By Mimi Nguyen Ly
Israel continued with its targeted air strikes against Hamas targets in southern Gaza on Sunday, having indicated it would intensify its attacks as preparation for the next stage of its war on the Iran-backed Islamic terrorist group.
When asked about a possible ground invasion into Gaza, Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told Israeli reporters in a briefing late Saturday that the military was trying to create optimal conditions.
“We will deepen our attacks to minimize the dangers to our forces in the next stages of the war. We are going to increase the attacks, from today,” Mr. Hagari said.
“For your own safety move southward,” he said, directing his message to Gaza City residents. “We will continue to attack in the area of Gaza City and increase attacks.”
Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the fenced border around the narrow Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for a likely ground invasion.
The impending escalation comes more than two weeks after Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented, brutal attack on Israel that involved thousands of rockets fired from Gaza, and a massacre of innocent civilians in Israel’s south. At least 1,400 people died and thousands more were injured on Israel’s side of the border.
Meanwhile, the Hamas-backed Gaza Health Ministry has claimed that over 4,000 civilians have been killed and over 12,500 have been injured in Gaza. In previous Gaza wars, some Palestinian deaths in Gaza were later determined to have been caused by rockets from Hamas that fell short. Israel’s military determined on Saturday that Hamas has fired at least 550 rockets aimed at Israel that failed and fell inside the Gaza Strip.
At least 210 people, including 30 children, have been captured from Israel by the terrorists and taken into Gaza. Hamas released the first two hostages on Friday.
‘Destroy Hamas Operatives and Infrastructure’
The Israeli military distributed a video on Saturday in which Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi told troops: “We are going to go into the Gaza Strip, we will embark on a professional operational mission to destroy Hamas operatives and Hamas infrastructure and we will have in our mind the memories of the images and those who fell on Saturday two weeks ago.”
Israeli troops have carried out live fire drills “in preparations for the next stage of war,” according to footage the Israeli army released on Saturday.
Late on Saturday, the United States introduced a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council that affirms Israel’s right to self-defense and calls on Iran to halt the export of arms to “militias and terrorist groups threatening peace and security across the region.”
Global reactions to the war vary, with Western leaders generally supporting Israel’s efforts against Hamas, while many Muslim states have demanded an immediate ceasefire, amid international attention and concern regarding the humanitarian impact on Gaza’s civilian population.
‘Fight Until Victory’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, remains steadfast in his goal for Israel to “fight until victory” in Gaza, suggesting no immediate plans for any ceasefire.
Israel had started its “complete siege” of Gaza shortly after the Oct. 7 attack, cutting off electricity and water it had been supplying, and blocking the entry of food, fuel, and medicine to the enclave, which has an estimated 2.3 million residents. Israel has vowed to maintain the complete siege until all hostages are freed by Hamas.
Hamas, meanwhile, has said it will not discuss the fate of what it calls “Israeli army captives” until Israel ends its “aggression” on Gaza.
“Our stance with regards to Israeli army captives is clear: it’s related to a [possible] exchange of prisoners, and we will not discuss it until Israel ends its aggression on Gaza and Palestinians,” Hamas official Osama Hamdan, speaking from Lebanon, said on Saturday in a televised press conference.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) previously said in a statement on Thursday: “Hamas has said it will not release the hostages until Israel ends its bombardment of Gaza, and only then in exchange for the release of 5,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, including women and children.”
Humanitarian Aid Arrives in Gaza
The first humanitarian aid deliveries have begun moving into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, which was briefly opened to let in trucks. The United Nations said the 20-truck convoy included life-saving supplies that would be received by the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The international aid, which includes food, medical supplies, and drinking water, is intended to support an estimated 700,000 people who fled the northern parts of Gaza following Israel’s warning to evacuate the region. The U.N. humanitarian office (OCHA) said the volume of goods that entered on Saturday was equivalent to about 4 percent of the daily average of imports into Gaza prior to the war.
President Joe Biden praised the arrival of the aid after days of intense negotiations and said the United States was committed to ensuring more assistance would enter via the Rafah border crossing.
“We will continue to work with all parties to keep the Rafah crossing in operation to enable the continued movement of aid that is imperative to the welfare of the people of Gaza, and to continue working to protect civilians, consistent with obligations under international humanitarian law,” the U.S. president said in a statement.
Separately, concerns are mounting regarding a second conflict Israel may have to wage against Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
The Israeli military said Saturday it struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to recent rocket launches and attacks with anti-tank missiles, which had hit one of its soldiers. Meanwhile, Hezbollah said the cross-border fighting has killed six of its terrorists.
“Hezbollah has decided to participate in the fighting, and we are exacting a heavy price for this,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday during a visit to the border.
Israel has been evacuating its residents living at its northern border in anticipation of allowing the Israeli Defense Forces to “expand its operational freedom” to act against Hezbollah, Mr. Hagari said on Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday that the Lebanese people would be affected if his country were drawn in, the U.S. State Department said.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.