Israel’s imminent invasion of Gaza could turn into an occupation lasting 18 months in order to dismantle the ‘bloodthirsty monsters’ of Hamas.
Rainy weather delayed the full-scale onslaught yesterday but Israel’s prime minister vowed to ‘demolish’ the terror group.
A week after the bloodbath that shocked the world, Benjamin Netanyahu said the nation was approaching a ‘fateful hour’.
However, the United Nations has warned that the ‘spectre of death’ looms over Gaza as hundreds of thousands continue fleeing from the expected Israeli invasion.
Supplies of food, water, fuel and medicines are running dangerously low after Israel imposed blockades on the Palestinian territory and aid convoys were barred from entering its southern border with Egypt.
Israel Defense Force (IDF) troops were photographed in a ‘band of brothers’ moment as they prepared for the imminent Gaza ground incursion
Troops gather round, arm in arm, as a senior IDF officer gives a speech on the outskirts of Ashkelon on October 15
Israeli troops patrol in armoured personnel carriers in northern Israel on October 15, close to the country’s border with Lebanon, amid skirmishes with Lebanon
Israel has been massing tanks and armoured vehicles, as well as troops, along Israel’s border with Gaza for several days
Undeterred by the comments of human rights observers over recent days, Mr Netanyahu said preparations were being made around the clock to launch the ground offensive, with nearly 400,000 soldiers gearing up for battle in Gaza.
He pledged: ‘They are ready to take action to defeat the bloodthirsty monsters who have risen against us to destroy us. Hamas thought that we would come apart – we will demolish Hamas.’
Scores of Israeli soldiers were yesterday photographed with arms draped over each other’s shoulders in a ‘band of brothers’ moment as they prepared near Ashkelon, by the Gaza border.
The Israeli military’s rules of engagement have reportedly been ‘loosened’ for the ground invasion to allow fewer checks before shooting.
Yesterday more anguished families spoke of their horror at seeing harrowing videos of their loved ones being held hostage. Some ten Britons are among up to 200 kidnapped by Hamas during their sickening rampage nine days ago. They face being paraded as human shields during the impending invasion.
There were reports yesterday that Israel rejected a prisoner exchange offer by Hamas in order to focus on its own military efforts.
Diplomatic sources said the offer, brokered by Qatar, would have entailed women, children and the elderly being exchanged for 36 Hamas prisoners held in Israel.
Soldiers from Israel’s highly secretive SAS-style Sayeret Matkal unit have instead been conducting lightning raids to seek out the hostages, so far without any known success.
The might of the country’s armed forces is poised to follow them in by air, land and sea, with their goal ‘the rout of Hamas and the elimination of its leaders,’ said Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
As more than a million civilians in Gaza fled their homes, analysts suggested Israel could become bogged down for more than a year hunting for terrorists in the 25-mile long enclave.
Nimrod Novik, a former senior Israeli diplomat and security adviser, said some military and political leaders wanted soldiers to undertake 18 months of door-to-door arrest operations to root out the Hamas top brass.
Israel has been exchanging rockets, artillery fire and anti-tank shells with Lebanon after Hamas-aligned groups such as Hezbollah are believed to have fired on the country (pictured: an Israeli artillery shell explodes over the Lebanese village of al-Bustan on October 15)
IDF troops patrol an area of northern Israel, close to the border with Lebanon, on October 15
Yesterday rockets, artillery fire and anti-tank shells were exchanged between Lebanon – home to terror group Hezbollah – and Israel, threatening to drag the region into open warfare.
Israel reported its first civilian death from a Hezbollah strike in the current violence, with a man in his 40s killed in a guided missile attack on the northern community of Shtula.
But Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said the country had ‘no interest’ in a war with the group.
‘If Hezbollah chooses the path of war, it will pay a very heavy price,’ he said. ‘But if it restrains itself, we will respect that and keep the situation as it is.’
Israeli jets have carried out bombing runs in Lebanon, however, as the IDF threatened to ‘destroy’ the country if Hezbollah entered the war.
