Israel's war on Gaza: 100 days of death and destruction

Daily death rate in Gaza higher than any other major 21st Century conflict - Oxfam

A Palestinian man reacts as he holds the remains of his mother wrapped in a blanket amid the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023.
A Palestinian man reacts as he holds the remains of his mother wrapped in a blanket amid the rubble of a building destroyed in an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023.

Israel's war on Gaza: 100 days of death and destruction

One hundred days have passed since the outbreak of the Gaza War and the 7 October attacks.

Ever since, a series of significant events and changes have reshaped the Middle East and the world. Al Majalla looks at the main developments since that morning when the Middle East awoke to an altered reality.

Hamas had launched its dual offensive, both on land and in the air, against Israel over the border from the Gaza Strip. Operation Al-Aqsa Flood fundamentally altered the strategic landscape between nations and the dynamics of wider global geopolitics.

The immediate involvement of the United States highlighted the significance of what was unfolding. President Joe Biden spoke on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and expressed support for Israel's right to retaliate.

The following day, Israel declared a state of war.

It mobilised 300,000 reserve soldiers and drew up plans to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and the group’s governance of Gaza. At the same time, the Israeli military reported attacks by Hezbollah in the Shebaa Farms area. This is where borders intersect between Israel, Lebanon and Syria, and the clashes showed the potential for the conflict to spread beyond Gaza.

With a wider regional war in prospect, US backing for Israel was made clear by a major naval deployment. The USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group was sent to the eastern Mediterranean as a deterrent against escalation amid concern about action from Iran-aligned militias.

Aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) in the Ionian Sea, part of the Mediterranean Sea, 04 October 2023.

Read more: A history of American destroyers in Arab waters

Total blockade

On the third day of the conflict, Israel’s defence minister announced a total blockade of the Gaza Strip. It came after a large number of Israeli casualties and the hostages taken by Hamas – and other Palestinian groups, including Islamic Jihad – became clear.

The blockade cut off electricity and water supplies and prohibited the entry of food and fuel.

We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.

Yoav Gallant, Israeli defence minister

And the words of Yoav Gallant, Israel's defence minister, showed Israel's willingness not just to vilify and demonise Hamas but the entire population of Gaza: "We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly," he said.

It set the scene for a relentless bombardment of Gaza and the unprecedented scale of death and destruction that would follow there.

Simultaneously, Washington warned Tehran against getting involved. In Iran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei denied any participation in the Hamas attacks, framing them as a purely Palestinian initiative. This made Iran's early strategy in the war clear: avoiding direct involvement and operating through proxies.

US deterrence

On 12 October, the USS Gerald R. Ford arrived in the eastern Mediterranean.

As it did so, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin stated that Washington imposed no restrictions on Israel's use of American-supplied weapons.

Meanwhile, with the bombing campaign underway in Gaza, the Israeli army began pointing to a second phase in the war: a ground invasion of the Strip.

The Palestinian death toll steadily increased. The Palestinian Ministry of Health reported over 1,572 casualties in Gaza and the West Bank due to the Israeli attacks.

Furthermore, Israel issued an evacuation order to 1.1 million Palestinians in northern Gaza, instructing them to relocate to the south within 24 hours. The United Nations, warning of a potential humanitarian disaster, urged Israel to rescind the order.

Israel persisted, indicating its intention to displace a significant portion of the northern Gaza Strip's population, a topic that would later spark extensive discussions between Tel Aviv, Cairo, and Amman.

No humanitarian corridor

On 14 October, Israel hinted at the possibility of the conflict lasting for months. The Jerusalem Post revealed that the US had asked Israel to delay its ground assault on Gaza until a humanitarian corridor could be established to allow people to leave safely. This would lead to disagreements between Washington and Tel Aviv over the next two weeks.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, speaking from Riyadh during his first regional tour since the outbreak of war,  announced that the US was coordinating with Saudi Arabia to protect civilians and agree on aid delivery to Gaza.

On its part, China issued its first statement on the conflict, voicing unequivocal support for the Gaza people following the cataclysmic conflict that erupted on 7 October.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged immediate ceasefire in Gaza, reiterated the two-state solution as the only path to peace, criticised Israel for the injustice inflicted on the Palestinians over more than half a century, and categorised the nature of Israel's current war beyond the scope of self-defence.

Read more: Where does China's interest lie in the Middle East?

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged immediate ceasefire in Gaza, reiterated the two-state solution as the only path to peace, and criticised Israel for inflicting injustice on the Palestinians over more than half a century.

