As Israeli tanks and infantry launched an overnight raid into Gaza, striking “numerous” targets before retreating to home soil, the UN issued a stark warning on Thursday, saying that “nowhere is safe” in Gaza amid increased Israeli air raids ahead of a widely anticipated ground offensive.
The UN humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, Lynne Hastings, said in a statement that “people are left with nothing but impossible choices,” as Israel hits almost every area of the Palestinian enclave in retaliation for Hamas’s stunning October 7 attacks.
Meanwhile, the Israeli forces announced the incursion into the north of the Palestinian territory hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared preparations for a ground war were underway.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) described the operation as a “targeted raid” that hit “numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts”.
It said the operation was “preparation for the next stages of combat” adding that “the soldiers have since exited the area and returned to Israeli territory”.
Military footage showed armoured vehicles and bulldozers breaking through a border fence south of Ashkelon, Israel. The footage was verified by AFP but it cannot be confirmed when the video was recorded.
Another video shows an airstrike, with buildings being struck with munitions, causing debris and smoke plumes.
Just hours earlier Netanyahu had delivered a nationally televised address to Israelis still grieving and furious after Hamas’s bloody October 7 attacks, telling them “we are in the midst of a campaign for our existence”.
The shock attack saw throngs of Hamas gunmen pour from Gaza into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping more than 200, according to Israeli sources.
However, as a result of heavy Israeli retaliatory strikes on Gaza, more than 6,500 Palestinians have been martyred including over 2,000 children, with the toll expected to rise substantially if tens of thousands of Israeli troops massed near Gaza move in.
‘Raining down hellfire’
Netanyahu, in the face of ever-louder international calls to temper the ferocious bombing campaign, vowed to press ahead with plans for a ground war.
Boasting of “raining down hellfire on Hamas” and killing “thousands of terrorists”, Netanyahu said his war cabinet and the military would determine the timing of a “ground offensive”.
He pledged to “eliminate Hamas” and “bring our captives home” but stressed that “I will not detail when, how or how many” forces would take part.
The ground raid into Gaza was not the first of its kind, a spokesman for the military told AFP. But it was likely to raise tensions in an already anxious region.
US President Joe Biden is among the foreign leaders stepping up public calls for Israel to “protect innocent civilians” and to follow the “laws of war” as it pursues Hamas targets.
Biden on Wednesday said he had privately suggested Israel should get hostages out if possible before any ground invasion.
“It’s their decision, but I did not demand it”, Biden said, as he called on Congress to allocate more money for Israeli defence.
Speaking in Cairo, French President Emmanuel Macron warned: “A massive intervention that would put civilian lives at risk would be an error.”
‘It’s a massacre’
Meanwhile, President Biden has stated he has “no confidence” in the Palestinian ministry figures as the death toll surges past 6,500.
While the exact death toll may be unclear, the depth of the suffering is not in question.
Entire neighbourhoods have been razed, surgeons in hospitals overwhelmed with wounded carry out procedures without anaesthetic, and ice cream trucks have become makeshift morgues.
“They’re not waging war on Hamas, they’re waging war on children,” charged one resident, Abu Ali Zaarab, after his family home was bombed in the southern town of Rafah. “It’s a massacre.”
About 1.4 million people — more than half of Gaza’s population — have been displaced, according to the United Nations.
The UN says 12 of the territory’s 35 hospitals have closed due to damage or insufficient fuel, and a key UN aid agency serving almost 600,000 Palestinians said it “began to significantly reduce its operations”.
Israel has cut off Gaza’s normal supply corridors for water, food and other necessities, and fewer than 70 relief trucks have entered the impoverished territory since the war began.
None contained fuel, which Israel fears Hamas will use for rockets and explosives.
Aid agencies have warned that more people will die if medical equipment, water desalination plants and ambulances stop operating because of a lack of fuel.
Once the generators stop, hospitals will “turn into morgues”, the Red Cross has warned. Hospitals are also struggling with a shortage of medicines and equipment.
“We performed a number of surgeries without anaesthetic,” said Ahmad Abdul Hadi, an orthopaedic surgeon working at Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis. “It’s tough and painful, but with the lack of resources, what can we do?”
A regional ‘explosion’
The war has sparked fears of a regional conflagration if it draws in more of Israel’s enemies.
Since October 7, Israel has launched thousands of strikes in Gaza, but it has also hit targets in Lebanon and Syria.
Late Wednesday, Lebanon-based Hezbollah fired what Israel said was a surface-to-air missile at an Israeli drone.
Israel’s military said it had intercepted the missile and “struck the source of the launch”.
Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria’s government are backed by Iran, which denies Israel’s right to exist.
Tehran’s top diplomat on Wednesday accused Israel of carrying out “genocide” in Gaza.
Jordan’s King Abdullah became the latest leader to warn that ongoing violence could “lead to an explosion” in the region.
His wife Queen Rania accused Western leaders of a “glaring double standard” for not condemning Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians in its bombardment of Gaza.
Violence has also risen sharply in the occupied West Bank, where health officials said more than 100 Palestinians had been killed, mostly in raids by Israeli troops or in clashes with Israeli settlers.