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Israel readies troops for invasion as Gaza civilians flee

by Central News Reporter
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Israel readies troops for invasion as Gaza civilians flee

Alarm has grown over the fate of Palestinian civilians in blockaded and besieged Gaza

 

Israel pressed on Sunday with preparations for a ground offensive in Gaza, after giving Palestinians a little more time to flee northern areas it has vowed to target in response to the deadliest attack in its history.

Hamas fighters gunned down, stabbed and burned to death more than 1,300 people in the attack that Israel has compared to 9/11 in the United States, sparking a massive retaliatory bombing campaign targeting the Islamist group that has killed over 2,200 in Gaza.

Palestinians survey the rubble of a collapsed building following an Israeli strike, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

Palestinians survey the rubble of a collapsed building following an Israeli strike, in Khan Yunis, southern Gaza Strip. Photo: AFP

Israel has warned around 1.1 million Gazans living in the north of the Palestinian territory to flee to the south ahead of a ground incursion which the military has indicated will focus on Gaza City, the base of the leadership of the Hamas militant group.

The military said Gaza City residents must not delay their departure but a spokesperson said late Saturday they still had time to leave and that the ground offensive would not start on Sunday.

Since Friday thousands of Gazans, who cannot leave the enclave as it is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases, to trudge through the rubble-strewn streets.

A stream of cars, trucks, three-wheeled vehicles and donkey-drawn carts joined the frantic mass movement south, all loaded with families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding and bags strapped onto the roofs of packed vehicles.

‘More is coming’

Israel pummelled northern Gaza with fresh air strikes on Saturday. AFP reporters near the southern Israeli city of Sderot saw troops fire at the densely populated enclave, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the sky.

The Israeli military said Saturday the bodies of some of the dozens of hostages abducted by Hamas in its attacks had been found during operations inside Gaza.

Hamas earlier reported 22 hostages had been killed in Israeli bombardments.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a flak jacket, earlier visited troops on the border front line, raising expectations of an imminent invasion.

“Are you ready for what is coming? More is coming,” he was heard telling several soldiers on a video released by his office.

To avert the risk of the war escalating into a regional conflict, the United States deployed a second aircraft carrier that would “deter hostile actions against Israel”, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.

Humanitarian crisis

Alarm has grown over the fate of Palestinian civilians in blockaded and besieged Gaza – one of the world’s most densely populated areas, home to 2.4 million – if it becomes the scene of intense urban combat and house-to-house fighting.

Aid agencies have said forcing Gazans to move is impossible while the war rages.

But with food, water, fuel and medical supplies running low because of an Israeli blockade, aid agencies are warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis.

“The situation is catastrophic,” said Jumaa Nasser, who travelled from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza with his wife, mother and seven children.

“We’ve had no food or sleep. We don’t know what to do. I’ve given my fate up to God,” he told AFP.

The World Health Organization said Saturday that forcing thousands of hospital patients to evacuate to already overflowing hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip could be “tantamount to a death sentence”.

Exiled Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel on Saturday of committing “war crimes” in Gaza but he ruled out any “displacement” of Gazans, including to Egypt.

Hamas is regularly accused by Israel of using civilians as human shields.

On the diplomatic front, Chinese envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East next week to push for a ceasefire and promote peace talks, state broadcaster CCTV reported Sunday.

Saudi Arabia has also pressed for an “immediate ceasefire”. Russia said it had asked the UN Security Council to vote on Monday on its ceasefire resolution.

Biden calls

In a call Saturday, US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu the United States was working with the United Nations, Egypt, Jordan and others in the region “to ensure innocent civilians have access to water, food, and medical care”.

Biden also spoke with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas and pledged “full support” to the Palestinian Authority in its efforts to bring humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, “particularly in Gaza,” according to the White House.

Several people were reportedly killed in an Israeli bombardment while heading south on Saturday, according to Hamas officials and witnesses.

AFP could not immediately confirm the report.

International aid agencies, including the UN and Red Cross, plus several foreign diplomats are concerned about the feasibility of the evacuation plan.

“We fear an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe,” said Ivan Karakashian, of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

More than 423,000 Palestinians have already left their homes, and 5,540 homes have been destroyed, according to the United Nations.

Air strikes

Israel, which has likened last week’s attacks to those on September 11, 2001 in the United States, has fired thousands of missiles at northern Gaza.

One air strike killed Ali Qadi, described as “a company commander of the Hamas ‘Nukhba’ commando force” involved in the unprecedented attack, the army said.

“Localised” raids have also taken place, as Israeli troops encircle the Gaza Strip, said army spokesman Jonathan Conricus.

“We will likely evolve into additional significant combat operations,” he added. “When we do so, remember how this started… all of this is Hamas-made.”

But National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi admitted intelligence lapses that failed to spot the attack in advance.

Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which it has likened to the Islamic State group.

But it maintains that ordinary Palestinians are not their target.

The Hamas attack and the war it sparked — Gaza’s fifth in 15 years — have upended Middle Eastern politics, prompting fears that the violence will spread across the volatile region.

Palestinian prime minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of “genocide” in Gaza, while clashes in the occupied West Bank have killed 53 Palestinians in the past week.

Angry protests condemning Israel and supporting the Palestinians in Gaza took place across the Arab world on Friday.

Western capitals, including London and Washington, also saw pro-Palestinian marches.

Israel readies troops for invasion as Gaza civilians flee

Israel readies troops for invasion as Gaza civilians flee

Northern threat

Israel faces the threat of a separate confrontation on its northern border with Lebanon and artillery exchanges have taken place with the Iran-backed Hezbollah group in recent days.

On Friday, a Reuters video journalist was killed and six other reporters, from AFP, Reuters and Al-Jazeera, were wounded in shelling that Lebanon blamed on Israeli forces.

Two Lebanese civilians were killed in Israeli shelling of a southern village on Saturday, its mayor told AFP. Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed by Israeli fire.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari on Saturday night warned that the army “has very large forces in the north.”

“Whoever reaches the fence to infiltrate Israel, will die,” he said in televised remarks.

A potential Israeli ground invasion has also increased fears for the safety of the 150 hostages, including foreigners, that Israel said Hamas seized during its deadly rampage.

Hamas has threatened to kill the hostages one by one for every unannounced Israeli air strike.

Israel’s army says it has contacted the families of 120 civilians being held so far. They called for medicines to be transferred to the captives as soon as possible.

AFP
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