JERUSALEM — Israel and Hamas traded more heavy fire today in the Gaza war that has killed thousands as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited to stress strong solidarity but also urge restraint to protect Palestinian civilians.
Israel’s army has hammered Hamas with thousands of strikes ahead of what is widely expected to be a ground invasion of the crowded territory, after Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and took about 150 hostages.
More than 1,200 Palestinians have died in Gaza as Israel has levelled entire city blocks and destroyed thousands of buildings in the six days since Hamas launched their unprecedented attack, the bloodiest in Israeli history.
“Every Hamas member is a dead man,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the traumatised nation after forming a wartime government Wednesday, likening Hamas to the Islamic State group and vowing to “crush them and destroy them”.
“We have seen little children tied up and shot in the head, people burned alive, young girls raped and massacred, fighters beheaded,” he said in a televised speech. “What horror, what suffering.”
US President Joe Biden — who has expressed his revulsion at the atrocities, strongly backed Israel and started sending military aid — also cautioned on Wednesday that Israel must, despite “all the anger and frustration … operate by the rules of war”.
Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said Thursday the military was readying for a potential order to launch a ground invasion in the war with Hamas: “This has not been decided yet… But we are preparing for a ground manoeuvre if it is decided.”
“Right now we are focused on taking out their senior leadership,” he told journalists.
Fears have grown for Gaza’s 2.4 million residents now enduring the fifth war in 15 years in the long-blockaded territory, which has also seen seen Israel cut off water, food and power supplies.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres voiced concern about the “supercharged cycle of violence and horror”, urged the release of all hostages and the lifting of the siege, and stressed that “civilians must be protected at all times”.
“The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross Middle East chief Fabrizio Carboni, who stressed that hospitals without electricity “risk turning into morgues”.
There have been calls for a humanitarian corridor to allow Palestinians to escape ahead of a possible Israeli ground invasion that would spell brutal urban combat and house to house fighting.
Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz vowed that the total siege of Gaza would continue until the hostages are freed.