• Tel Aviv says ‘phase two’ of invasion underway, both ‘above and below ground’
• UN chief warns situation in besieged enclave ‘growing desperate by the hour’
• Biden calls for increased aid; Sullivan says US opposes killing of innocents
GAZA STRIP: After days of relentless bombardment from the air, the Israeli army has now intensified its ground campaign, as the Palestinian death toll climbed to over 8,000 amid UN warning that civil order was “starting to break down” in the besieged territory.
Despite calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and outrage across the Muslim world, Israel has intensified the war triggered by Hamas’s raid more than three weeks ago.
The health ministry in Gaza says the unrelenting retaliatory Israeli bombardment has killed more than 8,000 people, mainly civilians and half of them children.
Meanwhile, Israel’s army said it was currently in “stage two” of their invasion.
In a signal of its intent to encircle Gaza’s main city on Sunday, Tel Aviv published pictures of battle tanks on the Palestinian enclave’s western coast 48 hours after ordering expanded ground incursions across its eastern border.
WHO expresses concern
As well as the Israeli military’s pictures of tanks, some images online appeared to show Israeli soldiers waving an Israeli flag deep inside Gaza.
On Sunday, the Israeli military said it had struck another 450 targets within the past 24 hours and that it was increasing the presence of its ground forces in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steeled the nation for a “long and difficult war” ahead as the Red Cross voiced shock at the “intolerable” human suffering inside Gaza.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has said Israel was attacking “above the ground and below”, alluding to Hamas’s sprawling tunnel network.
Israeli fighter jets again dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Saturday, warning residents that the northern area was now a “battlefield” and they should “evacuate immediately”.
‘Nightmare, intolerable suffering’
UN chief Antonio Guterres said the situation in Gaza was “growing more desperate by the hour” as casualties increased and essential supplies of food, water, medicine and shelter dwindled.
He reiterated appeals for a ceasefire to end the “nightmare”.
Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, has also voiced shock at the “intolerable level of human suffering” in Gaza and urged all sides to de-escalate. “This is a catastrophic failure that the world must not tolerate.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, on Sunday, said “thousands of people” entered several of its warehouses and distribution centres in Gaza to get basic survival items like wheat flour and hygiene supplies.
Meanwhile, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday that reports the Palestinian Red Crescent had received warnings from Israeli authorities to immediately evacuate the al-Quds hospital in the Gaza Strip were “deeply concerning”.
“The Palestinian Red Crescent report of evacuation threats to Al-Quds hospital in Gaza is deeply concerning,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on social media platform X.
“We reiterate — it’s impossible to evacuate hospitals full of patients without endangering their lives.”
‘Red lines crossed’
The ground operations have heightened fears that Israel’s other enemies — the Iran-allied “axis of resistance” forces in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen — enter the conflict.
Skirmishes have intensified on the Israeli-Lebanese border with Iran-backed Hamas ally Hezbollah, raising fears of a new front.
Shelling in south Lebanon injured a UN peacekeeper on Saturday, the mission’s spokesman said, hours after reporting a hit at its headquarters.
Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday warned on X, formerly Twitter, that Israel’s “crimes have crossed the red lines, which may force everyone to take action”.
While the US has warned the regional forces not to get involved in the war, it said it was also asking Israel tough questions about the war.
During a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden emphasised the need for increased humanitarian aid to Gaza Sunday amid fighting in the Palestinian territory, the White House said in a statement.
Biden also agreed in a separate call with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to “the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning today and then continuously,” a second White House statement said.
Separately, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday that Washington “does not stand for the killing of innocent people, whether it be Palestinian, Israeli or otherwise,” .
Asked if there was any “daylight” between the two allies on Israel’s military operation, Sullivan told CBS they were discussing hard questions, humanitarian aid, distinguishing between terrorists and innocent civilians, and how Israel is thinking through its military operation.
In an interview with CNN, Sullivan also called on Netanyahu to “rein in” extremist Jewish settler violence against innocent people in the West Bank.
World leaders also stepped up calls Sunday for desperately needed humanitarian aid to reach war-torn Gaza after Israel’s military intensified its air and ground operations against Hamas.
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron “stressed the importance of getting urgent humanitarian support” into the Palestinian territory.
Published in Dawn, October 30th, 2023