Gaza Health Ministry says over 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel-Hamas war

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RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — More than 29,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the territory’s Health Ministry said Monday, marking another grim milestone in the deadliest round of violence in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue the offensive until “total victory” against Hamas, raising fears that troops will soon move into the southernmost town of Rafah on the Egyptian border, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge from fighting elsewhere.

The United States, Israel’s top ally, says it is still working with mediators Egypt and Qatar to try to broker another cease-fire and hostage release agreement. But those efforts appear to have stalled in recent days, and Netanyahu angered Qatar, which has hosted Hamas leaders, bycalling on it to pressure the militant group.

The Health Ministry said 107 bodies were brought to hospitals in the last 24 hours. That brings the total number of fatalities to 29,092 since the start of the war.

The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its records, but says around two-thirds of those killed were women and children. More than 69,000 Palestinians have been wounded, overwhelming the territory’s hospitals, less than half of which are even partially functioning.

The Health Ministry is part of the Hamas-run government in Gaza but maintains detailed records of casualties. Its figures from previous wars in Gaza have largely matched those of U.N. agencies, independent experts and even Israel’s own tallies.

The war began when Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel from Gaza on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking around 250 hostage.

More than 100 captives were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel. Militants still hold around 130, a fourth of them believed to be dead.

Israel responded to the attack by launching one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history on the besieged enclave, which has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.

Israel says it has killed over 10,000 Palestinian militants, without providing evidence. The military says it tries to avoid harming civilians and blames the high death toll on Hamas because the militant group fights in dense residential neighborhoods. The military says 236 of its soldiers have been killed since the start of the ground offensive in late October.

The war, which shows no sign of ending, has driven around 80% of the Palestinians in Gaza from their homes and has left a quarter of the population starving, according to U.N. officials.

On Sunday, Benny Gantz, a retired general and a member of Netanyahu’s three-man War Cabinet, warned that the offensive would expand to Rafah if the hostages are not freed by the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is expected to begin around March 10. The month of dawn-to-dusk fasting is often a time of heightened tensions in the region.

Israel has said it is developing plans to evacuate civilians from Rafah, but it’s not clear where they would go in the devastated territory, large areas of which have been flattened. Egypt has sealed the border and warned that any mass influx of Palestinians could threaten its decades-old peace treaty with Israel.

The United States says it is still pushing for a truce and hostage-release, and that it would veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire because it conflicts with those efforts.

Hamas has said it won’t release all of the remaining hostages until Israel ends the war and withdraws from Gaza. It is also demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

Netanyahu has rejected those demands, calling them “delusional.” In a speech before American Jewish leaders on Sunday, he said pressure should be applied on Qatar, which played a key role in mediating last year’s cease-fire and hostage release deal.

“Qatar can press Hamas as no one else can. They host Hamas leaders, Hamas is dependent on them financially,” Netanyahu said. “I urge you to press Qatar to press Hamas because we want our hostages released.”

Qatar’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Majed al-Ansari, dismissed Netanyahu’s remarks as “a new attempt to stall and prolong the war for reasons that have become obvious to everyone,” alluding to the Israeli leader’s domestic political troubles.

Qatar denies funding Hamas and says its provision of aid to Gaza in recent years was carried out in full coordination with Israel, the U.S. and other parties.

“The Israeli prime minister knows very well that Qatar has been committed from day one to mediation efforts, ending the crisis and freeing the hostages,” al-Ansari said.

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Magdy reported from Cairo

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Find more of AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

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