In a field close to the Gaza border a young female conscript is preparing for action.
Just a fortnight ago she was working in an advertising agency in Tel Aviv, now she is heading for the hell that is Gaza – and its Hamas terrorists.
‘It’s pretty different from what I was doing two weeks ago, that’s for sure. But everything changed on October 7,’ she said, referring to the slaughter of 1,400 of her fellow citizens by Hamas. ‘This is our fight for survival. We are trained for this and we will win.’
She is among 370,000 conscripts who abandoned their day jobs – and their cars outside army bases – to sign up. Both the people of Israel and of Gaza are braced for mass bloodshed as the former vows to punish Hamas by land, air and sea.
I watched as crews made the final preparations for their ‘Swords of Iron’ invasion of Gaza – with tanks, troops and fearsome armoured bulldozers massed for the onslaught.
An Israeli armoured column masses near the Gazza Strip on October 20, 2023 ahead of a possible invasion into the Gaza strip
An Israeli armoured column masses near the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023
An Israeli armoured column masses near the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023
The mighty Caterpillar D9R, nicknamed ‘Doobi’, which means ‘teddy bear’ in Hebrew, is designed to smash fences and take on the maze of narrow streets, vast tunnel networks, booby traps and sniper positions that await Israeli troops.
The eve-of-war manoeuvres came as:
- Israel confirmed two American hostages had been released by Hamas in a Qatari-brokered deal;
- Rishi Sunak met the Palestinian president during a peace summit in Egypt as part of his whistlestop diplomacy drive across the Middle East;
- Immigration minister Robert Jenrick said foreigners chanting pro-Palestine slogans could have their visas revoked;
- UK police confirmed a 1,300 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents over last two weeks;
- Climate activist Greta Thunberg faced a furious backlash after her solidarity image ‘Stand with Gaza’ featured a toy interpreted as anti-Semitic;
- The BBC quietly dropped its use of the word ‘militants’ to refer to Hamas;
- A ‘hostage manual’ found on the bodies of Hamas fighters instructed gunmen to ‘kill the problematic’ ones.
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, Oct. 20, 2023
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip towards Israel, as seen from Ashkelon, in southern Israel, October 20, 2023
Palestinian people carry out search and rescue operations in the ruined buildings at Nuseirat Refugee Camp as the Israeli airstrikes continue on the 14th day in Gaza Strip, Gaza, on October 20, 2023
Once the ‘teddy bears’ smash a path into Gaza, Merkava battle tanks will rumble through the breach. Merkavas, ‘chariots’ in Hebrew, are said to be among the most powerful tanks yet built.
Under a blazing sun yesterday, soldiers dashed between their tanks, filling jerry cans and checking weapons in the undisclosed location a short distance from the Gaza border.
A local Israeli with us, as we watched the jaw-dropping mass of armoured vehicles, said: ‘To think all of those tanks are going into Gaza is terrifying for everybody. But it has to be done to Hamas once and for all. The prospect for both sides truly scares me. It will go on for a long time I believe.’
Today marks two weeks since heavily-armed Hamas killers burst out of the Gaza enclave at dawn and struck terror into Israeli villages, beheading babies, blasting pensioners to death and torching homes to condemn occupants to burn alive.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, Egypt, 20 October 2023
IDF Caterpillar D9R armored bulldozer (File Photo)
Some 203 hostages, including 20 children and up to 20 pensioners, were trussed up and frogmarched to Gaza where they are now ‘human shields’.
Israel claimed yesterday to know that the ‘majority’ were still alive, but their families are utterly terrified as the country vows to annihilate the terror group holding them. Yesterday Moshe Leimberg, 59, said he could not bear to watch the news. His wife Gabriela, daughter Mia, 17, and other relatives were snatched by Hamas at the Nir Yitzhak kibbutz.
He said: ‘I want my family back. I want my daughter and I want my wife. I want my brother-in-law, and I want my sister-in-law and my sister-in-law’s life partner, and I want my dog back.’
Hamas is offering to release some of the hostages in exchange for an immediate ceasefire. Last night it released two American hostages, a mother and daughter, ‘for humanitarian reasons’.
