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War on Gaza: Netanyahu laments Israel's 'heavy price' as death toll mounts

Israel's military says at least 14 of its soldiers were killed in Gaza over weekend, bringing confirmed toll to 154 since invasion of Gaza began
Mourners attend the funeral of a 19-year-old Israeli soldier killed in cross-border fighting with Lebanon's Hezbollah on 24 December 2023 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is paying a "heavy price" in the war on Gaza, after more Israeli soldiers were confirmed to have been killed over the weekend.

"This is a difficult morning, after a very difficult day of fighting in Gaza," Netanyahu said early on Sunday after the Israeli army announced that 14 soldiers had been killed in the war-torn enclave since Friday.

"This war is exacting a high price from us, but we have no choice other than to continue to fight," he said. "All the government and the people of Israel send our sympathies to the families of the heroes who fell in the war for our home."

The death toll among Israeli forces has gone up steadily in recent weeks, with at least 154 soldiers confirmed to have been killed since Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza in late October.

Meanwhile, more than 20,000 Palestinians have been killed in the besieged enclave, the overwhelming majority of whom are women and children.

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At least 230 Palestinians were killed this weekend, with at least 70 Palestinians civilians killed late on Sunday following an Israeli air strike on the Maghazi refugee camp. 

International aid groups have warned of a humanitarian "catastrophe" in the Palestinian territory, with the most recent food security update by the World Food Programme (WFP) saying the situation is worst in the north, where 90 percent of people have gone a full day and night without eating. 

Clean water, electricity and access to medical treatment are hard to find, with aid agencies warning that an increase in aid since 17 December is a fraction of what is needed for the population to survive the winter. 

Aid that gets in, the WFP said, is difficult to distribute because of the fighting and lack of fuel and usable roads.

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Despite a growing international outcry over the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, including increasing criticism in Washington, Netanyahu has repeatedly said that Israel will push on until "complete victory" over Hamas is achieved. 

In his opening remarks to his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu denied American pressure was determining Israel's operational decisions, saying that the US isn't preventing Israel from taking military action in the region.

"Israel is a sovereign country. Our war decisions are based upon our operational considerations, and I won’t expand upon that," Netanyahu said. "They are not determined by external pressures."

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Netanyahu's comments came after a Wall Street Journal report claimed that Biden convinced Netanyahu to refrain from a pre-emptive strike against Hezbollah during the early stages of the war. 

Since declaring war with Hamas, Israel has yet to achieve its stated objectives of "destroying" the Palestinian movement as a military and governing force and of returning the more than 100 Israelis who remain in captivity.

Tensions have been rising across the region, with daily cross-border fire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

On Saturday, thousands of Israelis demonstrated across Israel demanding that Netanyahu resign over failures that led to the 7 October attack and the outbreak of war in Gaza.

The demonstrations were led by activists and residents of communities near the border with Gaza and Lebanon who were evacuated from their homes.

Hundreds of people protested near Netanyahu's private residence, with Yair Golan, a former Israeli government minister and former senior military officer, saying that "this awful man, who has no political, security, or human considerations in his heart other than his own personal benefit, dragged and continues to drag Israel into disaster".

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