Israel continued to pound Gaza with deadly airstrikes Tuesday, displacing more than 100,000 people and sending waves of injured Palestinians to overwhelmed hospitals, after Hamas threatened to kill civilian hostages and broadcast the executions if airstrikes target Gaza without warning.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had “more or less” secured the border with Gaza, breached on Saturday when Hamas sent fighters pouring into Israeli territory to launch its devastating attack. The IDF said it had recovered the bodies of about 1,500 Hamas fighters inside Israel since Saturday.
Up to 150 hostages are being held in Gaza, complicating the picture as Israel considers how to respond. A huge buildup of tanks was apparent close to the border with Gaza, while Israel continued its barrage of airstrikes. Israel has pledged to cut off all supplies to the impoverished enclave in a “complete siege” ahead of an expected ground incursion.
Erdan said the number of people believed to have been taken hostage in Gaza is estimated to be between 100 and 150. On Sunday, Hamas claimed to be holding more than 100 hostages in Gaza, including high-ranking Israeli army officers.
“Of course, we want to see all of our boys, girls, grandmothers, everyone who was abducted we want to see them back home, but right now, our focus is looking at our national strategy is to obliterate Hamas terrorist capabilities,” Erdan said, as violence continued into a fourth day Tuesday.
At least 900 people were killed and thousands injured in Israel after Hamas’ surprise assault.
Israel formally declared war on Hamas on Sunday and has since been battering the strip with air strikes that have killed at least 765 people, including dozens of children and women, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It said thousands more had been injured.
Erdan added that the presence of hostages in Gaza is “not going to stop us, prevent us from doing what we need to do in order to secure the future of Israel.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israeli forces would attack Hamas with a force “like never before” and that the destruction of the group’s strongholds in Gaza would be “just the beginning.”
“This enemy wanted war, and this is what they will get,” Netanyahu said Monday, adding “difficult days are still ahead of us.”
It is anticipated that Israel will launch a major offensive into Gaza, although the full scale of the Israeli response remains unclear.
“What happens on the way and how we implement that task will be seen. But at this stage, we continue to strike from the air. And there are plans to, of course, expand that,” IDF spokesperson Lt Col. Jonathan Conricus said. “The troops, the reserves, and the regular units that are amassing along the southern border are readying for their tasks.”
Attempts have continued by Hamas to breach the border in order to launch suicide missions to kill civilians and soldiers, Conricus added.
The IDF has also amplified its presence along its northern border with Lebanon, adding tens of thousands of additional troops “in anticipation of a Hezbollah attack,” Conricus said.
The IDF had earlier said it killed armed individuals who “infiltrated” Israel from Lebanon. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for targeting three Israeli sites in Shebaa Farms, which Lebanon considers Israeli-occupied.
On Tuesday, the IDF reported a suspected aerial infiltration in the northern areas of the Golan Heights and Upper Galilee, near Syria and Lebanon. “IDF soldiers are directing IDF aircraft and conducting searches in the area,” read a post on the IDF Telegram channel.
Israel accused of deliberately targeting civilians
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said late Monday it has been forced to close all 14 of its food distribution centers in Gaza and “as a result half a million people have stopped receiving vital food aid.”
More than half of its population lives in poverty and is food insecure, with nearly 80% of its population relying on humanitarian assistance.
Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, where some 2 million people live in an area of 140 square miles.
It has been almost completely cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 17 years, when Hamas seized control, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a strict siege on the territory, which is ongoing. Israel also maintains an air and naval blockade on Gaza.
Israeli strikes on Monday targeted the Shati and Jabalia refugee camps in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, describing the assault as a “massacre against the entire neighborhood.”
Further airstrikes on a residential building killed two local journalists and injured another in the western part of the Gaza Strip, according to a statement by the Hamas-controlled Government Media Office.
Saed Al-Taweel and Mohammed Sabah were covering the evacuation of a threatened building when the Israeli strike hit, said a statement from Salama Marouf, the head of the media office. They were clearly identifiable as press members and were wearing safety gear and distinctive journalist markings, Marouf said.
Meanwhile, the ministry accused Israeli forces of “persistent and deliberate targeting of civilian neighborhoods, health facilities, and notably, medical and rescue crews, as well as ambulance vehicles.”
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
The ministry said five medical staff had been killed in targeted attacks inside Gaza.
Asked whether Israeli forces were distinguishing between civilian, governmental and military targets, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the distinction was not so simple.
“In buildings where people are living there could be a weapons store… there could be a Hamas kingpin living there,” he said Tuesday.
Access to medical care has been complicated by Israel cutting power to the territory, and the ministry said that all services at the only functioning hospital in Gaza’s Beit Hanoun neighborhood were suspended due to continuous Israeli airstrikes. Nine ambulances have been targeted since Saturday, the ministry added.
Most of those arriving at hospitals in Gaza have sustained second- and third-degree burns and amputations, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry told Palestinian news outlet Shihab Agency on Monday. Many have also sustained shrapnel injuries, Ashraf al-Qidra said.
Those seeking hospital care are mainly women and children, al-Qidra said, adding that this is a “result of Israelis directly targeting residential houses and buildings.”
The UNRWA said its emergency shelters in Gaza are at 90% capacity with more than 137,000 people taking cover from Israeli strikes. It also said that one UN school housing displaced families was “directly hit,” without giving further details. It’s unknown how many people were in the shelter at the time of the strike.