Israel strikes Gaza, Syria and West Bank as it threatens to escalate war

Israel strikes Gaza, Syria and West Bank as it threatens to escalate war
Israeli warplanes struck Gaza overnight and into Sunday, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank.
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Israel strikes aftermath, Gaza [Getty]

Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza overnight and into Sunday, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank , as Tel Aviv's latest war on Gaza threatened to spiral into a broader conflict.

Israel has traded fire with Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group on a near-daily basis since the latest escalation began, and tensions are soaring in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces have carried out two airstrikes and allowed settlers to rampage on Palestinian villages.

For days, Israel has seemed to be on the verge of launching a ground offensive in Gaza. Tanks and tens of thousands of troops have massed at the border, and Israeli leaders have spoken of an undefined next stage in operations.

On Saturday, 20 trucks of aid were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the first time anything has gone into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege two weeks ago.

Aid workers said it was far too little to address the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where half the territory's 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Hospitals packed with patients and displaced people are running low on medical supplies and fuel for generators, forcing doctors to perform surgeries with sewing needles, using kitchen vinegar as disinfectant, and without anaesthesia.

Palestinians sheltering in U.N.-run schools and tent camps are running low on food and drinking dirty water. The territory's sole power plant shut down over a week ago, causing a territory-wide blackout and crippling water and sanitation systems. The U.N. humanitarian agency said cases of chicken pox, scabies and diarrhea are on the rise because of the lack of clean water.

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Gaza’s Hamas-run Interior Ministry reported heavy Israeli airstrikes across the territory overnight into Sunday, including southern areas where Israel had told Palestinians to seek refuge. The ministry said that among the sites hit were homes and a cafe in the south where dozens of residents had sought shelter.

Israel’s military has said it is striking Hamas members and installations, however the majority of those killed are reported to be civilians. Palestinian militants have continued daily rocket attacks, with Hamas saying it targeted Tel Aviv early Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his Cabinet late Saturday to discuss the expected ground invasion, Israeli media reported. A military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Israel planned to step up airstrikes starting Saturday as preparation for the “next stages of the war.”

Israel has vowed to crush Hamas but has given few details about what it envisions for Gaza if it succeeds. Yifat Shasha-Biton, a Cabinet minister, told Channel 13 TV there was broad consensus in the government that there will have to be a “buffer zone” in Gaza to keep Palestinians away from the border.

The plan has been widely criticised as a continuation of Israel's expansion into Palestinian territory and forced displacement of its people.

An Israeli ground assault would likely lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides. More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed in the war, mostly during the initial Hamas attack. At least 210 people were captured and taken back to Gaza, including men, women, children and older adults. Two Americans were released on Friday in what Hamas said was a humanitarian gesture.

Hamas said on Saturday that it had attempted to release a further two hostages on humanitarian grounds, but Israel allegedly refused. Tel Aviv dismissed it as Hamas "propaganda".

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More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, including hundreds from the Israeli strike on the

Syrian state media meanwhile reported that Israeli airstrikes have targeted the international airports in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo. It said the strikes killed one person and damaged the runways, putting them out of service.

Israel has carried out several strikes in Syria, including on the airports, since the war began. Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes, but says it acts to prevent Hezbollah and other militant groups from bringing in arms from their patron, Iran, which also supports Hamas.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah said six of its fighters were killed Saturday , and the group’s deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, warned that Israel would pay a high price if it starts a ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel says it will continue to respond to rocket fire from Lebanon.

In the occupied West Bank , dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids and attacks by Jewish settlers. Israeli forces have closed crossings into the territory and checkpoints between cities, measures they say are aimed at preventing attacks.

The internationally recognised Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security, but it is deeply unpopular and has been the target of violent Palestinian protests .

Israeli forces killed at least five people early Sunday in the West Bank, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Two were killed in an airstrike on a mosque in the town of Jenin, which has seen heavy gunbattles between Palestinian fighters and Israeli troops over the past year.

The Israeli military claimed the mosque compound belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants who had carried out several attacks in recent months and were planning another one.

Sunday’s fatalities brought the death toll in the West Bank to 90 Palestinians since the war broke out on Oct. 7, according to the Health Ministry. Most appear have been killed during fighting with Israeli forces or protests.

Thirteen Palestinians, including five minors, and a member of Israel's paramilitary Border Police were killed last week in a battle in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, in which Israel also launched an airstrike.

In Gaza, the Israeli military said the humanitarian situation was “under control” as aid workers called for the opening of a round-the-clock aid corridor.

The U.N. humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, said the convey that entered Saturday carried about 4% of an average day's imports before the war and “a fraction of what is needed after 13 days of complete siege.” It is calling for 100 trucks a day to enter. Huge quantities of aid have been gathered near the Egyptian side of the crossing, but there has been no word on when more might enter.

President Joe Biden said the US, which has worked with other mediators to reach an agreement on Rafah, “remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas.” The US has also provided Israeli with military aid amid its brutal campaign on Gaza.

In a statement, he said the U.S. would work to keep Rafah open and let U.S. citizens leave Gaza. But hundreds of foreign passport holders who had gathered at the crossing on Saturday were unable to depart after the aid convoy entered.

American citizen Dina al- Khatib said she and her family were desperate to get out. “It’s not like previous wars,” she said. “There is no electricity, no water, no internet, nothing.”