Israel on Thursday launched new attacks on Gaza, vowing there would be no letup in its bombardment of the Hamas-controlled territory until the militants release the estimated 150 hostages they are holding.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be lifted, no water hydrant will be opened, and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home,” Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz posted on X, formerly Twitter. “Humanitarian for humanitarian. And nobody should preach us morals.”
Israel ramped up preparations for a ground invasion of Gaza but said no decision had been made on moving forward with such an offensive.
Israel’s military has positioned 300,000 reservists near the Gaza border as it responds to a Hamas attack that killed at least 1,200 people in Israel.
A campaign of Israeli airstrikes that began hours after Saturday’s Hamas incursion has killed at least 1,350 people in Gaza.
The U.S. said that 27 Americans were killed in the Hamas attack and 14 are still missing.
The United Nations said nearly 340,000 Palestinians have been displaced from their homes in Gaza, with more than two-thirds of them taking shelter in U.N. schools.
Humanitarian organizations have expressed alarm about the fast-dwindling supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine in Gaza amid an Israeli blockade of the narrow strip of land along the Mediterranean Sea.
Meanwhile, the chief of staff for Israel’s military, Herzi Halevi, acknowledged Thursday that the military had failed to protect people living near Gaza when Hamas launched its shock attack.
He said the Israel Defense Forces are “responsible for the security of the country and its citizens, and on Saturday morning in the area surrounding the Gaza Strip, we did not,” Halevi said. “We will learn, we will investigate, but now is the time for war.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi highlighted the need to “ensure the regularity of humanitarian and relief services, as well as aid to the people in the Gaza Strip.”
Sissi’s office said in a statement that he told British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a phone call Thursday that Egypt is pushing for calm to prevent “sliding into a bloody path” where civilians will pay the price.
Palestinian health officials said 14 health facilities have been damaged and 10 health care workers killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli airstrikes since the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself following the Hamas attack, while also stressing the need to take precautions to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
“We know Hamas didn’t commit its heinous acts with the interests of the Palestinian people in mind,” Blinken said as he spoke to reporters alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Hamas has only one agenda: to destroy Israel and to murder Jews.”
Netanyahu thanked the United States for its support and vowed to crush Hamas in the same way that Islamic State group was defeated.
“There will be many difficult days ahead, but I have no doubt that the forces of civilization will win,” Netanyahu said. “We must stand tall, proud and united against evil.”
The U.S. has provided more military assistance to Israel to defend itself, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying the U.S. is placing no specific conditions on how Israel uses the American-provided munitions.
Blinken is also due to visit Jordan, where a U.S. official said he will meet Friday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Also on Friday, Brazil, which holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, is set to chair a council meeting to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict.
NATO said defense ministers meeting Thursday in Brussels condemned the Hamas attack, expressed their solidarity with Israel and called on the militants to immediately release all hostages.
“Israel does not stand alone,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant briefed the NATO defense ministers by video conference to update them about the conflict.
At the White House, President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington’s support for Israel and assured a group of Jewish leaders Wednesday that his administration was “working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel.”
U.S. officials say 27 Americans were killed in the Hamas attacks and with 14 others missing.
Netanyahu created a war Cabinet with former defense chief Benny Gantz, a centrist opposition National Unity Party leader, along with Gallant, so they can solely focus on combating Hamas.
The unusual arrangement, with other Cabinet members from Netanyahu’s right-wing government apparently remaining in place, pieces together a degree of unity after years of bitterly divisive politics.
Netanyahu has vowed to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza so that the militants can no longer threaten Israel.
From Tel Aviv, Yossi Yonah, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, told Alhurra, the U.S. government’s Arabic language satellite TV channel, “The goals [of forming this government] are clear, but I can say the first goal is to continue the strong attacks against Hamas and its supporters in Gaza Strip.
There is also a clear option, which is that Israel may carry out a ground invasion in Gaza to completely bring down [the] Hamas movement.”
Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday, the fourth call between the two leaders in recent days. In an undated call with Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Biden said they asked him, “Why do you feel so deeply about this?”
“It’s not about the region,” Biden said. “I truly believe, were there no Israel, no Jew in the world will be ultimately safe. It’s the only ultimate guarantee. The only ultimate guarantee.”
He added, “I think we have a chance to end this in a way that makes it very difficult for it to be repeated.”
Militants in Gaza are holding an estimated 150 hostages it grabbed in Israel — soldiers, men, women, children and older adults. Their fate is largely unknown, with their relatives pleading in television interviews for their release.
Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel on Wednesday, including a heavy barrage at the southern town of Ashkelon, which is a short distance north of the Gaza border. Israeli airstrikes continued to rain down on Gaza.
Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel Wednesday afternoon, leaving only generators to power the territory — but they also run on fuel that is in short supply.
VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report.