July 21st, 2024

Military spokesman says Israel plans to increase strikes on Gaza

By Najib Jobain, Samy Magdy And Joseph Krauss, The Associated Press on October 21, 2023.

A flock of birds fly as the sun sets at the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – Israel’s military spokesman said Israel plans to step up its attacks on the Gaza Strip starting Saturday as preparation for the next stage of its war on Hamas.

Asked about a possible ground invasion into Gaza, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters Saturday night that the military was trying to create optimal conditions beforehand.

“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,” Hagari said.

He repeated his call for residents of Gaza City to head south for their safety.

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

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) – The border crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened Saturday to let a trickle of desperately needed aid into the besieged Palestinian territory for the first time since Israel sealed it off following Hamas’ bloody rampage two weeks ago.

Just 20 trucks were allowed in, an amount aid workers said was insufficient to address the unprecedented humanitarian crisis. More than 200 trucks carrying 3,000 tons of aid have been waiting nearby for days.

Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians, half of whom have fled their homes, are rationing food and drinking dirty water. Hospitals say they are running low on medical supplies and fuel for emergency generators amid a territory-wide power blackout. Five hospitals have stopped functioning because of fuel shortages and bombing damage, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said.

Israel is still launching waves of airstrikes across Gaza as Palestinian militants fire rockets into Israel.

The opening came after more than a week of high-level diplomacy, including visits to the region by U.S. President Joe Biden and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Israel had insisted nothing would enter Gaza until Hamas released all the captives from its Oct. 7 attack on towns in southern Israel.

Late Friday, Hamas freed its first captives – an American woman and her teenage daughter. It was not immediately clear if there was a connection between the release and the aid deliveries. Israel says Hamas is still holding at least 210 hostages.

On Saturday morning, an Associated Press reporter saw the 20 trucks heading north from Rafah to Deir al-Balah, a quiet farming town where many evacuees from the north have sought shelter. Hundreds of foreign passport holders at Rafah hoping to escape the conflict were not allowed to leave.

American citizen Dina al- Khatib said she and her family were desperate to get out. “It’s not like previous wars,” she said. “There is no electricity, no water, no internet, nothing.”

The trucks were carrying 44,000 bottles of drinking water – enough for 22,000 people for a single day, it said. “This first, limited water will save lives, but the needs are immediate and immense,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

The World Health Organization said four of the trucks were carrying medical supplies, including trauma medicine and portable trauma bags for first responders.

“The situation is catastrophic in Gaza,” the head of the U.N.’s World Food Program, Cindy McCain, told The Associated Press. “We need many, many, many more trucks and a continual flow of aid,” she said, adding that some 400 trucks were entering Gaza daily before the war.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government called for a secure corridor operating around the clock.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesman, said “the humanitarian situation in Gaza is under control.” He said the aid would be delivered only to southern Gaza, where the army has ordered people to relocate, adding that no fuel would enter.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken appealed to all sides to keep the crossing open for crucial aid shipments and warned Hamas to not take the aid.

“Palestinian civilians are not responsible for Hamas’s horrific terrorism, and they should not be made to suffer for its depraved acts,” he said in a statement. “As President Biden stated, if Hamas steals or diverts this assistance it will have demonstrated once again that it has no regard for the welfare of the Palestinian people.”

Guterres gave voice to growing international concern over civilians in Gaza, telling a summit in Cairo that Hamas’ “reprehensible assault” on Israel “can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”

Two Egyptian officials and a European diplomat said extensive negotiations with Israel and the U.N. to allow fuel deliveries for hospitals had yielded little progress. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information on the sensitive deliberations.

One Egyptian official said they were discussing the release of dual-national hostages in return for the fuel, but that Israel was insisting on the release of all hostages.

The release of Judith Raanan and her 17-year-old daughter, Natalie, on Friday brought some hope to the families of others believed held hostage.

Rachel Goldberg, whose son is thought to have been badly wounded before he was taken hostage, said she was “very relieved” by the news.

“We are hopeful that that the people who were behind this wonderful release of Judith and Natalie will keep working night and day. But quickly,” she said. “I think he could be dying. So we don’t have time.”

Hamas said it was working with Egypt, Qatar and other mediators “to close the case” of hostages if security circumstances permit.

There are growing expectations of a ground offensive that Israel says would be aimed at rooting out Hamas. Israel said Friday it does not plan to take long-term control over the small but densely populated Palestinian territory.

Israel has also traded fire along its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants, raising concerns about a second front opening up. The Israeli military said Saturday it struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to recent rocket launches and attacks with anti-tank missiles.

“Hezbollah has decided to participate in the fighting, and we are exacting a heavy price for this,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said during a visit to the border.

Israel issued a travel warning Saturday, ordering its citizens to leave Egypt and Jordan – which made peace with it decades ago – and to avoid travel to a number of Arab and Muslim countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain, which forged diplomatic ties with Israel in 2020. Protests against Israel’s actions in Gaza have erupted across the region.

An Israeli ground assault would likely lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides in urban fighting. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed in the war – mostly civilians slain during the Hamas attack.

More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry. That includes the disputed toll from a hospital explosion. The ministry says another 1,400 are believed buried under rubble.

At the summit Saturday, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi called for ensuring aid to Gaza, negotiating a cease-fire and resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which broke down more than a decade ago. He also said the conflict would never be resolved “at the expense of Egypt,” referring to fears Israel may try to push Gaza’s population into the Sinai Peninsula.

King Abdullah II of Jordan told the summit that Israel’s air campaign and siege of Gaza were “a war crime” and slammed the international community’s response.

“Anywhere else, attacking civilian infrastructure and deliberately starving an entire population of food, water, electricity, and basic necessities would be condemned,” he said. Apparently, he added, “human rights have boundaries. They stop at borders, they stop at races, they stop at religions.”

Over a million people have been displaced in Gaza. Many heeded Israel’s orders to evacuate from north to south within the sealed-off coastal enclave. But Israel has continued to bomb areas in southern Gaza .

A senior Israeli military official said the air force will not hit the area where aid is being distributed unless rockets are fired from there. “It’s a safe zone,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to reveal military information.

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Magdy reported from Cairo and Krauss from Jerusalem. Associated Press journalists Isabel DeBre, Julia Frankel and Ravi Nessman in Jerusalem, Sam Magdy in Cairo, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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