Tzachi Hanegbi, an Israeli national security advisor, has warned the Iran-sponsored terror group to stand down from creating a second combat front – or reckon with ‘the destruction of Lebanon’.
Iran’s foreign minister threatened ‘no one can guarantee non-expansion of war’ if Israel invaded Gaza.
Meanwhile, the country has been urged by its allies – including Britain – to be ‘restrained’ in its response so as not to inflame a furious backlash in the Arab world.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken conducted a whistle-stop tour of Arab states at the weekend in order to preserve the fragile peace in the wider region.
He reiterated that Washington stands with Israel ‘today, tomorrow and every day’ but it must take ‘every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians’.
But his various Arab hosts did not necessarily share the same view with Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sissi saying after Mr Blinken’s visit to Cairo that Israel had already ‘exceeded the right to self-defence’.
As the fourth British evacuation flight of UK citizens took off from Israel, air raid sirens continued to blare across the country and a rocket blasted a house in Sderot, a town near the Gaza border.
Israeli police extinguish a fire after a rocket fired from within the Gaza Strip landed in Sderot, near the border with the occupied territory
Israeli soldiers in armoured personnel carriers (APCs) travel along the border with Gaza today
Fighters from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah carry out a training exercise in southern Lebanon in May this year
Israeli army soldiers patrol an undisclosed area close to the border with Lebanon on Sunday
A woman mourns at the funeral of Israeli man Antonio Macias, who was killed by Hamas at the Supernova music festival on October 7
But in Gaza, which has been the target of near-ceaseless bombardment by the Israelis since October 7, the UN said it could no longer provide water in its shelters, warning: ‘Gaza is being strangled… Gaza is running out of life.’
Yesterday it was reported Israel had re-opened the water supply in south Gaza after an intervention by US President Joe Biden.
Hospitals said they were at crisis point and trying to move the seriously ill and wounded would amount to a ‘death sentence’.
Humanitarian agencies warned that many more would die if aid and other supplies were not allowed into Gaza.
‘The spectre of death is hanging over Gaza,’ said Martin Griffiths, UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs. ‘With no water, no power, no food and no medicine, thousands will die. Plain and simple.’
UNRWA, the UN agency supporting Palestinian refugees, said Gaza faced an ‘unprecedented human catastrophe’ and Israel’s blockades meant it could no longer provide aid.
But authorities in Gaza claimed airstrikes had hit a convoy of civilians on a supposed safe evacuation route, killing 70. Israel’s military denied it was responsible for the explosion on Friday and suggested Hamas was to blame.
Hospitals in northern Gaza reported they had been overwhelmed by casualties from airstrikes and had no electricity or key medical supplies.
Videos posted online showed bodies wrapped in white cloth stored in empty ice cream freezer trucks after hospitals, morgues and cemeteries ran out of space.
Hospitals said they were at crisis point and trying to move the seriously ill and wounded would amount to a ‘death sentence’
More than 9,000 people have been wounded and up to 1,000 are feared trapped or missing under buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes – including this strike, said to have hit a convoy of Palestinian civilians as they were fleeing. The IDF has denied responsibility
Meanwhile, Israel’s armed forces have vowed to defeat Hamas ‘from the air, sea and land’ – and footage circulating shows they’re already taking the fight to the terrorists ahead of an expected ground assault in the coming days.
Graphic footage shared by the Israel Defense Force (IDF) showed Israeli soldiers gunning down Hamas troops as they swam for their lives in the Mediterranean Sea; other footage shows an air strike that the army claims killed a Hamas leader involved in planning the murderous October 7 attacks.
Footage has also emerged of what appears to be the first Hamas fighters attempting to breach the border between Israel and Gaza last week as IDF troops in the observation post yell: ‘Commander, commander, we are at war!’.