Later, Israel revealed that Hamas held 126 Israeli hostages, in addition to foreign captives, and reported that 279 of its soldiers had died. On 16 October, Biden warned that an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be a serious error. Blinken echoed this sentiment, stating that the notion of expelling Palestinians from Gaza was bound to fail.

Concurrently, there were more naval deployments. The USS Eisenhower departed from Norfolk in Virginia to join the USS Gerald Ford in the Mediterranean.

A UN veto and a rising death toll

A joint US-UK-French veto at the UN blocked a Russian proposal in the Security Council for a humanitarian truce. It left the Israeli attacks on Gaza looking likely to escalate. The Palestinian death toll since the war's start had climbed to 2,800. Half the dead were women and children, as reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

Iranian Leader Ali Khamenei cautioned that what he called the "resistance" might lose patience if Israel persisted in bombing Gaza, suggesting potential escalations from pro-Iranian militias in the region against Israeli and US targets. Meanwhile, Washington maintained that it had no evidence of increased Iranian involvement in the conflict.

Biden in Israel, hospital bombed

Biden was due to show support for Israel by arriving there and also speaking out against the war spreading. But on the eve of the visit, tragedy struck at the National Baptist Hospital in Gaza.

It was bombed, killing hundreds of Palestinians sheltering on the hospital grounds and surrounding areas.

After massive global outrage and backlash, Israel claimed the missile was from a misfired rocket fired by the Islamic Jihad. A stiff Biden appeared next to Netanyahu the next day and mumbled that the attack "seemed to be from the other team" drawing widespread critcism.

Back at the UN, a draft resolution presented by Brazil to the Security Council condemned Israel's war on Gaza. The US vetoed it. Russia abstained, while 12 member states voted in favour.

Then, there was a significant development in Yemen. The US Department of Defence confirmed that an American warship near Yemen intercepted three missiles and drones, presumably aimed at Israel.

Concurrently, security sources reported that drones and missiles targeted the Ain al-Assad air base in Iraq, which houses American and international forces. This indicated the involvement of pro-Iranian militias, both in Yemen and Iraq, in the conflict.

Hostages released

Two weeks into the war, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza reported a death toll of 4,000 Palestinians, with over 13,000 wounded, almost half of them women and children. By this time, seven hospitals in Gaza were out of action.

Read more: Overstretched hospitals are no longer spared in Gaza war

Hamas released two American hostages, Huma Judith Tai Raanan (59) and her daughter Natalie (17), for humanitarian reasons. It stoked hope for broader negotiations between the combatants.

The gesture by Hamas was seen as highlighting Qatar's role in the hostage release process after scepticism in the US media over such diplomacy,

On 21 October, the Cairo Peace Summit convened to discuss resolutions to end the war and prevent its escalation into a regional conflict.

Egypt used the meeting to assert its opposition to the displacement of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip and the undermining of the Palestinian cause. Though not as well-attended as anticipated, the summit emphasised the call for an immediate ceasefire, which was yet to succeed.

After extensive diplomatic discussions and Israeli-imposed conditions, the entry of 20 aid trucks through the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip was authorised. However, the quantity of aid allowed fell significantly short of Gaza's critical needs in food, water, medical supplies, and fuel.

The talks also led to the departure of the first group of foreign nationals from Gaza.

More naval and other military deployments followed. The US announced the deployment of the USS Eisenhower to the Middle East, along with air and missile defence systems, including THAAD and Patriot batteries, to bolster regional defences.

Two days later, Hamas released two additional hostages, elderly Israeli women, citing "humanitarian reasons" due to their poor health. 

Two weeks into the war, 4,000 Palestinians had been killed, with over 13,000 wounded, almost half of them women and children. By this time, seven hospitals in Gaza were out of action.

Top-level criticism of Israel

Antonio Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, spoke out against Israel. He said that the 7 October attacks "did not come in a vacuum," a statement that infuriated Israel.

During his visit to Israel, France's President Emmanuel Macron proposed the revival of an international coalition against Hamas. This suggestion was met with Palestinian and Arab disapproval. Macron retracted it after realising its impracticality without that support. It raised questions about France's stance on the war and its wider approach to Middle East issues.

More Security Council vetoes and bigger attacks

On 25 October, there were more vetoes in the UN Security Council, where the US and the United Kingdom blocked a Russian draft resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Simultaneously, Russia and China blocked a US-proposed draft for short truces to allow aid into Gaza. Biden said that a return to the kind of relations between Israel and the Palestinians from before the war was not feasible.

The next day, Israeli forces launched their largest attack on Gaza since the war began, employing tanks and infantry. A spokesperson for the Israeli army signalled the start of the ground offensive in Gaza, saying Israel was intensifying its operations there.

