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Gaza: Israel readies invasion as air strikes kill over 2,450

Gaza: Israel readies for invasion as air strikes kill over 2,450 Palestinians
3 min read
Entire Gaza city blocks lie in ruins and hospitals are overflowing with thousands of wounded in the besieged territory, but there are fears of worse to come.

Israeli forces were Sunday readying for a looming ground invasion of Gaza, amid a brutal eight-day bombing campaign of the densely populated enclave that has killed over 2,450 people, including hundreds of children.

Entire Gaza city blocks lie in ruins and hospitals are overflowing with thousands of wounded in the besieged territory, but there were fears of worse to come.

Israel has massed forces outside the long-blockaded enclave of 2.4 million people ahead of what the army has said will be a land, air and sea attack involving a "significant ground operation".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a flak jacket, visited front line troops Saturday. "Are you ready for what is coming?" he said. "More is coming."

Special forces have made forays into Gaza and recovered the bodies of some of the up to 150 hostages feared taken by Hamas, the army said. Israel has said it has identified 120 captives, while Hamas has said 22 have died in Israeli air strikes.

A ground invasion threatens to bring the kind of gruelling house-to-house fighting that devastated Iraq's Mosul and Fallujah in years past, further complicated by Hamas' vast tunnel network.

Israel has warned 1.1 million Palestinian civilians to leave northern Gaza and a steady stream of families in overloaded cars, trucks and donkey carts have since headed south. The mass evacuation directive has drawn accusations of ethnic cleansing, with observers drawing parallels with the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, known as the Nakba.

Alarm has grown about a wider humanitarian crisis in Gaza where Israel has cut off water, food and power, vowing to maintain the complete siege until all hostages are freed.

Fear and chaos reigned in the 40-kilometre (25-mile) long strip that is one of the world's most densely populated areas, with no place for large numbers of internally displaced people to flee to.

"The situation is catastrophic," said Jumaa Nasser, who travelled from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza with his wife, mother and seven children.

"We've had no food or sleep. We don't know what to do. I've given my fate up to God."

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi charged that Israel's actions in Gaza have gone "beyond the scope of self-defence" and said it must "cease its collective punishment of the people of Gaza".

Egypt to the south controls the only other crossing with Gaza but has so far refused to open it for Palestinian or foreign refugees unless aid convoys are allowed to enter, according to unnamed intelligence sources cited in media reports.

Anger has flared in much of the Muslim world and beyond, with pro-Palestinian protesters burning Israeli and American flags.

Militant groups allied with Israel's arch foe Iran have a strong presence in neighbouring Lebanon and Syria, heightening the risk of a multi-front war for Israel.

The past week has seen repeated clashes on Israel's northern border with Lebanon, where the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement has tried to send small groups of militants across the border.

The United States has deployed a second aircraft carrier to the region in an effort to "deter hostile actions against Israel", Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.