Israel’s political and military leaders marked 100 days of war against Hamas in Gaza over the weekend by vowing to continue until victory, even as they awaited a decision from the world’s top court on a possible injunction against the Israeli military’s devastating offensive.
About 1,200 people were killed during the Hamas-led Oct. 7 assault against Israel, a majority of them civilians, according to the Israeli authorities. Israel’s retaliatory war against Hamas in Gaza has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, a majority of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials.
Warning of a long conflict, the Israeli statements exposed a growing dissonance between the domestic perception of the timing and goals of the war and increasing international impatience in the face of a deepening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“We are continuing the war until the end — until total victory, until we achieve all of our goals,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared in a televised news conference on Saturday night, stating that “eliminating Hamas, returning all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza will never again constitute a threat to Israel” were the goals.
“Nobody will stop us — not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anybody else,” he added with a tone of defiance, referring to the U.N.’s top court, where Israel is being accused by South Africa of committing genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza.
The court’s judges heard two days of hearings last week and will now decide whether to call on Israel to adopt provisional measures, such as a stop to fighting, while it assesses the merit of the genocide claim. No date has been set for the announcement of that decision and, in any case, the court has few means of enforcing its rulings.
Mr. Netanyahu also in the same breath invoked Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, whose military actions, purportedly in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, have raised the specter of a broader conflict.
The United States led airstrikes on Thursday and Friday against sites in Yemen controlled by the Houthi militia, in response to more than two dozen Houthi drone and missile attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea since November. However, the Houthis retained much of their ability to fire missiles and drones, according to U.S. officials.
At the same time, clashes across the Israel-Lebanon border continued over the weekend. An antitank missile launched from Lebanon on Sunday hit a house in northern Israel, killing a man. And Israel’s military said that its fighter jets struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, and that its forces had engaged in a firefight overnight with gunmen who crossed into Israel from Lebanon. Three gunmen were killed and five soldiers were wounded, the military said.
In acknowledging that dismantling Hamas in Gaza will “take time,” Mr. Netanyahu appeared to be as focused on raising domestic morale as countering international criticism of the war.
Addressing doubters who have cast the Israeli government’s goal of destroying Hamas, the militant group that has controlled Gaza for 16 years, as unrealistic, he said, “It is possible, it is necessary, and we will do it.”
As the death toll in Gaza has climbed, international calls for a cease-fire have mounted. Most of Gaza’s population of 2.2 million people is internally displaced and the United Nations has warned that half the population is at risk of starvation.
“The massive death, destruction, displacement, hunger, loss, and grief of the last 100 days are staining our shared humanity,” Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the U.N. agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, said in a statement.
In a televised statement on Saturday night, the chief of staff of Israel’s military, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said Israel was engaged in “an unparalleled just war.” He said that military plans had been approved to continue combat and increase pressure on Hamas, which would lead to the dismantling of the group and the return of the hostages who were taken in the Oct 7. assault on Israel.
“These goals are complex to achieve and will take a long time,” he said, urging patience.
Of the 240 people abducted to Gaza on Oct. 7, more than 130 remain in the enclave, according to Israeli officials, although not all are believed to be alive.
A spokesman for Hamas in Beirut, Osama Hamdan, said at a news conference on Saturday that Hamas was providing “care for the civilian prisoners in Gaza,” and that the only danger to their lives was from “Netanyahu and his army.”
In Israel, public concern for the hostages has increased with each passing day.
On Sunday, a workday in Israel, a 100-minute work stoppage in solidarity with the hostages was being observed by universities, many businesses, local councils and public bodies.
Tens of thousands of Israelis also attended a rally in Tel Aviv on Saturday night in support of the hostages and their families. Scores of demonstrators blocked the main intercity highway, demanding that the government secure the immediate release of the remaining captives.
“We are deeply concerned that our decision makers are not prioritizing the hostages, to get them home alive and not in boxes,” said Jonathan Dekel-Chen, whose son Sagui, 35, an American citizen, was taken hostage on Oct. 7.
Hwaida Saad, Ameera Harouda, and Roni Caryn Rabin contributed reporting.