In a statement published on Saturday, the IDF said it is preparing to ‘expand the offensive’ with a ‘wide range of offensive operational plans’ which it says include a ‘joint and coordinated attack from the air, sea and land.’
Ahead of the incursion into Gaza, special forces have been conducting sorties within the occupied Palestinian territory to take on Hamas fighters and gather information on the 155 hostages captured by the terror group eight days ago.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has confirmed that around ten Britons are being held hostage by Hamas as he warned that the terrorists want to create a war between ‘the Muslim world and the wider world’.
Urging Israel to show restraint amid mounting concerns about the fate of civilians in Gaza ahead of an imminent offensive, the Foreign Secretary said Hamas was ‘not a friend to the Palestinian people’.
Mr Cleverly added that it was not ‘unreasonable’ to estimate that around ten British civilians were taken hostage by Hamas in last week’s assault – and said there were British nationals among the dead and wounded. But he added: ‘I’m really, really uncomfortable implying that there is certainty where frankly there isn’t.’
Fighters from Hezbollah stand next to vehicles that carry rear-mounted rocket launchers in May this year
An Israeli APC moves near the border with Lebanon in Amiad, Israel, earlier today amid rising tensions in the area
The Palestinian Health Ministry says 2,670 Gazans have been killed since Israel launched its counter-attack against Hamas on October 7; Israel claims 1,400 people have been killed by Hamas to date, almost half that killed in return.
It pushes the combined death toll on both sides past 4,000 – as international observers call for humanitarian aid corridors to be opened up into Gaza to allow food, water, medicine and power to be supplied.
Israel has ordered 1.1million Gazans in the north of the Strip to evacuate ahead of the ground assault – an all-or-nothing order that has been met with condemnation by the World Health Organisation, which said it was ‘tantamount to a death sentence’ for those being treated at the 22 hospitals in the area.
Medical centres in the south reported they had also been hit by airstrikes. Doctors and nurses were risking their own lives to stay with their patients, officials said.
The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Pope have called for greater protection for civilians caught in the conflict.
However, the spectre of an all-out war across the Middle East continues to loom.
Speaking about the most recent exchange of fire at the border with Lebanon, Admiral Daniel Hagari suggested Israel was prepared to fight a war on two or more fronts.
He said: ‘We responded and eliminated the source of the shooting, Lebanon is responsible for the shooting from its territory – we will act anywhere in the Middle East to fulfill our needs.’
An injured Palestinian man walks away from a scene of destruction following an Israeli airstrike on a building in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 15
Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant, wearing a flak jacket, speaks to troops near the border with Gaza on October 15
Israeli troops guard a border fence with Gaza on October 15, ahead of an expected ground incursion in the coming days
A young girl carries a cat as she moves away from a strike-hit area of Gaza City
He said Israeli authorities had informed the families of 155 people held captive in Gaza, and said at least 289 Israeli soldiers were killed when Hamas launched a devastating attack on communities around the Gaza Strip eight days ago.
It comes as preparations continue for a planned ground invasion of Gaza, which will have come after days of heavy bombing in the Palestinian territory and warnings from the Israeli army for civilians to evacuate.
But Iran, which is heavily involved in the region, has warned that it won’t ‘simply remain an observer’ if the situation escalates and suggested that it would inflict damage on American interests in the process.
Its foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said: ‘We have conveyed our message to the Zionist regime through its allies that if they do not cease their atrocities in Gaza, Iran cannot simply remain an observer.
‘If the scope of the war expands, significant damages will also be inflicted upon America.’
Analysts have said Hezbollah is more likely to scale up its involvement if Israel launches a ground offensive of Gaza.
Iran, which supports Hamas and Hezbollah, warned Sunday that a ground offensive could expand the scope of the conflict elsewhere in the Middle East.
‘No one can guarantee the control of the situation and the non-expansion of the conflicts,’ Mr Amirabdollahian added.
He had told reporters in Beirut days ago that ‘Lebanon’s security and peace’ was important for Tehran and warned that ‘any possibility is conceivable’.