Israeli forces including tanks rolled into northern Gaza overnight in the biggest incursion of the war against Hamas so far to carry out ‘targeted raids’ on ‘terrorist cells’ ahead of a full-scale ground invasion.
In an indication Israel was widening assaults into Gaza that began at the weekend, the military said ground forces attacked multiple targets in the Hamas-ruled enclave on Thursday before withdrawing.
The IDF said its tanks and infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts before returning to Israeli territory ‘as part of preparations for the next stages of combat’.
Israel’s battle-hardened Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night warned Hamas terrorists in a televised statement that they were ‘doomed’ as he vowed to push ahead with a ground invasion.
Israeli tanks and troops are massed on the border with Gaza awaiting orders. Israel has called up 360,000 reservists. International pressure is growing to delay any invasion of Gaza, not least because of hostages. More than half the estimated 220 hostages held by Hamas have foreign passports from 25 different countries, the Israeli government said. Many were believed to have had dual Israeli nationality.
Mr Netanyahu said the battle against the Hamas murderers who massacred around 1,500 Israeli civilians on October 7 was necessary to ‘save our country’ and the airstrikes on Gaza were only ‘the beginning’.
The IDF said that tanks and infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts
Israeli air strikes continue to bombard Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attending a press conference in Jerusalem
But questions remain over the exact time-frame after it was reported that the country was delaying the ground attack to allow the US to rush missile defences to the region.
In a televised address yesterday evening, Mr Netanyahu said: ‘We have set over this war two main goals: to do away with Hamas by destroying its military and governmental capabilities, and to do everything within our power to return our hostages back home. All Hamas militants are doomed. Above the earth, underground, within Gaza and outside of Gaza.’
There are thought to be around 222 hostages, aged from nine months to 85, being held by Hamas in Gaza.
Mr Netanyahu acknowledged that there would need to be ‘soul-searching’ on how the terrorist group was able to carry out the murderous attack of October 7 without the knowledge of the country’s intelligence services.
But he said his role now was to lead Israel to ‘all-out victory’ over its enemies. He added: ‘When we enter Gaza, later on in our fighting, we are going to take the full prize from those terrorists who carried out those atrocities of Hamas.’
More deadly attacks on Gaza on October 25, 2023
Satellite view shows the Palestinian city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza on October 10
Mr Netanyahu said the country’s special war cabinet had taken the final decision on when forces would go into the blockaded Palestinian enclave. He said he ‘will not tell’ how and when the invasion would happen, nor how extensive it would be.
But it had been suggested last night that the planned assault was on hold at the request of the White House.
The Pentagon is scrambling to deploy nearly a dozen air-defence systems to protect US troops serving in the Middle East, including in Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, and Syria.
US officials are said to be concerned that terrorist groups across the region would target American troops once the incursion begins, the Wall Street Journal reported.
In Iraq and Syria, there have been at least 13 drone and missile attacks since October 18, which have wounded some two-dozen US personnel. President Joe Biden denied the reports however, telling reporters: ‘It’s their decision but I did not demand it.’
Israel is also weighing up the need to supply humanitarian aid to civilians inside Gaza, as well as the diplomatic efforts to free more hostages from the clutches of Hamas. A full-scale ground assault threatens to further stoke geopolitical tensions in the region.
On Tuesday, a news agency with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it is ‘likely’ the Tehran-backed Hezbollah group in Lebanon would become involved in the war with Israel. During a trip to Cairo yesterday, French president Emmanuel Macron said that a ‘massive’ ground incursion into Gaza would be a mistake, instead suggesting that the international coalition formed to fight terror group Isis should be resurrected to eradicate Hamas. Mr Biden warned ‘there’s no going back to the status quo as it stood on October 6’ between Israelis and Palestinians.
Speaking alongside Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese, Biden said he would ‘guarantee’ Israel had ‘what it needs to defend itself against these terrorists’.
Last night Mr Netanyahu vowed to gain the support of the international community for the upcoming invasion. He said: ‘We are mobilising the support of world leaders to continue this campaign and many of them understand today what we keep repeating since 2014: Hamas is Isis and Isis is Hamas.
‘I am telling them that our war against Hamas is also their war against Hamas… it is a struggle between the axis of evil of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran and that of progress and freedom.’
Eight Syrian soldiers were killed by Israeli air strikes on southwest Syria yesterday, according to the Syrian state news agency Sana. Israel’s military said its jets had struck Syrian army infrastructure and mortar launchers in what it described as a response to rocket launches from Syria toward Israel.