defense Forces briefing.

“Limited aid distributions”

The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency says nearly 1.9 million people, about 85% of Gaza’s population, have been forced from their homes, with more than 1.1 million currently registered at the agency’s shelters in central and southern Gaza. The agency said the average shelter is nine times over its intended capacity.

The war and Israeli evacuation orders have pushed Palestinians farther and farther south, and as the fighting moved south from the original operations in Gaza City, the ability for humanitarian workers to reach areas to the north has largely ceased.

The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said it is carrying out “limited aid distributions” in the Rafah governorate.

“Large crowds wait for hours around aid distribution centers, in desperate need of food, water, shelter, health and protection,” the U.N. agency said in its latest update late Tuesday. “Without enough latrines, open-air defecation is prevalent, increasing concerns of further spread of disease, particularly during rains and related flooding.”

After returning from a trip to Gaza, World Food Program Deputy Executive Director Carl Skau told reporters at the United Nations in New York that the situation among civilians was “increasingly desperate and chaotic.”

He warned that humanitarians were seeing severe hunger among the population, and that Gazans were losing faith that more food aid would arrive.

Skau said a survey the agency conducted during the seven-day cease-fire showed that “half of the population are starving. The grim reality is also that nine out of 10 people are not eating enough, or not eating every day, and don’t know where their next meal is going to come from.”

He said no WFP food assistance had reached the north of Gaza since fighting resumed after the cease-fire ended December 1. 

Regional tensions

The war has also sparked wider regional tensions, with the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen launching aerial attacks targeting ships in the Red Sea.

Houthi forces tried unsuccessfully to board the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Motor Vessel Ardmore Encounter on Thursday, the U.S. Central Command said in a statement. Houthi forces inside Yemen then fired two missiles at the tanker, both of which missed.

A U.S. guided-missile destroyer responded to a distress call from the tanker and shot down a drone that was heading toward the tanker after being launched from a Houthi-controlled area, the U.S. military said.

U.S. hostages

Biden met Wedneday in Washington with about a dozen family members of the eight American hostages the United States believes are being held by Hamas militants in Gaza — his first in-person meeting with the relatives.

“We’re only reinforced in seeing and believing that we could have no better friend in Washington or in the White House than President Biden himself and his administration, said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, father of hostage Sagui Dekel-Chen. As he spoke, he held a photo of a smiling young man with the caption, “Bring him home now!”

“We will not stop until we bring all Americans being held hostage home,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said after the meeting.

“We love a Christmas miracle,” said Liz Hirsh Naftali, great-aunt of 4-year-old released hostage Abigail Mor Edan. “We would love all of our loved ones to come back and be with us for Christmas.”

VOA White House Correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. 


The VOA is the Voice of America

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