But military chiefs yesterday unveiled a ‘three-phase’ war, the first time Israel has set out a long-term plan to deal with its bloodiest conflict in decades.
Defence minister Yoav Gallant, who on Thursday banged the drum for war by telling troops they would ‘soon’ see Gaza up close, told Israeli lawmakers to expect air strikes and ground manoeuvres, followed by targeted attacks on pockets of resistance from Hamas fighters.
The third stage, he said, would see an end to Israel’s ‘responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip’, without saying who Israel expected to run the Gaza Strip if Hamas is toppled.
An Israeli Merkava tank drives past a fence near Kibbutz Beeri, close to the border with Gaza on October 20, 2023, in the aftermath of an attack by Palestinian militants on October 7
Rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, October 20, 2023
This handout satellite picture taken on October 20, 2023, shows a view of humanitarian aid trucks moving in a convoy near Sheikh Zuwayed in Egypt’s North Sinai province and bound for the Rafah border crossing between northeastern Egypt and the southern Gaza Strip. Cargo planes and trucks have been bringing humanitarian aid to Rafah for days, but so far none has been delivered to Gaza
Gaza is now a ‘hellhole’ for civilians, and time is running out to get aid into the territory, the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees said. Palestinian officials say more than 4,100 people have been killed in Gaza during the air strikes by vengeful Israel over the past fortnight.
UN aid workers branded the crisis ‘catastrophic’, with 600 children estimated to be missing under the rubble of bomb sites. Medics and aid groups have warned that hospitals treating thousands of people critically injured are on the brink of running out of power.
The ‘green light’ for the ground invasion came after Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly won private backing from US President Joe Biden.
Major General Yaron Finkelman warned the expected ground offensive would be ‘long and intense’.
The toughest test for the strike force will be in the warren of congested streets around Gaza City and its sprawling refugee camps – one of the most densely populated areas on earth.
Hamas will be lying in wait in a fortified warren of tunnels stretching miles beneath the enclave. Despite Israeli planes and artillery pounding Gaza for nearly two weeks, militants were still managing to fire rockets into Israel yesterday.
Tanks mass on border as Sunak urges Arab leaders to stay calm
By Jason Groves and Mary O’Connor
As Israeli tanks and troops massed on the border with Gaza last night, Rishi Sunak yesterday urged Arab leaders to do ‘everything possible’ to prevent the Hamas terror attacks in Israel triggering a wider war in the Middle East.
The Prime Minister held talks in Cairo with Egypt president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi aimed at calming the volatile situation and creating a route to send humanitarian aid into Gaza.
In a diplomatic coup, the PM also had discussions with veteran Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who snubbed talks with US President Joe Biden after a hospital in Gaza was hit by an explosion on Tuesday.
Downing Street said the PM offered Mr Abbas his ‘deep condolences for the loss of civilian lives in Gaza, including the terrible destruction of the al-Ahli hospital’ when the two men met in the run-up to today’s Arab peace summit in Cairo.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to discus situation in Gaza, at Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on October 20, 2023
Mr Sunak said the UK would provide aid to Gaza and that he remained committed to a ‘two-state solution’ in which ‘Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security’. No 10 said the two men ‘condemned Hamas terrorism and stressed that Hamas do not represent the Palestinian people’.
Earlier, the PM held talks in Saudi Arabia with the emir of Qatar, who is a key figure in negotiations to secure the release of more than 200 hostages taken by Hamas on October 7. Downing Street said the two leaders ‘underlined the imperative of avoiding any escalation in the violence across the region’, agreeing that all leaders had a ‘responsibility to do everything possible to prevent it’.
A spokesman said Mr Sunak thanked Qatar for its efforts to secure the release of hostages, including at least two Britons.
Meanwhile, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres visited the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza yesterday.
He implored the international community to ensure aid trucks could enter the ‘hellhole’. Speaking to media on the Egyptian side of the crossing, Mr Guterres insisted the safe passage of humanitarian aid lorries into Gaza was ‘the difference between life and death’ for Palestinians and that the trucks needed to enter the enclave as quickly as possible.