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Battles rage across Gaza as Israel indicates its willing to fight for months

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — Battles raged across Gaza on Sunday as Israel indicated it was willing to fight for months or longer to defeat the territory’s Hamas rulers, and a key mediator said willingness to discuss a cease-fire was fading.

The U.S. has pledged unwavering support for Israel’s goal of crushing Hamas’ military and governing abilities, and returning all the hostages captured in the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that triggered the war.

Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists stormed into southern Israel that day, killing some 1,200 people and taking hostage around 240, over 100 of them released during a weeklong cease-fire late last month.

The United States has lent vital support to the offensive by vetoing United Nations Security Council efforts to end the fighting and by pushing through an emergency sale of over $100 million worth of tank ammunition to Israel.

Qatar’s prime minister, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, told a forum in Qatar that mediation efforts will continue in an effort to stop the war and have all hostages released, but “unfortunately, we are not seeing the same willingness that we had seen in the weeks before.”

Israel’s national security adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, told Israel’s Channel 12 TV that the U.S. has set no deadline for Israel to achieve its goals.

“The evaluation that this can’t be measured in weeks is correct, and I’m not sure it can be measured in months,” he said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN that “we have these discussions with Israel including about the duration as well as how it’s prosecuting this campaign against Hamas. These are decisions for Israel to make.”

He added to ABC: “When it comes to a cease-fire in this moment, with Hamas still alive, still intact … that would simply perpetuate the problem.”

With the war in its third month, the Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,700, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory. The ministry does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths.

Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada and the European Union.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the terrorists put civilians in danger by fighting in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military says 97 Israeli soldiers have died in the offensive. Palestinian terrorists have continued firing rockets into Israel.

Eylon Levy, an Israeli government spokesman, said “increasing numbers” of Hamas fighters were surrendering.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people killed in captivity or during the Oct. 7 attack. The terrorists hope to exchange them for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

Israel says it has provided detailed instructions for civilians to evacuate to safer areas, even as it strikes what it says are terrorist targets in all parts of the territory. Thousands have fled to areas along the border with Egypt.

Demonstrations were again held in several cities in support of the Palestinians and calling for an end to the war, while thousands marched in Europe against antisemitism.

The war has raised tensions across the Middle East, with Lebanon’s Hezbollah trading fire with Israel along the border and other Iran-backed terrorist groups targeting the U.S. in Syria and Iraq. Israeli artillery, drone, and airstrikes over Lebanon border towns intensified.

France said one of its warships in the Red Sea shot down two drones that approached it from Yemen, where Iran-backed Houthi rebels have vowed to halt Israeli shipping through the key waterway.

Israel’s national security adviser said Israel would give Western allies “some time” to organize a response but if the threats persist, “we will act to remove this blockade.”

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Jobain reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Magdy from Cairo. Associated Press writers Melanie Lidman and Julia Frankel in Jerusalem, and Lujain Jo in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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