July 12th, 2024

Israel’s defense minister promises ground invasion of Gaza, tells troops to be ready

By Najib Jobain, Samya Kullab And Ravi Nessman, The Associated Press on October 19, 2023.

Wounded Palestinians lie on the floor in al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, after arriving from al-Ahli hospital following an explosion there, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. The Hamas-run Health Ministry says an Israeli airstrike caused the explosion that killed hundreds at al-Ahli, but the Israeli military says it was a misfired Palestinian rocket. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel’s defense minister told ground troops to be ready to enter the Gaza Strip, though he didn’t say when the invasion will start.

In a meeting with Israeli infantry soldiers on the Gaza border Thursday, Yoav Gallant urged the forces to “get organized, be ready” for an order to move in.

“Whoever sees Gaza from afar now, will see it from the inside,” he said. “I promise you.”

Israel has massed tens of thousands of troops along the border following a bloody Oct. 7 cross-border massacre by Hamas militants.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israeli airstrikes pounded locations across the Gaza Strip on Thursday, including parts of the south that Israel had declared as safe zones, heightening fears among more than 2 million Palestinians trapped in the territory that nowhere was safe.

With authorities still working out logistics for a delivery of aid into Gaza from Egypt, overwhelmed hospitals tried to stretch out ebbing medical supplies and fuel for diesel generators to keep the equipment running. Doctors in darkened wards stitched wounds by mobile phone light. A doctor at the largest hospital said staff were using vinegar from the corner store to treat infected wounds.

The Israeli military has relentlessly attacked Gaza in retaliation for a devastating Hamas rampage in southern Israel almost two weeks ago. Even after Israel told Palestinians to evacuate the north of Gaza and take refuge in the south, strikes extended across the territory and Palestinian militants continued firing rockets into Israel.

Israel’s consent for Egypt to let in food, water and medicine provided the first possibility for an opening in its sealing off of the territory. Many among Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are down to one meal a day and drinking dirty water.

Israel did not list fuel as a permitted item, but a senior Egyptian security official said Egypt was negotiating for the entry of fuel for hospitals. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.

With the Egypt-Gaza border crossing in Rafah still closed, the already dire conditions at Gaza’s second-largest hospital deteriorated further, said Dr. Mohammed Qandeel of Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis. Power was shut off in most departments to save it for intensive care and other vital functions, and staff members were using mobile phones for light.

At least 80 wounded civilians and 12 dead flooded into the hospital Thursday morning after witnesses said a strike hit a residential building in Khan Younis. Doctors had no choice but to leave two of the incoming to die because there were no ventilators left, Qandeel said.

“We can’t save more lives if this keeps happening, meaning more children … more women will die,” he said.

The Gaza Health Ministry pleaded with gas stations to give whatever fuel they had left to hospitals. The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, gave some of its little remaining fuel stores to hospitals, according to spokesperson Juliette Touma.

The agency’s donation to Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest, would “keep us going for another few hours,” hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia told The Associated Press.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 3,785 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, the majority of them women, children and older adults. Nearly 12,500 others were injured, and another 1,300 people were believed buried under the rubble, health authorities said.

More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly civilians slain during Hamas’ deadly incursion on Oct. 7. Roughly 200 others were abducted. The Israeli military said Thursday it had notified the families of 203 captives.

More than 1 million Palestinians, roughly half of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes in Gaza City and other places in the northern part of the territory since Israel told them to evacuate. Most have crowded into U.N.-run schools-turned-shelters or the homes of relatives.

The deal to get aid into Gaza through Rafah, the territory’s only connection to Egypt, remained fragile. Israel said the supplies could only go to civilians in southern Gaza and that it would “thrwart” any diversions by Hamas. U.S. President Joe Biden said the deliveries “will end” if Hamas takes any aid.

Egypt must still repair the road across the border, which Israeli airstrikes cratered in a no-man’s land and on the Gaza side. No equipment had arrived to start the repair work as of Thursday afternoon, the Hamas spokesman for the crossing, Wael Abu Omar, said.

More than 200 trucks and some 3,000 tons of aid were positioned at or near Rafah, according to Khalid Zayed. the head of the Red Crescent for North Sinai.

U.S. officials said the first deliveries would likely take place Friday at the earliest, with an initial group of 20 trucks. The Egyptian security official also said the first trucks were expected to go in Friday.

Asked if foreigners and dual nationals seeking to leave would be let out of Gaza, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Al-Arabiya TV: “As long as the crossing is operating normally and the (crossing) facility has been repaired.”

Israel had previously said it would let nothing into Gaza until Hamas freed the hostages taken from Israel. Relatives of some of the captives reacted with fury to the aid announcement.

“Children, infants, women, soldiers, men, and elderly, some with serious illnesses, wounded and shot, are held underground like animals,” the Hostage and Missing Families Forum said in a statement. But “the Israeli government pampers the murderers and kidnappers.”

The Israeli military reported Thursday that it killed a top Palestinian militant in Rafah and hit hundreds of targets across Gaza, including militant tunnel shafts, intelligence infrastructure and command centers. It said it also hit dozens of mortar-launching posts, most of them immediately after they were used to fire shells at Israel. Palestinians have launched barrages of rockets at Israel since the fighting began.

Israel has said it is attacking Hamas militants wherever they may be in Gaza. It has accused the group’s leaders and fighters of taking shelter among the civilian population, leaving Palestinians feeling in constant danger.

After Thursday’s strikes in Khan Younis, sirens wailed as emergency crews rushed to rescue survivors from the crushed apartment building. Many residents were believed trapped under twisted bed frames, broken furniture and cement chunks. A small, soot-covered child, dangling in the arms of a rescue worker, was taken out of a damaged building.

Gaza’s Hamas-led government said several bakeries in the territory were hit in the overnight strikes, making it even harder for residents to get food.

Days ago, the Musa family fled from the north to the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah and took shelter in a cousin’s three-story home near the local hospital. But at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, a series of explosions, believed to be airstrikes, rocked the building, turning the family home into a mountain of rubble that they said buried some 20 women and children.

The dead body of Hiam Musa, the sister-in-law of Associated Press photojournalist Adel Hana, was recovered from the wreckage Wednesday evening, the family said. They don’t know who else was under the rubble.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Hana said. “We went to Deir al-Balah because it’s quiet. We thought we would be safe.”

The Israeli military said it was investigating.

In northern areas that Israel warned to evacuate, airstrikes also hit three residential towers in al-Zahra, the Hamas-led Interior Ministry in Gaza said, as well as homes along the border with Israel. Israel has massed troops in the area and is expected to launch a ground invasion into Gaza, though military officials say no decision has been made.

In the West Bank, 74 Palestinians have been killed since the war started, included nine by Israeli forces and one by a settler in the last two days, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Overnight, Israeli forces carried out a major raid in the West Bank, arresting 80 Palestinians, bringing the total arrested since the war’s start to more than 500, the military said.

Violence between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon has also flared in recent days amid fears the Hamas-Israel conflict could spread across the region. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for firing several missiles at Israel from southern Lebanon on Thursday, including one which struck an Israeli kibbutz.

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Nessman reported from Jerusalem and Kullab from Baghdad. Associated Press journalists Amy Teibel and Isabel Debre in Jerusalem; Samy Magdy and Jack Jeffrey in Cairo; and Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.

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