On 27 October, Tel Aviv targeted Al-Shifa Hospital. It alleged that leaders of Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, were hiding in tunnels underneath it, a claim Hamas denied.

A US military official reported strikes on Iranian-backed militia targets in Syria, retaliating against their attacks on US bases in Syria and Iraq.

At the UN, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of a joint Arab proposal for an "immediate humanitarian truce" in Gaza. Concurrently, a Hamas delegation visited Moscow, coinciding with the presence of Iran's deputy foreign minister.

On 28 October, Netanyahu announced the second phase of the war, vowing to "destroy the enemy above and below ground."

At the UN, the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of a joint Arab proposal for an "immediate humanitarian truce" in Gaza.

Massive demonstrations against the war were held in Arab and Western capitals, with the largest in London, reflecting growing Western public discontent with the Israeli offensive. This could later influence Western governments' approach to the conflict.

Prisoner swap and 'humanitarian pauses'

Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, declared the group's readiness for a prisoner exchange deal with Israel. The Arab League also announced plans for an extraordinary session, requested by Palestine and Saudi Arabia, to be held in Riyadh on 11 November.

In the run-up to the summit, the evacuation of foreigners from Gaza on 1 November coincided with the transfer of wounded Palestinians to an Egyptian field hospital in Rafah and the delivery of aid into Gaza, as per an agreement with Hamas.

Jordan suspended its diplomatic relations with Israel until the war's conclusion.

Meanwhile, Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas's political bureau, expressed willingness to engage in political negotiations towards a two-state solution, advocating for Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state.

As Israel began to isolate Gaza City and its surrounding northern region from the rest of the Strip, the death toll in Gaza escalated to over 9,000.

On 3 November, Blinken visited Israel for the second time since the war began, seeking "humanitarian truces." This visit was part of a regional tour.

Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary-general of Hezbollah, made his first speech since the war. He did not call for an escalation against Israel and aligned with Iran's views on the conflict, as expressed by Hossein Amir Abdollahian, Tehran's foreign minister.

Blinken met with the foreign ministers of six Arab countries in Amman to discuss halting the war. But he rejected a ceasefire and said he would work on establishing "humanitarian pauses".

Nuclear threat and a peace conference

In a statement that provoked widespread Arab reaction, Israeli Minister of Heritage Amichai Eliyahu controversially suggested the use of an atomic bomb on Gaza as a potential option.

On 6 November, Netanyahu declared Israel's intention to take "comprehensive security responsibility" for the Gaza Strip for an unspecified duration after the war. This announcement faced opposition from both Palestinian and US parties.

On 11 November, Riyadh's Arab Islamic Summit concluded with a strong rebuke of Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. The final communique called for lifting the siege on Gaza and permitting Arab, Islamic, and international humanitarian aid into the Strip.

Read more: The Riyadh summit's messages to Biden

It also demanded a halt to arms and ammunition exports to Israel. The summit firmly opposed any proposals that would separate Gaza from the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, emphasising the need for a comprehensive solution that ensures the territorial unity of Gaza and the West Bank as part of the Palestinian state.

The summit called for an international peace conference to start a credible peace process based on international law, resolutions of international legitimacy, and the land-for-peace principle, aiming to provide a roadmap for resolving the Gaza conflict. Concurrently, Washington began discussions about the post-conflict scenario in Gaza.

Two days later, Israeli tanks advanced into Gaza City towards Al-Shifa Hospital, where approximately 650 patients were receiving treatment, causing outrage in popular and political circles.

Israeli special forces violently stormed the hospital, which Tel Aviv claimed was being used by Hamas to establish a leadership headquarters, although no concrete evidence was provided to support these allegations.

On 11 November, Riyadh's Arab Islamic Summit concluded with a strong rebuke of Israel's war on Gaza. The final communique called for lifting the siege and permitting humanitarian aid to enter.

Presidential proposal rejected

On 18 November, Biden outlined his vision for a Middle East without Hamas. In an article for the Washington Post, he called for the Palestinian Authority to run Gaza as well as the West Bank after the war. The proposal was rejected by right-wing parties in Israel, on which Netanyahu's coalition depends.

On 21 November, Israel and Hamas, under the sponsorship of Qatar, Egypt, and the US, reached a ceasefire agreement to pause hostilities for four days.

The terms of the agreement included Hamas releasing 50 hostages from an estimated total of 240 in exchange for Israel freeing 150 Palestinian women and children from its prisons.

The deal also ensured the entry of humanitarian aid, medical supplies, and fuel into Gaza. The ceasefire was structured to be extended by one additional day for every ten hostages released. The truce was subsequently extended twice: first by two days, then by one.

