The Israeli military announced that it initiated a “major offensive” against Hamas targets in Gaza on Thursday without providing specific details. This action coincided with the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region, where he aimed to engage with leaders on both sides of the conflict.
Israeli airstrikes had been ongoing for several days in response to a weekend incursion by Hamas militants who breached the border fence surrounding Gaza, resulting in widespread casualties. According to the Israeli military, this breach led to the tragic loss of 1,200 lives, over 2,700 injuries, and numerous hostages taken.
At approximately 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, the Israeli military carried out a “large-scale strike” on Hamas targets in Gaza, although they did not offer specifics. Hamas media reported that 15 Palestinians had been killed and several others injured in the Israeli airstrikes. Eyewitnesses observed intense bombardment by Israeli aircraft in Gaza City, and Gaza authorities confirmed an airstrike on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza. The death toll in Gaza had risen to 1,200, with approximately 5,600 injuries, as reported by Palestinian media, citing the Gaza Health Ministry.
In a show of continued support for Israel and an effort to secure the release of captives, including Americans, U.S. President Biden dispatched Secretary of State Blinken to the Middle East. His visit included a stop in Jordan but excluded the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas typically occur. Blinken and Abbas were expected to meet on a social media platform on Friday, as announced by Hussein Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
President Biden, addressing a roundtable of Jewish community leaders in Washington, explained that deploying military assets closer to Israel served as a signal to Iran, which supports Islamist groups like Hamas and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. He conveyed a warning to Iran, emphasizing the need for caution.
Initial U.S. intelligence reports suggested that Iran was aware of Hamas militants’ plans against Israel, but some Iranian leaders appeared surprised by the group’s unprecedented attack from Gaza. Iran officially denied involvement in the Hamas attacks.
In an interesting development, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman held a telephone call, marking their first direct contact since a China-brokered deal to resume ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. During their conversation, they discussed the importance of ending war crimes against Palestine, according to Iranian state media. As reported by Saudi state news agency SPA, the Saudi crown prince expressed the Kingdom’s commitment to working with international and regional parties to de-escalate the ongoing conflict.
‘WE ARE ALL SOLDIERS OF ISRAEL’
On Wednesday, Israeli leaders came together to establish a unity government with a commitment to set aside their longstanding political differences and focus on addressing the conflict with Hamas.
Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a centrist opposition leader, appeared on Israeli television alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to announce the formation of a war cabinet specifically dedicated to managing the ongoing conflict.
Gantz emphasized that their partnership transcended political interests, stating, “Our partnership is not political, it is a shared fate. At this time, we are all soldiers of Israel.”
Netanyahu stressed the unity of the Israeli people and leadership, saying, “We have put aside all differences because the fate of our state is on the line.”
Gantz’s National Unity Party, which had been staunchly opposing judicial reforms proposed by Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition, pledged not to pursue unrelated policies or laws during the ongoing conflict.
Israel imposed a “total siege” on Gaza, preventing the flow of food and fuel to the enclave, home to 2.3 million people, many of whom are impoverished and reliant on aid. According to reports from Hamas media, electricity was disrupted as the only power station in Gaza stopped functioning.
Amid the crisis, overwhelmed Palestinian rescue workers sought to address the aftermath of the conflict, while others in the densely populated coastal strip worked tirelessly to search for survivors and victims amid the rubble. A man described how his house had collapsed on top of him while he was sleeping, and he joined fellow residents using flashlights to search for trapped individuals in a building struck by missiles.
HAMAS’ WILL CEASE TO EXIST,’ ISRAELI DEFENSE CHIEF SAYS
Hamas-affiliated media reported on Wednesday that Israeli airstrikes had resulted in the deaths of seven individuals in Khan Younis, a city in southern Gaza.
The ongoing conflict has led to the displacement of approximately 340,000 people out of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million. Around 65% of those displaced have sought refuge in shelters or schools, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs within the enclave.
In response to the escalating situation, Israel has positioned tanks and armored vehicles near Gaza, potentially indicating preparations for a ground offensive into the Hamas-governed coastal territory.
Israel withdrew Jewish settlers and its military presence from Gaza in 2005 after 38 years of occupation. However, a blockade imposed by Israel since Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007 has created dire living conditions that Palestinians deem intolerable.
Israeli Defense Minister Gallant expressed a strong stance, stating, “We will wipe this thing called Hamas, ISIS-Gaza, off the face of the earth,” drawing parallels between Hamas and the Islamic State group. He added, “It will cease to exist.”
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, addressing his supporters, pledged full support for Israel in the event of his re-election, vowing to defeat, dismantle, and permanently destroy the terrorist group, Hamas. Trump criticized Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for what he perceived as a lack of preparedness prior to the attacks, asserting that under his administration, such readiness would not have been necessary. In contrast, President Biden reported that he had spoken with Netanyahu on multiple occasions in recent days, emphasizing the importance of Israel adhering to the rules of war in its response to Hamas.
The United States has engaged in discussions with Israel and Egypt concerning the safe passage of civilians from Gaza, particularly due to shortages of food and other essential supplies in the region.