Israel at warNYT: Tens of thousands set to take part in ground operation

IDF says it’s completing preparations to strike Gaza ‘from air, sea and land’

Army releases photos of Hamas blocking residents from evacuating north Gaza after Israeli warning; PM visits devastated southern communities; Blinken urges protection of civilians

A photo released by the IDF which it says shows Hamas roadblocks preventing Gazans from leaving the northern Strip, as the military has instructed them to do ahead of an expected ground offensive, October 7, 2023 (IDF)
A photo released by the IDF which it says shows Hamas roadblocks preventing Gazans from leaving the northern Strip, as the military has instructed them to do ahead of an expected ground offensive, October 7, 2023 (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday it was completing preparations for a “significant ground operation” in the Gaza Strip, as it continued to conduct widespread airstrikes on terror targets in the enclave.

In a statement, the IDF said it was readying to “expand the offensive” by implementing a “wide range of offensive operational plans,” which it said include a “joint and coordinated attack from the air, sea and land.”

The IDF has been pounding the Strip in the week since Hamas terrorists launched an unprecedented assault on Israeli border communities, killing 1,300 people, most of them civilians, and taking 150-200 hostages to Gaza. The terror assault, the worst in Israel’s history, shocked the country and the world and Israeli leaders declared their intention to end Hamas’s rule of the territory.

The military said it was finalizing the call-up of hundreds of thousands of reservists, as the logistics directorate is working to provide troops with all the equipment they will need for the ground offensive.

“In recent days, the tools required for combat have been transferred to the assembly areas, and at this stage the various units of the Technological and Logistics Directorate are working to complete the qualification of the tools and equipping [the soldiers] with advanced combat means, as needed,” the IDF said.

“IDF battalions and soldiers are deployed all over the country and are prepared to increase readiness for the next stages of the war, with an emphasis on a significant ground operation,” the military added.

Smoke plumes rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The military is expected to launch a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, but its extent and when it is carried out may be affected by operational considerations, including the evacuation of Palestinian civilians from northern Gaza and growing tensions on Israel’s northern border.

Since Friday, the army has been urging Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate, indicating it is planning to significantly intensify operations there. On Saturday, it said Hamas was actively preventing travel south with roadblocks on major roads.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Israel plans to send tens of thousands of troops to capture Gaza City in the coming days and “destroy” the Strip’s leadership.

The report, which cited Israeli military officers, said the offensive would be the largest since 2006’s Second Lebanon War and would see the IDF attempt to hold on to parts of Gaza, at least temporarily.

A Hamas official told the newspaper its fighters would try to ambush Israeli soldiers by popping out of tunnels behind their advance to surprise the troops.

According to the Israeli officials, the IDF’s rules of engagement are being eased so soldiers will be able to shoot at suspects more easily.

Troops will be particularly focused on killing Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said.

“That man is in our sights,” Hecht said. “He’s a dead man walking, and we will get to that man.”

Yaha Sinwar (C), Gaza Strip chief of the Hamas terror movement, shakes hands with a masked fighter of the military wing during a rally marking the 35th anniversary of the group’s foundation, in Gaza City on December 14, 2022. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

In Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for protection for civilians.

“As Israel pursues its legitimate right to defending its people and to trying to ensure that this never happens again, it is vitally important that all of us look out for civilians, and we’re working together to do exactly that,” Blinken said. “None of us want to see suffering by civilians on any side, whether it’s in Israel, whether it’s in Gaza, whether it’s anywhere else.”

An American official said that the US did not ask Israel to slow or hold off on the evacuation plan. The official said the discussions with Israeli leaders did stress the importance of taking into account the safety of civilians as Israel moves to the next stage of its operations in northern Gaza.

A US lawmaker told The Times of Israel that Israeli officials had indicated to them that the Jewish state will allow food, water and medicine into Gaza after imposing a siege on the enclave. The US lawmaker clarified that Israel has not committed to letting in electricity and fuel supplies into Gaza, which are not covered by the same rules under the law of armed conflict.

The Palestinian Authority’s Hussein al-Sheikh said that the call to evacuate northern Gaza was a “war crime.”

Al-Sheikh, secretary-general of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Authority’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said the Palestinian leadership “rejects by all means the Israeli attempts to displace the citizens of Gaza Strip, considers this a war crime added to the series of Israeli war crimes and calls on the international community to intervene to stop this genocidal war in the Gaza Strip.”

File: Secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, PLO, Hussein al-Sheikh gives an interview to The Associated Press, at his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, June 13, 2022 (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser, File)

Israel says Hamas leaders in the area are using civilians as cover for their terror network.

Also Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured Kibbutz Be’eri and Kibbutz Kfar Aza, two of the worst-hit Gaza border communities in last week’s bloody Hamas onslaught.

For security reasons, Netanyahu’s office announced his visit only after he’d left the area.

A short statement said Netanyahu “walked between the ruins of the houses where these terrible massacres took place.” The prime minister was briefed by IDF officers there, including the head of the paratrooper battalion.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (l) speaks to IDF officers at one of the communities hit by the deadly Hamas assault, on October 14, 2023 (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Netanyahu has come under increasing criticism for not coming to the scene, attending funerals or visiting the wounded in the days since the deadly Hamas raid.

Hostages’ families notified

Gal Hirsch, Israel’s newly appointed special envoy for missing and kidnapped Israelis, said Saturday evening that 126 families had received official information of some sort about missing loved ones.

“The decision to go to a house to tell them about a hostage or death, we have to be very precise,” he explained to the media.

Gal Hirsch, the government point man on missing and kidnapped citizens, speaks during a meeting with relatives of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas and missing Israelis in Tel Aviv, October 13, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Hirsch added that he speaks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu multiple times a day, and that Netanyahu will meet with families of the kidnapped and missing.

