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A senior Israeli official offers a grim prediction for the war as fighting rages in Gaza’s Rafah

TEL AVIV, Israel (news agencies) — Israel’s war with Hamas is likely to last through the end of the year, a top Israeli official said Wednesday, a grim prediction for a war already in its eighth month that has killed tens of thousands, deepened Israel’s global isolation and brought the region repeatedly to the brink of a wider conflagration.

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi’s remarks were made as Israel was expanding its offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, which has been the scene of intense fighting over recent days that has killed dozens, including displaced Palestinians. The military said three Israeli soldiers were killed on Tuesday. Israeli media reported they were killed in a blast inside a building.

Hanegbi told Kan public radio that he was “expecting another seven months of fighting” to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group.

“The army is achieving its objectives but (it) said from the first days it was presenting its plan to the Cabinet that the war will be long,” he said. “They have designated 2024 as a year of war.”

Hanegbi’s remarks raise questions about the future of Gaza and what kind of role Israel will play in it. Already top ally the United States has demanded that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decide on a postwar vision for the Palestinian territory and his defense minister and a top governing partner have warned that he must take steps to ensure that Israel isn’t bogged down in Gaza indefinitely.

The war has already devastated Gaza’s urban landscape, displaced most of the territory’s population and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe and widespread hunger. It has opened Israel up to international legal scrutiny, with world courts faulting it over its wartime conduct, sparked disagreements with the White House, and prompted three European nations to recognize a Palestinian state against Israel’s wishes.

Israel says it must dismantle Hamas’ last remaining battalions in Rafah. It has also said it will seek indefinite security control over the Gaza Strip, even after the war ends.

Israel has yet to achieve its main goals of dismantling Hamas and returning scores of hostages captured in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war.

Beyond Rafah, Israeli forces were still battling militants in parts of Gaza that the military said it wrested control of months ago — potential signs of a low-level insurgency that could keep Israeli troops engaged in the territory.

The fighting in Rafah has displaced 1 million people, the United Nations says, and Palestinians on Wednesday reported heavy fighting in different parts of the city. Most of the people who had been in Rafah had previously been displaced from elsewhere in Gaza.

Residents said fighting was underway in the city center and on the outskirts of Tel al-Sultan, a northwestern neighborhood where an Israeli strike over the weekend ignited a fire that swept through an encampment for displaced people, killing dozens. The military says it is investigating the strike and said the blaze may have been caused by a secondary explosion.

An expensive floating pier built by the U.S. to surge aid into the territory was meanwhile taken out of service by bad weather, in another setback to efforts to bring food to starving Palestinians. Gaza’s land crossings are now entirely controlled by Israel.

Palestinians in Rafah said thousands were still streaming out of the city, joining a mass exodus bound for crowded tent camps and areas devastated by earlier rounds of fighting. Many have already been displaced multiple times since the start of the war.

Saeed Abu Garad, a father of five living in the city center, said he had seen Israeli soldiers and tanks a few hundred meters (yards) from his home. “We are leaving today. The situation is extremely dangerous,” he said, adding that his neighbors have already left.

Ramadan al-Najjar, who fled to Rafah from northern Gaza earlier in the war and has been sheltering outside Tel al-Sultan for the past five months, said the fighting has intensified there in recent days.

“After heavy airstrikes, they began advancing, and tanks are now at the district entrances,” he said.

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