Jerusalem, – Israel has shifted its military strategy, announcing the deployment of infantry and tanks into the Gaza Strip. This marks a significant transition from an air campaign to ground operations as Israel intensifies its efforts to eliminate Hamas fighters following a deadly incursion into southern Israel just a week ago.
Numerous Gaza residents have fled their homes, attempting to escape the impending Israeli offensive, after authorities ordered over a million people to evacuate the northern half of the Gaza Strip within 24 hours. However, Hamas has urged residents not to comply with the evacuation orders.
Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari confirmed that ground troops, supported by tanks, had initiated raids to target Palestinian rocket crews and gather information on the whereabouts of hostages. This marks the first official account of ground forces deployed in Gaza since the recent crisis escalation.
While many residents could be seen leaving the northern part of Gaza, many have opted to remain in their homes, with some expressing that they would rather face the danger than leave their homeland.
Hamas, which controls the densely populated Palestinian territory, has pledged to fight relentlessly, declaring that they will not cease until the last drop of blood is shed. The situation has escalated as Gazans increasingly move southward desperately for safety.
"Death is better than leaving," declared Mohammad, a 20-year-old Gazan, emphasizing his commitment to staying in Gaza. The situation has also prompted mosques to broadcast messages urging residents to remain in their homes and stand their ground.
According to Gaza authorities, the Israeli strikes on vehicles carrying evacuees killed 70 people and left 200 wounded. These claims have yet to be independently verified. The United Nations and other organizations have voiced grave concerns over the potential humanitarian disaster that could result from this massive displacement.
U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric expressed skepticism about evacuating over a million people within such a densely populated war zone in less than 24 hours. However, Israel has retorted, insisting that the U.N. should condemn Hamas and support Israel's right to self-defense.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has emphasized that aid organizations will struggle to assist amid the Israeli siege on Gaza. The urgency of the situation has left humanitarian organizations overwhelmed by the staggering needs.
The White House has acknowledged the complexities of such a massive evacuation but refrained from questioning Israel's decision to issue the evacuation order. White House national security spokesperson John Kirby emphasized the need to isolate the civilian population from Hamas, the main target of the Israeli operation.
The evacuation order applies to the northern half of the Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, and involves an estimated half of the 2.3 million Gazans. The U.N. revealed that Israel intends for this population to cross the Gaza Wadi wetland, bisecting the enclave.
The Palestinian Authority's President, Mahmoud Abbas, has expressed concerns to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, comparing the forced displacement in Gaza to 1948, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were displaced from Israel. The majority of Gazans are descendants of these refugees.
Gaza, one of the most densely populated places on earth, faces an acute crisis as there are limited avenues of escape due to Israel's total blockade. At the same time, Egypt has thus far resisted calls to open its border to fleeing residents.
The ongoing conflict has witnessed Hamas fighters breaching the border fence and inflicting casualties on Israelis, resulting in Israel launching its most intensive air campaign against Gaza in the 75-year history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to Gaza authorities, the competition has resulted in the deaths of 1,800 people, while the United Nations reported that 400,000 individuals have already been rendered homeless.
To bolster their narrative, Hamas released a video on Friday showing its fighters interacting with children in a village they had seized. On the other hand, Israel contends that entire families have been killed during the conflict.
In a meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, they emphasized their determination to fight for their homeland and future. Austin expressed the flow of military aid to Israel but encouraged resolve over revenge.
Blinken held discussions in Jordan with King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas, followed by a visit to Qatar, an influential U.S. ally with ties to Islamist groups.
According to Palestinian officials in the West Bank, demonstrators supporting Gaza have engaged in gun battles with Israeli security forces, resulting in 11 reported fatalities.
The situation has raised concerns about hostilities spreading to new fronts, including Israel's northern border with Lebanon, where clashes have intensified, marking the deadliest conflict since 2006.
Reuters' news videographer, Issam Abdallah, lost his life while working in southern Lebanon. Reuters has initiated efforts to gather more information and is collaborating with regional authorities to ascertain the circumstances of his death.
Previously, it was reported that Israeli shelling struck a Lebanese army observation post at the border. The Israeli military claimed that the shelling was in response to a suspected armed infiltration, later determined to be a false alarm. Lebanese state media reported that shells struck near Alma Al-Shaab and Dhayra, locations that have witnessed repeated clashes in the past week.
Israel's U.N. envoy has pledged to investigate the situation following the journalist's tragic death, emphasizing their commitment to minimizing civilian casualties.
As the conflict in Gaza intensifies, the situation remains highly volatile, with both sides entrenched and a growing humanitarian crisis that the international community is struggling to address.
Edited by: Sri Soudamini Konka
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