GAZA/JERUSALEM — Israel bombarded Gaza with more air strikes on Monday (Oct 23) ahead of an anticipated ground operation into the besieged Palestinian enclave as the United Nations (UN) warned that civilians were running out of places to seek shelter.
In signs that the conflict was spreading, Israeli aircraft also struck southern Lebanon overnight and Israeli troops clashed with Palestinians in occupied West Bank, residents said.
More aid crossed the border into Gaza on Sunday but the UN humanitarian agency said it was just a fraction of the amount needed to help a desperate population short of food, water, medicine and fuel.
Health authorities in Gaza said at least 4,600 people have died in Israel’s two-week bombardment after an assault on Oct 7 by Hamas militants on southern Israeli communities in which 1,400 people were killed and 212 taken as hostages.
The Israeli military said on Monday morning that in the past 24 hours it had struck more than 320 targets in Gaza, including a tunnel housing Hamas fighters, and dozens of command and lookout posts.
It said in a statement that it destroyed sites “liable to endanger the troops who are preparing on the Gaza periphery for a ground manoeuvre” as well as dozens of mortar and anti-tank missile launcher positions.
Palestinian media reported that the Israeli attacks concentrated on the Gaza Strip’s centre and north.
A strike on a house near the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza killed several Palestinians and wounded others, according to media reports.
GROUND ASSAULT AWAITED
Israeli troops and tanks are now massed on the Israeli-Gaza border but how soon they might launch a ground invasion aimed at rooting out Hamas was not clear.
Asked in an interview with Army Radio if Washington was pressuring Israel to hold off on that, Israel’s deputy ambassador to the United States Eliav Benjamin said: “We and the US administration have been in dialogue from Day One.
“They understand that we are conducting the war in accordance with our interests. In the end of the day, we will do what we need to do when we need to do it.”
Wide areas of Gaza have been flattened by the bombing campaign.
The UN humanitarian office (OCHA) said about 1.4 million of Gaza’s 2.3 million population were now internally displaced, with many seeking refuge in overcrowded UN emergency shelters.
Israel has ordered Gaza residents to evacuate the north to avoid being caught up in the fighting. But OCHA said anecdotal evidence indicated that hundreds and possibly thousands of people who had fled were now returning to the north due to bombardments in the south and lack of shelter.
Fears that the Israel-Hamas war could mushroom into a wider Middle East conflict rose over the weekend with Washington warning of a significant risk to US interests in the region and announcing a new deployment of advanced air defences.
Along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group has clashed with Israeli forces in support of Hamas in the deadliest escalation of frontier violence since an Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006.
Early on Monday, Israeli aircraft struck two Hezbollah cells in Lebanon that were planning to launch anti-tank missiles and rockets toward Israel, its military said. Israel’s military also said it struck other Hezbollah targets, including a compound and an observation post.
Hezbollah said on Monday one of its fighters was killed, without providing details. Israel’s military said seven soldiers have been killed on the Lebanese border since the latest conflict began.
In the West Bank, two Palestinians were killed at the Jalazone refugee camp near Ramallah, the Palestinian health ministry said on Monday.
Residents told Reuters that Israeli forces raided the camp and made many arrests as they clashed with gunmen and some youths who threw stones. The Israeli army has not issued a statement about the incident.
China’s Middle East special envoy Zhai Jun, who is visiting the region, warned that the risk of a large-scale ground conflict was rising and that spillover conflicts in the region were “worrisome”, Chinese state media said on Monday.
Iranian security officials told Reuters Iran’s strategy was for Middle East proxies like Hezbollah to pursue limited strikes on Israeli and US targets but to avoid a major escalation that would draw in Tehran.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh called for international unity to stop Israel’s attacks in Gaza and allow aid. A second convoy of 14 aid trucks entered the Rafah crossing from Egypt into Gaza on Sunday night.
The White House said US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed in a call there would now be a continued flow of aid into Gaza.
The UN humanitarian office said the volume of aid entering so far was just 4 per cent of the daily average before the hostilities and a fraction of what was needed.
The aid shipments did not include fuel. REUTERS