Israel said Tuesday it has regained control of its border with Gaza and could be poised to launch a punishing ground assault into the Hamas-controlled, densely populated strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea, even as Israeli and militant forces bombarded each other with hours of missile attacks.
Four days after the Islamist Hamas group shocked Israel with a massive barrage of missile fire and broke through border barriers, Israeli Brigadier General Dan Goldfuss of the 98th Paratroopers Division said the military is now “moving into the offensive … to change the reality within Gaza to prevent such a thing from happening again.”
Although a ground invasion was not a certainty, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have strongly signaled it is in the offing. Israel called up another 60,000 reservists, adding to the 300,000 already summoned to fight in the Jewish state’s biggest conflict since the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
As night fell in Israel, rocket warning sirens blared in the coastal city of Ashkelon just north of the Gaza border as Hamas targeted it with numerous rockets. Earlier, Hamas aimed missiles at Tel Aviv and nearby Ben-Gurion International Airport, which the Palestinian militant group said on the Telegram social media site was “in response to the targeting of civilians” by Israel.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces launched dozens of missiles at Gaza, turning buildings into rubble in an instant, forcing surviving civilians to scramble for their lives.
The death toll from the fighting mounted steadily, with Israel saying that more than 1,000 of its citizens and people from other countries, including 14 Americans, have been killed inside Israel. Another 2,700 have been wounded.
In addition, Israel said the bodies of 1,500 Hamas fighters have been found inside Israel, giving a sense of the scope of Hamas’s Saturday’s invasion.
Palestinian authorities said at least 830 people have been killed and 4,250 injured in Gaza.
Hamas confirmed that Israel had killed two of its senior officials in the attacks. Hamas has taken about 150 Israelis as hostages and threatened to kill one of them each time Israel strikes Gaza without warning.
Authorities in Gaza said one Israeli strike hit the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, the only passageway out of the enclave.
The Israeli military said it carried out hundreds of airstrikes overnight into Tuesday and that the attacks targeted a Hamas military compound, a weapons warehouse and a command center in Gaza.
Many of the attacks hit Gaza City’s upscale Rimal neighborhood, an area that is home to Hamas operational centers as well as residential buildings and offices of nongovernmental organizations.
Israeli military spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht said that no militants had crossed into Israel since Monday.
The Israeli military said Hamas had also fired 4,500 rockets from Gaza since beginning its attack on Saturday.
Netanyahu said in an address late Monday that his country’s forces were “just beginning” their response.
“What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations,” Netanyahu said.
Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the occupied Palestinian territory, said in a statement Tuesday that at least 200,000 of the 2.2 million residents of the Gaza Strip have been displaced by the conflict. She said the intensity of the fighting is making it difficult for humanitarian workers to deliver aid.
Hastings called on all parties to comply with their obligations under humanitarian law.
“Civilians, especially children, medical facilities, humanitarian personnel health workers, and journalists must be protected,” Hastings said. “Captured civilians must be released immediately and unconditionally. Anyone captured or detained, including combatants, must be treated humanely and with dignity.”
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that while he recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns, military operations must be done within humanitarian law. He said civilians must be protected, and civilian infrastructure must not be targeted.
“I am deeply distressed by today’s announcement that Israel will initiate a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing allowed in — no electricity, food, or fuel,” Guterres said. “The humanitarian situation in Gaza was extremely dire before these hostilities. Now it will only deteriorate exponentially.”
The leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and the United States issued a joint statement expressing “united support to the State of Israel, and our unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.”
“All of us recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike. But make no mistake: Hamas does not represent those aspirations, and it offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed,” the statement said.
Ari Harow, former chief of staff to Netanyahu, told VOA’s Deewa Service that Israel did not have a choice when entering the conflict, with Hamas militants attacking on one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.
“This is not something that Israel had planned for or had wanted,” Harow said. “But once we have been dragged into this, and once war was declared, the goal is one and very clear, and that is to destroy forever the terror infrastructure in Gaza, to make sure that the people of Israel, the citizens of Israel, don’t have to face this type of brutality ever again.”