Biden, UN General Assembly pile pressure on Israel’s Hamas war

Netanyahu said there was “disagreement” with Biden over how a post-conflict Gaza would be governed, reflecting a rare rift after weeks in which the US leader has strongly backed Israel

This handout picture released by the Israeli army on 12 December, 2023 shows soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israeli forces battled Hamas militants and bombed more targets in the devastated Gaza Strip on 12 December as the UN General Assembly was due to vote on a new demand for a ceasefireAFP

Pressure intensified on Israel on Tuesday as US President Joe Biden warned it risked losing support in its war on Hamas by “indiscriminate” bombing in Gaza and the UN General Assembly demanded a ceasefire.

Israeli forces battled Hamas militants and bombed more targets in the devastated Gaza Strip more than two months into the war sparked by the Palestinian group’s unprecedented 7 October attack.

But Israel’s staunchest ally warned it risked losing backing over the terrible humanitarian toll in Gaza, which the United Nations likened to “hell on earth”.

Biden said Israel had “most of the world supporting it” after the 7 October attack, which according to Israeli officials killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages.

But in his most blunt remarks since the war began, Biden said Israel was starting to lose that support “by the indiscriminate bombing that takes place”.

Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas has left dead 18,412 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must also “change” his stance on a two-state solution for the Palestinians, Biden added.

Netanyahu said there was “disagreement” with Biden over how a post-conflict Gaza would be governed, reflecting a rare rift after weeks in which the US leader has strongly backed Israel.

‘Hell on earth’

Biden’s comments came before the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a non-binding resolution on Tuesday demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, a call that has so far paralysed the Security Council.

The body, which includes all 193 UN member nations, voted 153 in favour of the resolution, exceeding the 140 or so countries that have routinely backed resolutions condemning Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Ten countries, including the United States and Israel, voted against, while 23 abstained.

The visiting chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Philippe Lazzarini, likened Gaza to “hell on earth” and said of video footage of an UNRWA school being blown up: “It is outrageous.”

Hamas said Israeli forces raided a hospital in Gaza City, the biggest urban centre.

“Israeli occupation forces are storming Kamal Adwan hospital after besieging and bombing it for days,” health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said, accusing troops of rounding up men in the hospital courtyard, including medical staff.

The army did not immediately comment, but Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of using hospitals, schools, mosques and tunnels beneath them as military bases -- claims it has denied.

The UN humanitarian agency OCHA said earlier that “the hospital remains surrounded by Israeli troops and tanks, and fighting with armed groups has been reported in its vicinity for three consecutive days”.

It said two mothers were killed in a strike on the maternity ward, and that about 3,000 displaced people were trapped in the facility.

Israel’s air and ground campaign has reduced much of Gaza to rubble.

The United Nations said its satellite analysis agency UNOSAT had determined, based on a 26 November image, that 18 per cent of Gaza’s infrastructure had been destroyed.

UN agencies and aid groups fear the territory will soon be overwhelmed by starvation and disease, and are pleading with Israel to boost efforts to protect civilians.

‘Beyond breakdown’

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned the humanitarian situation there was “beyond breakdown”.

The world body estimates 1.9 million of Gaza’s 2.4 million people have been displaced by the conflict, half of them children.

Israeli air strikes Tuesday killed at least 24 people in Rafah, where tens of thousands are seeking shelter, the Gaza health ministry said.

One left a deep crater and gutted surrounding buildings.

“There are still people under the rubble,” said resident Abu Jazar, 23. “We call on the Arab people and the world to put on pressure to stop the strikes on Gaza.”

At Rafah hospital, bereaved father Hani Abu Jamaa cradled the body of his young daughter Sidal, who was killed by shrapnel.

He said there had been strong explosions overnight and he only found she was dead when he tried to wake her in the morning.

“Even if I live 100 years, I will never find another like her,” he said, crying. “May God have mercy on her, oh Lord.”

Hostage bodies recovered

Israel’s military said it had struck a rocket launch site in Jabalia that had fired on Sderot in southern Israel, and also found hundreds of shells and rocket-propelled grenade launchers in a Hamas compound.

The military has lost 105 soldiers in the offensive, it said on Tuesday, including 13 killed by friendly fire and others in accidents.

It said two “fell” and others were wounded in a Gaza operation in which the army recovered the bodies of two hostages -- Ziv Dado and Eden Zecharya.
Army spokesman Daniel Hagari said 135 hostages remained in Gaza.

Fighting and heavy bombardment in south Gaza, where Israel previously urged civilians to seek safety, have left people with few places to go.

In Gaza City, thousands of Palestinians set up camp at a UN agency headquarters after homes and shops were destroyed by Israeli strikes.

An AFP correspondent said both the Islamic and adjacent Al-Azhar universities had been reduced to rubble, as had the police station.

“There is no water. There is no electricity, no bread, no milk for the children, and no diapers,” said Rami al-Dahduh, 23, a tailor.

In the occupied West Bank, where violence has escalated since the conflict began, Israeli forces killed six Palestinians in the city of Jenin, health officials said.

Fears of a wider conflict continue to grow, with Iran-backed groups targeting US and allied forces in Iraq and Syria, and daily exchanges of fire along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

The Israeli army said in response to projectiles fired Tuesday from Lebanon and Syria, it retaliated by striking launch sites.

France said one of its frigates shot down a drone threatening a Norwegian-flagged tanker hit in an overnight missile attack claimed by Iran-backed Huthi rebels.