Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel struck a defiant tone in marking 100 days of war against Hamas in Gaza, vowing to keep fighting despite growing uncertainty over the outcome, international alarm over the mounting loss of life in the enclave and fears of a broader regional conflagration.
His pledge to continue until “total victory” came even as Israel awaited a decision from the world’s top court on a possible injunction against its military’s devastating offensive in Gaza. Launched in retaliation for the deadly Hamas-led Oct. 7 assault, the Israeli military’s war against Hamas has killed more than 23,000 Palestinians, a majority of them women and children, according to Gaza health officials, and displaced most of the enclave’s population.
Warning of a long conflict, the remarks from Mr. Netanyahu and comments from the Israeli military over the weekend 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.
The United States, Israel’s most important ally, has urged Israel to scale down its campaign, while many other countries have called for an immediate cease-fire.
“We are continuing the war until the end — until total victory, until we achieve all of our goals,” Mr. Netanyahu declared in a televised news conference on Saturday night, saying 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. The Hague is where the United Nations’ top court is hearing accusations brought by South Africa that Israel is 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 in the same breath invoked Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, whose military actions in solidarity, they say, with Palestinians in Gaza have raised the specter of a wider 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 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 farmer and his mother, according to initial reports. 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 Israeli-controlled territory from Lebanon. Three gunmen were killed and five soldiers were wounded, the military said.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from the country’s northern border areas, and Israel has warned that it will resort to military action if diplomatic efforts to allow their safe return home do not bear fruit. Thousands of Lebanese civilians have also fled the border area.
On Sunday, Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, struck a tone of defiance. “After 99 days,” he said, “we are ready for war. We are not afraid of it.”
For now, Israel’s leaders say they are focusing on Gaza.
While Mr. Netanyahu on Sunday acknowledged that the war “will yet take many months,” his remarks the previous night appeared to be as focused on raising domestic morale as on countering international criticism of the military campaign.
Addressing doubters who have cast the Israeli government’s goal of destroying Hamas, the armed 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. The fighting has displaced most of the enclave’s population of 2.2 million people 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.
Rajab al-Sindawi, a 48-year-old man from Gaza City, said he, his wife and their seven children were sheltering in a nylon tent on a sidewalk in the Tel al-Sultan neighborhood of Rafah and struggling to stay warm at night because they had only a few blankets.
“Nothing’s fair in Gaza,” Mr. al-Sindawi said in a text message. “My family is lacking the basic things one needs in life.”
Mr. al-Sindawi and his family arrived in Rafah in early January after weeks of crisscrossing Gaza in search of safety.
Israel’s leaders have continued to speak about what comes next mainly in opaque military terms that have at times heightened friction with its critics and allies alike.
Reflecting one such potential area of tension, Israel is under pressure to rescind its evacuation orders in Gaza. But Mr. Netanyahu said Palestinians displaced from northern Gaza would not be able to return home anytime soon, because it would not be safe for them. Although the Israeli military has said it is scaling back its operations in the north, its forces continue to clash with Hamas fighters there.
Gabi Siboni, an Israeli colonel in the reserves who is a fellow at the conservative-leaning Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said it would be “illogical” to allow displaced Gazans to move back north. Israeli troops are still working to destroy Hamas’s underground tunnels, and Colonel Siboni said that blowing up the tunnels risked the collapse of buildings along the route. Hamas fighters could also try to blend in with the returning civilian population, he added, and “then we are back to square one.”
Despite the wide-scale death and destruction in Gaza, Fuad Khuffash, an analyst close to Hamas, insisted that the armed group was winning the war. “Hamas is still firing rockets, it’s still confronting and killing soldiers, and it’s still destroying tanks,” said Mr. Khuffash, who is based in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Addressing the toll on Gaza’s population, Mr. Khuffash said that “anyone in the world who wants to free their country must make a sacrifice.”
And “as for Israel,” he said, “it hasn’t achieved any of its goals: It hasn’t ended Hamas, it hasn’t taken away Hamas’s weapons, it hasn’t killed Hamas’s top leaders in Gaza and it hasn’t brought back the Israeli prisoners. In military and political terms, Hamas has achieved a victory.”
In a televised statement on Saturday night, the Israeli military’s chief of staff said that 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,” said the chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, urging patience.
Of the 240 people abducted from Israel to Gaza on Oct. 7, more than 130 remain in the enclave, according to Israeli officials, although not all are believed to be alive.
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 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.
Large pro-Palestinian demonstrations also took place in London, Washington, New York and other cities on Saturday to mark the 100 days of war. Protesters in London chanted “Cease-fire now” and held placards including “Gaza — stop the massacre.” In Washington, thousands of protesters also called for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel.
Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad, Ameera Harouda, Roni Caryn Rabin, Gabby Sobelman, Myra Noveck and Matthew Mpoke Bigg.