Hirsch’s team is still working to identify all the killed in action and kidnapped, and to notify the families.

“It’s hard to create a picture quickly, who is where,” he said. “We are trying to be very professional, sensitive, and accurate.”

Evacuation of northern Gaza

In Arabic messages conveyed to Gazans through various means over the weekend, the Israel Defense Forces told residents of the northern Strip that they should move to the southern part of the enclave using evacuation corridors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday.

“If you care about yourself and your loved ones, go south as instructed,” the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“Rest assured that Hamas leaders have taken care of themselves and are taking cover from strikes in the region,” he added.

In response to the IDF’s call for civilians to move south, Hamas told residents to stay in their homes: “Do not follow the propaganda evacuation instructions.” The terror group is known to try and force residents to ignore such notices given by the military.

People carrying foreign passports arrive at the Rafah gate with the hope of crossing into Egypt as Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip continue on October 14, 2023 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The IDF said Saturday evening that Hamas was preventing Palestinians from evacuating. It said it had identified hundreds of thousands of Palestinians moving south, but many were getting stuck in traffic caused by Hamas roadblocks.

“Hamas is making it difficult for the residents of the Gaza Strip to move on main roads, and is preventing the passage of vehicles on these roads,” the IDF said.

The military released photos and video showing heavy traffic in the Gaza Strip, which it said was caused by Hamas roadblocks.

Photos released by the IDF which it says shows Hamas roadblocks preventing Gazans from leaving the northern Strip, as the military has instructed them to do (IDF)

“We see an active effort by Hamas to block and prevent the population from going south. Hamas wants to show the world that it has casualties and dead,” IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a press conference.

“We continue to urge the residents of Gaza City, go south… Hamas wants you as human shields… This is for your personal safety,” Hagari added. “We are going to attack very widely in Gaza City in the near future.”

Officials at Gaza City’s largest hospital said that obeying the IDF’s order to evacuate to the south of Gaza was impossible.

Al-Shifa Hospital is receiving hundreds of wounded every hour and had used up 95% of its medical supplies, hospital director Mohammed Abu Selmia said. Water is scarce and the fuel powering its generators is dwindling.

“The situation inside the hospital is miserable in every sense of the word,” he said. “The operating rooms don’t stop.”

Selmia estimated that 40,000 displaced civilians were sitting under the trees in the empty grounds surrounding the hospital, as well as inside the building’s lobby and corridors, hoping they would be protected there from the fighting.

The hospital is widely reported to be sitting atop a major Hamas headquarters, with the terror group using the facility as a shield.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, whose group was responsible for the massacre of many hundreds of Israeli civilians last weekend, accused Israel Saturday of committing war crimes and preventing humanitarian aid from entering the Strip.

Mourners gather around the shrouded bodies of members of the Agha family, killed in an Israeli strike in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip, during their funeral on October 14, 2023 (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

“Israeli atrocities amount to war crimes,” he said in a letter addressed to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that was posted on the Palestinian group’s website.

According to Hamas-run health authorities in the Gaza Strip, at least 2,215 Palestinians have been killed and another 8,714 have been wounded in Israeli airstrikes since fighting began on October 7.

Hamas commanders killed

Earlier Saturday the IDF said it had killed two military commanders in Hamas involved in the October 7 assault.

The IDF said Ali Qadhi, a company commander in the so-called Nukhba commando unit who led one of the attacks, was killed in a drone strike. The IDF also said it killed the head of Hamas’s aerial array, Murad Abu Murad, in an overnight airstrike.

Smoke plumes rising above buildings during an Israeli strike on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on October 14, 2023 (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

In separate “widespread” strikes overnight, the IDF also said it hit dozens of sites belonging to Hamas’s commando forces, who led the infiltration into Israel on October 7.

Rocket fire continues

There was renewed rocket fire toward southern and central Israel on Saturday.

Four people were reported wounded by a mortar attack near the southern community of Nirim, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

According to Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, one was listed in serious condition and underwent surgery, while another was lightly wounded. Two others were in serious condition at Beilinson Medical Center.

People gather and light candles in Tel Aviv to remember the victims who were murdered by Hamas terrorists in southern Israel, on October 14, 2023 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Four rockets fired in one of the salvos by Gaza terrorists landed in the border city of Sderot causing extensive damage but no injuries, city officials said.

One rocket landed on the roof of a yeshiva and another hit an educational institute. A further projectile landed on the railway line and the fourth fell in a road.

A Channel 13 film team was meters away from the rocket that exploded in the road but took cover in a shelter.

One person was also reported by Hebrew-language media to have been injured when an anti-tank guided missile was fired from the Gaza Strip toward the Eshkol region in southern Israel.

Shortly afterward, the IDF said that the cell that had launched the missile was hit in a drone strike.

On Saturday evening, a major barrage of rockets was fired toward central Israel, with sirens blaring in Tel Aviv and many of its surrounding cities. There were reports of several interceptions and no reports of casualties in that attack.

Northern front remains active

The military clashed with the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group on Saturday in the latest skirmishes on the northern frontier, which came amid fears a second front could open up.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the clashes Saturday afternoon began after some 30 mortars were launched at military positions in the contested Mount Dov area on the Lebanon border.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it had launched mortars and anti-tank guided missiles at the sites.

A column of Israeli Merkava battle tanks is amassed in the upper Galilee in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 11, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The IDF said it shelled the source of fire with artillery, and carried out a drone strike on a terror cell planning to carry out an anti-tank guided missile attack against troops in the area. Two Lebanese civilians, a married couple, were killed in the shelling of the southern village of Shebaa, its mayor told AFP.

The clashes came hours after the IDF said it killed three terrorists attempting to infiltrate into Israel from Lebanon on Saturday morning.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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