But, immediately following the end of the truce, as the war neared its third month, Israel resumed its attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Intense battles erupted inside and around Gaza's largest city. Initially focusing its ground assault in northern Gaza, the Israeli army expanded its operations to the southern part of the Strip, where approximately 2 million civilians are concentrated in an increasingly constricted area.

According to the latest figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Health,  released on 8 December, the Palestinian death toll had risen to 17,487, with about 70% of the dead women and children.

Read more: Western governments and Gaza's graveyard of children

UN vote for a ceasefire

Then came an indication of a change in the US approach to the war and the emergence of contradictions between Washington and Tel Aviv. Blinken said: "It's imperative that civilians be protected," noting that there was a discrepancy between declared intentions and actual outcomes.

In a call with Netanyahu, Biden emphasised the "critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas, including through corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities."

In the UN on 8 December, the Security Council voted on a resolution for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire", which the US again vetoed.

The vote came after Guterres invoked Article 99 of the UN Charter. It allows the secretary-general to "draw the attention" of the Security Council to issues potentially threatening international peace and security.

This highly unusual action provoked displeasure from Israel.

In the UN on 8 December, the Security Council voted on a resolution for an "immediate humanitarian ceasefire", which the US again vetoed.

Harris's five principles

At least 264 Palestinians in various areas of the West Bank have fallen victim to Israeli army or settler violence since the war began, as reported by the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

With concerns escalating about the conflict escalating into a regional war, Netanyahu issued a stern warning to Hezbollah, threatening Beirut, southern Lebanon, Gaza, and Khan Younis.

The focus shifted to internal dynamics within Israel — particularly the evident discord between Netanyahu and Gallant, his defence minister, who refused to co-host a press conference with Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Meanwhile, the US intensified its efforts to outline a strategy for after the war.

Vice-president Kamala Harris, during her attendance at the COP28 climate conference in the United Arab Emirates, articulated the US's main goals for what has become known as the "day after" the conflict.

She outlined five principles guiding the current US approach: no forced displacement of Palestinians, no reoccupation of Gaza, no siege, no territorial reduction, and the prevention of Gaza being used as a platform for terrorism.

Harris emphasised the desire for "a unified Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian voices and aspirations must be at the centre of this work."

This approach was rejected by most of Israel's political spectrum.

Red Sea attacks

As the war neared its 80th day, discussions intensified about a significant shift in its dynamics, which became known as the "third phase."

It was largely influenced by US pressure on Israel, urging a transition to a redrawn combat strategy to minimise civilian casualties in favour of "surgical" operations targeting Hamas infrastructure and leadership.

However, a disagreement emerged between Israel and the US over the timeline for reaching this third phase. The US called for an earlier shift, while some Israeli factions expressed criticism of the pressure from Washington, reflecting diverging views on the appropriate timing and approach for the change.

Just as preparations for the third phase of the conflict were underway at the start of 2024, concern about the war spreading intensified — especially in the Red Sea region.

In Yemen, Houthi rebels intensified their attacks on commercial ships passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, targeting 25 container ships by the end of 2023 to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

This led 18 shipping companies to alter their routes to avoid the area and the Suez Canal to circumnavigate the Cape of Good Hope, a much longer route.

Read more: Piracy off Yemeni coast raises global shipping costs

The US responded by deploying naval forces to intercept missiles. It established a coalition with over 20 countries to safeguard shipping lanes, known as " Operation Prosperity Guardian ".

On 3 January, the US and 12 other nations delivered an ultimatum to the Houthis. It said: "The Houthis will bear the responsibility of the consequences should they continue to threaten lives, the global economy, and the free flow of commerce in the region's critical waterways."

In Yemen, Houthi rebels intensified their attacks on commercial ships passing through the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, targeting 25 container ships by the end of 2023 to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

Lebanon front

Meanwhile, in southern Lebanon, the exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel intensified. Israel prepared for offensive operations against Hezbollah.

On 2 January, it culminated in the assassination of Saleh Al-Arouri, the deputy head of  Hamas' Politburo movement. The Israeli strike targeted a Hamas office in Hezbollah's stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut, also resulting in the deaths of two other Hamas field leaders and three others present in the apartment.

People carry pictures of deputy head of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, who was killed by what Lebanese and Palestinian security sources say was a drone strike by Israel, as mourners gather during his funeral in Beirut on January 4, 2024.

Read more: A Hezbollah-Israel war has never been closer

In retaliation, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed that al-Arouri's assassination would not go unpunished. Hezbollah responded by launching 62 missiles at the Israeli Meron air base.

