Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday Israel had no intention of staying permanently in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces and Hamas fighters engaged in heavy fighting in both the north and south of the Palestinian enclave.
"Israel will take any measures in order to destroy Hamas, but we have no intention to stay permanently in the Gaza Strip. We only take care of our security and the security of our citizens alongside the border with Gaza," Gallant told reporters.
He would not give any timeframe for the war’s conclusion and said Israeli military activity could continue for months.
Israeli forces and Hamas fighters engaged in heavy fighting Monday in and around Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, while battles were ongoing outside Gaza City in the north.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters late Sunday that Israeli forces are now focused on fighting in Jabaliya and Shajaiye, two neighborhoods in northern Gaza, as well as in Khan Younis, Gaza’s second largest city.
Hagari said the Israeli military now controls the Palestine Square area in Gaza City, home to municipal offices and the headquarters for Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, but have yet to find him.
Israeli officials have described him as the “mastermind” behind the October 7 Hamas shock attack on Israel that killed about 1,200 people and allowed the militants to capture 240 hostages, 140 or so of whom they are still holding. They believe Sinwar is hiding in southern Gaza, with Hagari saying that capturing or killing him is one of Israel’s goals in the war.
The Hamas-run health ministry says that nearly 18,000 people, mostly women and children, have been killed in the Israeli air and ground offensive in the last seven weeks.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters on Monday that Israel, like any country that receives U.S. weapons, must comply with the laws of war.
Asked to comment on images of men in Gaza who were stripped to their underwear, Miller said, "We found those images deeply disturbing and are seeking more information about both the nature of the images and, of course, why they're public in the first place."
“We always have been clear with Israel about the [necessity] of acting in full compliance with international humanitarian law, and that does require that it protect civilians, and treat detained individuals humanely and with dignity,” he said.
Also Monday, an Israeli spokesperson, Eylon Levy, denied that Israel intended to push Palestinians over the border into Egypt, after Jordan accused Israel on Sunday of seeking "to empty Gaza of its people."
Jordan's foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said Sunday that Israel was implementing a policy of pushing Palestinians out of Gaza in a manner that fits the "legal definition of genocide."
Levy described the accusation as "outrageous and false" and said that Israel was only defending itself against the “monsters” who carried out the October attack.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aid distribution in Gaza has largely stopped, except in the Rafah area near the Egyptian border, with the intense fighting and restrictions on access to main roads inhibiting humanitarian operations.
The fighting has pushed an estimated 1.9 million people from their homes in Gaza, with many seeking shelter in the south in overcrowded facilities amid warnings of poor sanitary conditions and the threat of an increase in communicable diseases.
The U.N. humanitarian agency said tens of thousands of people have arrived in Rafah during the past week. During that same time, Israel has expanded its war against Hamas militants further south, including its operations in Khan Younis.
A delegation of U.N. Security Council ambassadors traveled Monday to the Egypt-Gaza border to meet with U.N. aid officials and humanitarian organizations involved in aid deliveries.
Meanwhile, France, Germany and Italy called Monday for new European Union sanctions against Hamas.
The foreign ministers of the three countries said in a letter to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell that the sanctions would show a strong commitment to combating Hamas' infrastructure and financial support.
The ministers did not detail specific sanctions to pursue, but said they should enable targeting Hamas members, groups affiliated with the militants and Hamas supporters.
The European Union, the United States and other countries have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The U.N. General Assembly will hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to vote on a draft resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N., told The Associated Press that it's similar to a Security Council resolution the U.S. vetoed Friday.
Miller was asked during Monday’s briefing about the veto of the U.N. resolution.
"We've made clear that while we support humanitarian pauses, we think a cease-fire that would allow the leadership of Hamas, that plotted and planned October 7, to continue to carry on in Gaza and plan future attacks, that's unacceptable,” he said. “While we have disagreements, ultimately that American leadership is critical, both in this conflict and to broader issues in the region.”
United Nations correspondent Margaret Besheer and State Department Bureau Chief Nike Ching contributed to this report. Some material in this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.