(AP) — Israeli ground forces pushed deeper into Gaza on Monday, advancing in tanks and other armored vehicles on the territory’s main city and freeing a soldier held captive by Hamas militants. The Israeli prime minister rejected calls for a cease-fire as airstrikes landed near hospitals where thousands of Palestinians are sheltering beside the wounded.
The military said a soldier captured during Hamas’ brutal October 7 incursion was rescued in Gaza — the first rescue since the weekslong war began. Military officials provided few details but said in a statement that Private Ori Megidish, 19, was “doing well” and had met with her family.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed her home, saying the “achievement” by Israel’s security forces “illustrates our commitment to free all the hostages.”
He also rejected calls for a cease-fire to facilitate the release of captives or end the war, which he has said will be long and difficult. “Calls for a cease-fire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas,” he told a news conference. “That will not happen.”
Netanyahu, who faces mounting anger over Israel’s failure to prevent the worst surprise attack on the country in a half century, also said he had no plans to resign.
Hamas and other militant groups are believed to be holding some 240 captives, including men, women and children. Netanyahu has faced increasing pressure to secure their release even as Israel acts to crush Hamas and end its 16-year rule over the territory.
Hamas, which has released four hostages, has said it would let the others go in return for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including many implicated in deadly attacks on Israelis. Israel has dismissed the offer, and Netanyahu said the ground invasion “creates the possibility” of getting the hostages out, adding that Hamas will “only do it under pressure.”
Hamas released a short video Monday purporting to show three other female captives. One delivers a brief statement — likely under duress — criticising Israel’s response to the hostage crisis.
It was not clear when the Hamas video was made. The Associated Press usually refrains from reporting details of hostage videos because they show individuals speaking under duress and are often used for propaganda purposes.
Amos Aloni, whose daughter Danielle appeared in the video, told reporters that he and his wife were shocked to see her on TV but felt “relief from her being alive and seeing her.”
The US is providing weapons shipments on an almost daily basis to Israel, Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.
Despite the rising number of civilian casualties, “we are not putting any limits on how Israel uses weapons,” Singh said. “That is really up to the Israeli Defense Force.”
The Israeli military has been vague about its operations inside Gaza, including the location and number of troops. Israel has declared a new “phase” in the war but stopped short of declaring an all-out ground invasion.
Larger ground operations have been launched both north and east of Gaza City. Israel says many of Hamas’ forces and much of its militant infrastructure, including hundreds of kilometres of tunnels, are in Gaza City, which before the war was home to over 650,000 people, a population comparable to that of Washington, DC.
Though Israel ordered Palestinians to leave the north, where Gaza City is located, and move south, hundreds of thousands remain, in part because Israel has also bombarded targets in so-called safe zones. Around 117,000 displaced people hoping for safety are staying in hospitals in northern Gaza, alongside thousands of patients and staff, according to UN figures.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, says nearly 672,000 Palestinians are sheltering in its schools and other facilities, which have reached four times their capacity.
UNRWA head Philippe Lazzarini accused Israel of “collective punishment” of the Palestinians, and of forcing their displacement from northern Gaza to the south, where they are still not safe.
The death toll among Palestinians passed 8,300, mostly women and children, the Gaza Health Ministry said Monday. The figure is without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. More than 1.4 million people in Gaza have fled their homes.
Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack, also an unprecedented figure.