Israel’s military says it is intensifying its military strikes targeting Hamas militants in Gaza, with more air attacks and ground operations.
Military officials Sunday said ground forces killed a number of Hamas militants as they were exiting a tunnel near the Erez crossing, which used to be the sole pedestrian passageway out of Gaza into Israel before it was destroyed in the recent fighting. It was unclear how many militants were killed by Israeli forces.
Hamas has a sprawling network of tunnels underneath Gaza where it is believed to be stockpiling weapons, food, and other supplies.
The Israel Defense Forces said early Sunday that its fighter jets struck 450 Hamas targets in Gaza over the past 24 hours, including strikes near Shifa Hospital, one of Gaza’s largest, which is packed with patients and a destination for those seeking shelter.
“Hamas terrorists operate inside and under civilian buildings, precisely because they know the IDF distinguishes between terrorists and civilians,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a video address posted to X, formerly Twitter, early Sunday.
The IDF is “expanding its operations,” he said, before urging residents away from “Hamas strongholds” and to head south. Hagari largely echoed Saturday, comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who warned Saturday, the war would be “long and hard.” Netanyahu called the 3-week-old Israel-Hamas war a fight for Israel’s existence and said “‘Never again’ is now.”
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group carried out a terror attack on Israel October 7, killing 1,400 people and abducting over 200 hostages. Thousands of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli military operations since.
Israel should take every means possible to distinguish between Palestinian civilians and Hamas militants in its expanded ground military operation in Gaza, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan cautioned Sunday in an interview with ABC’s This Week.
Sullivan said that Israel was attacked “in a brutal, vicious terrorist attack,” on October 7 and is taking steps to go after Hamas militants who, as he said, are “hiding behind the civilian population.” This, he said, “puts an added burden in Israel to differentiate between the terrorists and innocent civilians but it doesn’t lessen their responsibility under international, humanitarian law and the laws of war to do all their power to protect the civilian population.”
Chaos in Gaza
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, said thousands of people broke into its Gaza aid warehouses to take food and other “basic survival items” early on Sunday. Thomas White, the agency’s director in Gaza, said the break-in was “a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down.”
Many buildings in Gaza are reduced to rubble. The Gaza-based Ministry of Health, which is controlled by Hamas but has historically provided reliable data on casualties, said some 8,000 Gazans, mostly women and children, have died since Israel’s campaign to obliterate the militant organization started. The figures could not be independently verified.
Hamas, designated by the U.S. as a terrorist group, on Saturday vowed to confront the Israeli attacks with “full force.” The al-Qassam brigades, an armed wing of Hamas, said its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and in the central area of al-Bureij.
Pleas for help
Internet and phone connectivity were restored for many people on Sunday after this weekend’s bombardment — described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war — had knocked out most communications in the territory late Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office says he spoke to French President Emmanuel Macron about the need to get urgent humanitarian aid into Gaza and maintaining regional security following the expansion of Israel’s military operation against Hamas.
The two leaders “agreed to work together on efforts both to get crucial food, fuel, water and medicine to those who need it, and to get foreign nationals out,” Downing Street said in a statement Sunday.
Speaking to reporters Sunday in Kathmandu, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his appeal for “an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the delivery of a sustained humanitarian relief at a scale that meets the needs of the people of Gaza.”
The communications blackout stalled aid convoys entering southern Gaza from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, but Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday also blamed what it called Israeli obstacles, including extensive truck inspection procedures, at the Rafah Border Crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.
Before the conflict, about 500 trucks a day were crossing into Gaza, but in recent days, an average of 12 trucks a day have entered, Guterres said Friday.
IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari pledged to allow aid to enter southern Gaza later Sunday amid widespread international pleas for a humanitarian cease-fire.
Western countries have generally backed what they say is Israel’s right to self-defense, but there has been mounting international concern over the toll from the bombing and growing calls for a pause to allow aid to reach Gaza civilians.
Sullivan said it is understandable that people all over the world are looking at this [war] as a deep heartbreaking tragedy. But he stressed “the United States will continue to stand behind a set of very core principles: Israel has a right, indeed a duty to defend itself against these terrorists.”
Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre told public broadcaster NRK in an interview on Sunday, Israel’s reaction to Hamas’ attack exceeds the rules of international law on proportionality. “It’s a catastrophic situation, and I believe it is clearly in violation of what we call the rules of war or humanitarian law,” he said. Støre expressed fears of a widening war in the region.
The United Arab Emirates, the first Gulf country to normalize relations with Israel in 2020, on Saturday expressed “its deep concern over the Israeli military escalation and exacerbation of the humanitarian crisis that threatens more loss of civilian lives.”
President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank, while Hamas rules Gaza, said, “Our people in the Gaza Strip are facing a war of genocide and massacres committed by the Israeli occupation forces in full view of the entire world.”
Oman’s Foreign Ministry said Israel’s siege and bombardment of Gaza amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a mass pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul on Saturday that his country was making preparations to proclaim Israel a “war criminal” for its actions in Gaza.