1 of 5 | Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged Hamas fighters to surrender, saying it was "the beginning of the end" for the organization which Israel, the United States and most Western countries have designated a terror group. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called on Hamas fighters to surrender, saying it was "the beginning of the end" for the organization, which Israel, the United States and most Western countries have designated a terror group.
Acknowledging it would take time, the increasing number of Hamas fighters surrendering showed the tide of the war was turning, Netanyahu said in a statement Sunday.
"In the past few days, dozens of Hamas terrorists have surrendered to our forces. They are laying down their weapons and turning themselves in to our heroic soldiers. This will take time. The war is still ongoing, but it is the beginning of the end of Hamas," Netanyahu said.
"I say to the Hamas terrorists: It's over. Don't die for [Hamas' leader in Gaza Yahya] Sinwar. Surrender -- now!"
Netanyahu's comments came as retired Israel Defense Forces Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi said Israel was close to gaining control in northern Gaza and fierce fighting continues in the south, in and around the city of Khan Younis.
"Within a week or two, the IDF will get full control of the northern part of the Gaza Strip," said Avivi, former deputy commander of the Gaza Division.
"It is a very dense area, a stronghold of Hamas, but geographically this is only 20% of the Gaza Strip. But, it is an important achievement."
Israel mounted airstrikes against central Gaza overnight, hitting, among other targets, the Maghazi and Nuseirat refugee camps. In Maghazi, 23 people were killed with more casualties feared trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Airstrikes also hit residences in the western part of Rafah and in the central district of the city, which is designated a "safe" zone.
IDF said its air and naval forces were supporting ground troops as they stormed "terrorist strongholds" in Jabalya, Shejaiya, Beit Hanoun and Khan Younis, as well as other areas.
On the diplomatic front, the rhetoric was also hardening, with Hamas threatening that none of the 138 hostages being held would leave alive as hopes Qatari negotiators would be able to broker a cease-fire -- 10 days after a temporary weeklong truce crumbled Dec. 1 -- appeared to be receding.
"Each party aims to destroy the other. The openings are narrower than they were before the last agreement, yet there is still an opening," said Qatari Prime and Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani.
He said the parties' earlier desire to negotiate was greatly diminished, but urged them to trust the process.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged Sunday to continue to fight for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza, after a U.N. Security Council resolution calling on Israel to implement an immediate cease-fire was vetoed by the United States on Friday.
Guterres said the Security Council's decision was regrettable but that did "not make it less necessary."
"I can promise I will not give up."
Guterres triggered the introduction of the resolution to "avert a humanitarian catastrophe that could have ramifications for peace and security in the region and beyond" by invoking the rarely used Article 99 of the United Nations Charter.