TEL AVIV — United States (US) Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed unwavering support for Israel in its war on Hamas after talks on Thursday (Oct 12) with Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to “crush” the Palestinian militant group.
Hamas gunmen killed more than 1,200 people in Israel and took about 150 hostages in Saturday’s surprise attack, the deadliest since the country’s creation in 1948.
Israel has retaliated by raining air and artillery strikes in Gaza for six days, claiming more than 1,400 lives and displacing over 400,000 people in the crowded enclave.
It is preparing for a possible ground invasion of the Palestinian territory after what has been labelled Israel’s 9/11.
“You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself,” Mr Blinken said at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with Mr Netanyahu.
“But as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side.”
Mr Netanyahu voiced appreciation for the US support, which includes military aid, and said Hamas, which rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, should be treated like the Islamic State group.
“Just as ISIS was crushed, so too will Hamas be crushed. And Hamas should be treated exactly the way ISIS was treated,” Mr Netanyahu said.
US President Joe Biden has vowed unwavering support for Israel and not called for restraint against Hamas.
Mr Blinken said Hamas did not represent the Palestinian people.
“Anyone who wants peace and justice must condemn Hamas’s reign of terror,” Mr Blinken said.
Mr Blinken then travelled to Jordan, where he will meet King Abdullah II and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Friday.
He will also go to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE and Qatar to put pressure on Hamas and secure the release of hostages.
Fears have grown for Gaza’s 2.4 million people now enduring the fifth war in 15 years in the coastal enclave.
Israeli fighter jets and drones have flown above Gaza in a relentless bombardment that has levelled entire blocks and destroyed thousands of buildings.
Mr Jamal al-Masry said his children were wounded when an Israeli strike hit his home in Gaza City.
“When I turned to look at my family’s house, it was in ruins, filled with martyrs and people injured,” he said, adding he would “remain steadfast” despite the destruction of “entire neighbourhoods”.
More than 423,000 people have fled their homes in Gaza, swelling the number of displaced people by over 84,000 in 24 hours, the United Nations said on Friday.
Israel has also cut off water, food and power supplies to Gaza.
Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz vowed the siege would remain in force until the hostages are freed.
“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” he said.
Hamas has threatened to kill hostages if Israel bombs Gaza civilian targets without advance warning.
“I know he’s out there somewhere,” one of the affected Israelis, Ms Ausa Meir, said of her brother Michael, who is among the captives.
“It’s very, very painful.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross Middle East chief Fabrizio Carboni warned Gaza’s hospitals “risk turning into morgues”.
At the biggest, al-Shifa Hospital, there were chaotic scenes of an uninterrupted stream of ambulances, relatives asking for news and wails of anguish from relatives of the dead.
An AFP team saw dozens of bodies wrapped in white shrouds in cold storage units and covering the floor of the mortuary.
Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said the military was readying for a potential order to launch a ground invasion in the war with Hamas.
“Right now we are focused on taking out their senior leadership,” he said.
Hamas had now fired more than 5,000 rockets at Israel from Gaza, the army said.
In his first public remarks since Hamas attacked Israel, Palestinian president Abbas called for an “immediate end to comprehensive aggression against the Palestinian people”.
The UN humanitarian agency has launched an urgent appeal for nearly US$300 million (S$411 million) to address the most urgent needs in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.
Cairo faced calls to allow safe passage for fleeing civilians, but Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged Gazans to “stay steadfast and remain on their land”.
Mr Netanyahu’s account on X, formerly Twitter, said he showed Mr Blinken “photos of babies murdered and burned by the Hamas monsters”.
Mr Blinken told reporters later the images were “new evidence of depravity and the inhumanity of Hamas”.
But Hamas denied its fighters killed infants during the assault on Saturday.
Political bureau member Ezzat al-Rishaq called it a “fake and false Israeli narrative”, insisting “no evidence has been submitted to support such false claims”.
Israel has called up 300,000 reservists and rushed forces, tanks and heavy armour to the southern desert areas around Gaza from where Hamas fighters launched their unprecedented attack on Oct 7.
Israeli soldiers have since then swept the southern towns and kibbutz communities and killed 1,500 of the militants, while making ever more shocking discoveries of large numbers of dead civilians.
“It looks like… an atomic bomb just landed here,” Mr Doron Spielman, an Israeli army spokesman, said at one gated community where more than 100 residents were killed.
Israel’s war now flaring in the south is further complicated by a threat from the north, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group based in Lebanon.
The army has massed tanks on the border after repeated clashes with Hezbollah in recent days, including cross-border rockets and shelling.
As Israel seeks to boost its military forces, flag carrier El Al said it would operate special flights to bring back reserve soldiers from overseas on the weekly Jewish day of rest.
In a show of “solidarity with the victims of the Hamas terrorist attacks”, European Commission and Parliament presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola said they would visit Israel on Friday.
The United States has sent munitions to Israel and deployed an aircraft carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean in a show of support, while warning Israel’s other enemies not to enter the conflict.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington has “not placed any conditions” on the way Israel can use the weapons it has provided to its ally.
In London, the UK said it was sending two Royal Navy ships and surveillance aircraft to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel, as well as “ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation”.
Israel’s arch foe Iran has long financially and militarily backed Hamas and praised its attack, but insists it was not involved.
Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic and Arab countries to confront Israel and support the “oppressed Palestinian nation”, in a phone call with his Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Thursday opening a “new front” against Israel would depend on Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Israel also struck Syria’s two main airports, in Damascus and Aleppo, in “simultaneous” attacks on landing strips that put them out of service”, state media said, citing an unidentified military source. AFP