Last Updated: October 15, 2023, 09:24 IST
Israel plans to send tens of thousands of troops to capture Gaza City and “destroy” the leadership of the Palestinian enclave, The New York Times reported on Saturday citing Israeli military officers. The report stated the Israeli offensive would be the largest since 2006’s Second Lebanon War and would see the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attempt to hold on to parts of Gaza.
According to Israeli officials, the IDF’s rules of engagement are being eased so soldiers will be able to shoot at suspects more easily. Troops will be particularly focused on killing Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar. “That man is in our sights,” spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said. “He’s a dead man walking, and we will get to that man.”
In a video posted on X, the military spokesperson said that its war is not with the people of Gaza. “We have a responsibility towards our own people and make sure this thing never happens again. That is why Israeli Defense Forces is operating to eliminate Hamas in Gaza,” he said.
Call for Evacuation
This latest offensive comes as the Israeli military has called for evacuation, demanding the territory’s entire population cram into the southern half of Gaza. Expressing concern about the order, UN agencies called for Israel to not target civilians, hospitals, schools, clinics and UN locations. A week into the Hamas war, over 2,000 people have been killed in the Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian figures.
Gaza’s evacuation directive covers an area of 1.1 million residents or about half the territory’s population. The Israeli military said “hundreds of thousands” of Palestinians had heeded the warning and headed south. It gave Palestinians a six-hour window that ended Saturday afternoon to travel safely within Gaza. On Saturday, Palestinians scrambled for escape from northern Gaza or huddled by the thousands at a hospital in the target zone in hopes it would be spared, as Israel intensified warnings of an imminent offensive by air, ground and sea following Hamas militants’ deadly rampage in Israel a week ago, killing more than 1,300 people.
As it prepares for a large-scale offensive, Israel this week dropped leaflets from the air and redoubled warnings on social media for more than 1 million Gaza residents to move south. The Israeli military said it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a concentrated campaign against Hamas militants in the north, including in what it said were underground hideouts in Gaza City. The World Health Organization (WHO) said the evacuation “could be tantamount to a death sentence” for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals, including newborns in incubators and people in intensive care.
In a Saturday night address, Israel’s chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, accused Hamas of trying to use civilians as human shields and issued a new appeal to Gaza residents to move south. “We are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon,” he said, without giving a timetable for the attack against the 40-kilometer-long territory.
“The Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not our enemies,” an Israeli military spokesman, John Conricus, said. “We don’t assess them as such, and we don’t target them as such. We are trying to do the right thing.” Israel has called up some 360,000 military reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said late Saturday that the US was moving in a second carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 5,500 rockets into Israel since the fighting erupted, the Israeli military said. In a televised speech Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, a top official, said that “all the massacres” will not break the Palestinian people. Fighting continued in the run-up to the expected offensive, with defiant Hamas launching rockets into Israel and Israel carrying out strikes in Gaza.
(With agency inputs)