israel vows to complete its mission to dismantle hamas

Amid global pressure to reach a cease-fire and fears of a widening regional war, Israel says it will continue to fight in Gaza until Hamas is defeated.

Israel insisted on Tuesday that its war in Gaza would not end soon and pledged to complete its mission of dismantling Hamas no matter how long it took, despite widespread international calls for a cease-fire.

Israeli forces were “striking continuously” in the Gaza Strip, said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the military’s chief of staff. The fighting, he added, would continue “whether it takes a week or months.”

“We are very, very determined,” General Halevi said in a televised statement filmed along the Gaza border. “Everywhere our forces operate, they are accompanied by heavy fire from the air, sea and land.”

His comments came after a defiant statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who visited the front line on Monday, and they preceded a meeting on Tuesday in Washington between a close adviser of the prime minister and members of the Biden administration.

The adviser, Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs and a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet, was scheduled to meet Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and President Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on Tuesday afternoon.

The Israeli government, which declared war in Gaza after Hamas’s terrorist attack on Oct. 7, has been unyielding in its prosecution of the war despite growing differences with its closest ally, the United States. The Biden administration has pledged its support, backing Israel in the United Nations and promising the delivery of thousands of tank shells. But, increasingly, there is daylight between the allies over plans for the war’s scope, timetable and plans for governing Gaza after the war.

The talks between Mr. Dermer and the Americans are expected to focus both on the next phase of the war and postwar Gaza, an Israeli official said.

In a visit to Gaza on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu insisted that his military would keep up the war until all its goals were achieved.

Gazans, warned by Israel of upcoming attacks, have sometimes fled several times to safer areas. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

“Whoever talks about stopping — there is no such thing,” Mr. Netanyahu told Israeli troops in Gaza, according to his office. “We are not stopping. The war will continue until the end, until we finish it, no less.”

The intense fighting in the enclave, where about 20,000 people have been killed according to Gazan health officials, comes as the risks of an expanded regional war grow.

Recent satellite imagery showed the Israeli military crossing the border at a new location in central Gaza, and reaching the outskirts of Al Bureij, where the military said it would engage a Hamas battalion.

And early Tuesday, the United States conducted a new round of airstrikes in Iraq, most likely killing militants and destroying three facilities used by Iranian proxies that had targeted American and coalition troops, U.S. officials said.

The American strikes followed a series of attacks by Iranian-backed militants in Iraq, including a drone attack hours earlier on an Erbil air base in which three American service members were injured, according to Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

Tensions in the region were high on Tuesday, one day after Iran accused Israel of killing Brig. Gen. Sayyed Razi Mousavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in a missile strike in Syria.

General Mousavi was said to have helped oversee the shipment of missiles and other arms to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed military force in Lebanon and Syria that has traded artillery fire with Israeli forces along Israel’s northern border.

Israel declined to comment directly on Iran’s accusation that it was behind General Mousavi’s death. But Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Tuesday that the country was already “in a multifront war” and “coming under attack from seven theaters,” naming Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Iran.

“We have already responded and taken action in six of these theaters,” he told lawmakers.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said that Hezbollah fired a number of anti-tank missiles into Israel from Lebanon on Tuesday, hitting a Greek Orthodox Church. Two civilians and nine Israeli soldiers were wounded, he said.

As the death toll in Gaza has grown, Israel has faced increased international opprobrium, including a nonbinding vote passed this month by the U.N. General Assembly that called for a cease-fire.

U.N. officials and agencies have offered some of the strongest criticism of the war in Gaza, describing it as a graveyard for children.

A burial ground in southern Gaza. About 20,000 people have been killed in the fighting, according to Gazan health officials. Shadi Tabatibi/Reuters

On Tuesday, Israel said it would stop automatically issuing visas to United Nations employees. Instead, Israel will consider each visa on a “case by case” basis, Eylon Levy, a government spokesman, said at a news conference.

Since the end of a weeklong cease-fire in November that provided a respite for the besieged population and allowed for the exchange of some Israeli hostages in Gaza for Palestinians detained in Israel, little progress has been made toward achieving a similar temporary truce.

The Egyptian government has circulated a proposal calling for further exchanges of hostages and prisoners as a step toward a permanent cease-fire, according to three diplomats in the region who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. But the diplomats cautioned that neither side appeared close to agreeing to such a proposal.

As the war drags on, Israeli leaders are also under pressure for their failure to secure the release of the remaining hostages and the rapidly rising death count among soldiers in Gaza. Last weekend, 15 soldiers were killed in a 72-hour period. On Tuesday, the total number of Israeli forces killed in ground fighting in Gaza reached 161.

“The war is exacting a very heavy cost from us,” Mr. Netanyahu said last week.

General Halevi, the chief of staff, said on Tuesday that in northern Gaza the military was “close to completing” the dismantling of Hamas battalions, but that in the dense, urban environment, “it cannot be said that we killed them all.”

The military, he said, was concentrating its efforts in southern Gaza and warned of a complex battle space, which includes fighting in Hamas’s underground war tunnels and battles in close quarters.

“This war’s objectives are essential and not simple to achieve,” General Halevi said.

Posters in Tel Aviv displayed the faces of Israelis abducted to Gaza during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Mr. Netanyahu laid out the war’s goals in simple terms in an opinion article in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday: “Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized, and Palestinian society must be deradicalized.”

Mr. Netanyahu and the Biden administration appear to sharply disagree on how the Gaza Strip will be governed after the war.

Mr. Biden has proposed that Gaza ultimately be united with the Israeli-occupied West Bank under a revamped Palestinian Authority, as a step toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Hamas routed the Palestinian Authority from the Gaza Strip in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian legislative elections and after an episode of factional fighting. The authority, which analysts say is weak and unpopular, has since been confined to administering parts of the West Bank.

Mr. Netanyahu has publicly rejected putting the Palestinian Authority back in charge of Gaza, citing in part the refusal of its leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, to denounce Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault.

“The expectation that the Palestinian Authority will demilitarize Gaza is a pipe dream,” Mr. Netanyahu wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

Reporting was contributed by Ronen Bergman, Eric Nagourney, Rachel Abrams, Erica L. Green and Nadav Gavrielov.

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