Smoke billows over the northern Gaza Strip during an Israeli bombardment from southern Israel [File: Jack Guez/AFP]
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Al Jazeera – Analysis: Why Israel will continue its deadly push into Gaza city centres

A long, grinding urban war appears likely now, if Israel is to negate the effects of Hamas tunnels. But keeping public support intact won’t be easy.

Dramatic news reports, claims and videos have emerged from both sides involved in the Gaza fighting throughout the past week.

The week started with the Israeli army releasing several videos of Palestinians stripped to their underwear being marched through urban ruins. Israel’s PR machine disregarded the Palestinian outcry that followed. Israel staunchly asserted that the men were Hamas fighters and that their alleged mass surrenders signified that the end of the Palestinian group was close, even as many Palestinians and independent observers insisted that the men were civilians who had been treated against the laws of war by being publicly humiliated.

For its part, Hamas stuck to its usual practice of pushing its cause through video releases – skilfully edited to enhance the desired effects – purporting to confirm its constant and numerous successes against Israeli invaders, mostly showing hits scored against armoured vehicles.

Then came the news that stunned Israel and put a big question mark on its official line of Hamas being on the verge of collapse. First, nine soldiers were killed in a single operation in the Shujaiya neighbourhood of Gaza City on Tuesday. That shock was followed by another one on Friday, with the Israeli army admitting that it killed three Israeli captives, having mistaken them for enemies – even though they held white flags.

So what is really happening on the ground in Gaza?

Palestinians gather as smoke rises at the site of Israeli strikes on houses in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip December 14, 2023. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Palestinians gather as smoke rises at the site of Israeli air attacks on houses in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip December 14, 2023 [Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/ Reuters]

Nothing we did not predict weeks ago: The war has entered a difficult, unpredictable and bloody phase of full-scale urban warfare where gains are small and slow, and losses can be huge.

Combat in narrow and cramped streets of old cities is known to be one of the most difficult ways to fight a war. Classic military theory calls for defended cities to be surrounded and blockaded by units just strong enough to prevent the defenders from breaking out, while the main force continues advancing and taking territory.

But the fight in Gaza is not about conquering fields and beaches – Israel’s proclaimed goal is to destroy Hamas. To do that, the first step is to control the ground where the enemy operates: the cities.

Al Jazeera

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al jazeera

By Zoran Kusovac Published On 17 Dec 202317 Dec 2023

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