Israel intensified its offensive against Hamas in Gaza following the United States’ veto on a UN bid for a ceasefire, eliciting a warning from Iran about a potential regional ‘explosion’.

Israel pressed its offensive against Hamas militants in Gaza on Saturday after the United States blocked an extraordinary UN bid to call for a ceasefire in the two-month war.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority swiftly condemned the US veto as the Hamas-run health ministry put the latest death toll in Gaza at 17,487 people, mostly women and children.

An Israeli strike on the southern city of Khan Yunis killed six people, while five others died in a separate attack in Rafah, the ministry said on Saturday.

Vast areas of Gaza have been reduced to rubble, and the UN says about 80 percent of the population has been displaced, with dire shortages of food, fuel, water, and medicine reported.

Israel’s military said on Friday that it had struck 450 targets in Gaza over 24 hours, showing footage of strikes from naval vessels in the Mediterranean.

On Friday, the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, saying the resolution “would leave Hamas in place, able to repeat what it did on October 7.”

Hamas slammed the US rejection of the ceasefire bid on Saturday as “a direct participation of the occupation in killing our people and committing more massacres and ethnic cleansing.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said it was “a disgrace and another blank cheque given to the occupying state to massacre, destroy, and displace.”

The veto was swiftly condemned by humanitarian groups, with Doctors Without Borders (MSF) saying the Security Council was “complicit in the ongoing slaughter.”

People gather amid the destruction following an early morning Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 9, 2023. (Photo by Said Khatib / AFP)
Iran Warns of ‘Explosion’

Iran warned on Saturday of the threat of an “uncontrollable explosion” of the situation in the Middle East after the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza war.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the top diplomat of the Islamic Republic, also appealed for the immediate opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt to enable humanitarian aid to be sent into the Gaza Strip.

“As long as America supports the crimes of the Zionist regime (Israel) and the continuation of the war… there is a possibility of an uncontrollable explosion in the situation of the region,” Amir-Abdollahian told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a phone call, according to a foreign ministry statement.

The Iranian foreign minister praised the UN chief’s decision to use Article 99 of the UN Charter as a “brave action to maintain international peace and security.”

“The Israeli regime’s claim that Hamas has violated the ceasefire is completely false,” Amir-Abdollahian told Guterres, adding that US support for Israel “has made it difficult to achieve a lasting ceasefire.”

Southern Israel, near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 9, 2023. (Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)
Protection of Humanitarians

With the death toll of medical workers in the conflict mounting, more than a dozen World Health Organization member states submitted a draft resolution on Friday that urged Israel to respect its obligations under international law to protect humanitarians in Gaza.

They called for Israel to “respect and protect” medical and humanitarian workers exclusively involved in carrying out medical duties, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities.

Only 14 of the 36 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were functioning in any capacity, according to the United Nations’ humanitarian agency, OCHA.

With the civilian toll mounting, US National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Friday that Washington believes Israel needs to do more to protect civilians in the conflict.

Katrine Dige Houmøller, with AFP