Israel retaliated by assassinating Jawad Tawil, a Hezbollah commander, on 8 January. Additionally, on 4 January, an American raid in Iraq eliminated a leader of the pro-Iranian Al-Nujaba Movement.

These developments in the Red Sea, Lebanon, and Iraq underscore the increasing risk of the conflict either expanding or intensifying in various regional flashpoints outside Gaza.

As the war neared its fourth month, Blinken and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, embarked on two separate missions to the region.

Their aim was to stop the spread of the war into Lebanon, the West Bank, and shipping lanes in the Red Sea.

Israeli sources disclosed a military strategy to bisect the Gaza Strip into northern and southern sectors and to maintain a temporary yet indefinite occupation.

The Tel Aviv newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported discussions about a military-only corridor dividing Gaza, accompanied by control stations and barriers to prevent Palestinians who left the north from returning south.

Total Arab rejection of Palestinian displacement

Concurrently, Israeli calls for the so-called "voluntary displacement" of Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip surfaced in Israel. But Arab nations dismissed them and even the US.

Read more: Why Egypt rejects a Palestinian population transfer from Gaza

Israeli calls for the so-called "voluntary displacement" of Palestinians outside the Gaza Strip surfaced in Israel. But Arab nations dismissed them and even the US.

During his fourth visit to the region since the war began, Blinken hinted at US support for post-war arrangements, including "concrete measures" to establish a Palestinian state, which he backed on 10 December after a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah on 10 December. He returned again in January for a fifth tour with no concrete achievements made. 

Read more: Blinken's faltering regional tour shows declining US influence

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) strongly opposed Israel's proposals concerning Gaza's future, asserting that the Palestinian people, not Israel, should determine the destiny of the Gaza Strip.

This clear stance came amid internal disagreements within the Israeli government over its post-war strategy.

At the start of the war's third month, Israel signalled an intention to reduce the size of its forces in northern Gaza, where the intensity of the conflict has eased. The country's military said it had dismantled Hamas's "military framework" in the north and was now "focusing on dismantling Hamas in central and southern Gaza."

The Israeli army's spokesperson added that the conflict would continue into 2024, following a plan to achieve the war's objectives, including the comprehensive dismantling of Hamas in the south of Gaza as well as the north.

On days 97 and 98 of the war, the International Court of Justice heard South Africa's genocide case against Israel. In a document of over 80 pages – which makes for very grim reading – an exhaustive legal case compiled by South Africa and presented to the ICJ is elaborated against Israel's vicious war on Gaza.

On day 97, US and UK strikes in Yemen delivered a strong message to the Houthis: their attacks on global shipping in the Red Sea will not go unpunished.

On Saturday, day 99, a day of global protest for Palestine was held in major global capitals and cities across the world. 

Thousands of demonstrators converged opposite the White House on Saturday to call for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza, while children joined a pro-Palestinian march through central London as part of a global day of action against the longest and deadliest war between Israel and Palestinians in 75 years.

People in the US capital held aloft signs questioning President Joe Biden's viability as a presidential candidate because of his staunch support for Israel in the nearly 100-day war against Hamas. Some of the signs read: "No votes for Genocide Joe," "Biden has blood on his hands" and "Let Gaza live."

Vendors were also selling South African flags as protesters chanted slogans in support of the country whose accusations of genocide against Israel prompted the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, to take up the case.

UN warns Gaza is now 'uninhabitable' as war continues

According to UNOCHA, 23,074 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including 10,000 children, between 7 October 23 and 7 January 24, an average of 250.8 per day. This makes the daily death rate in Gaza higher than any other major 21st-century conflict, according to Oxfam. 1 in every 100 Palestinians in Gaza has been killed in three months, and also, 1 in every 100 children has been killed.

Humanitarian chief fears 'famine is around the corner' with 85% of the population displaced.

The UN humanitarian chief has described Gaza as "uninhabitable" three months into Israel's war with Hamas, warning that famine was looming and a public health disaster unfolding.

In a grim assessment of the devastating impact of Israel's military response to the horrific Hamas attacks on 7 October, Martin Griffiths said that Gaza's 2.3 million people face "daily threats to their very existence" while the world watches.

He said tens of thousands of people, mostly women and children, have been killed or injured, families are sleeping in the open as temperatures plummet, and areas where Palestinians were told to relocate have been bombed.

Griffiths said: "People are facing the highest levels of food insecurity ever recorded, and famine is around the corner.". The few partly functioning hospitals are overwhelmed and critically short of supplies, medical facilities are under relentless attack, infectious diseases are spreading, and amid the chaos, about 180 Palestinian women are giving birth every day.

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