Israel pounded southern Gaza with air strikes early on Sunday (21 October) and said it would intensify its attacks in the enclave’s north, as Washington pledged more air defences to the Mideast in response to recent attacks on US troops in the region.
Palestinian media reported at least 11 Palestinians were killed in an Israeli strike in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, and that Israel was striking the southern city of Rafah.
The strikes came hours after Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari called on Gazans to move south out of harm’s way.
“For your own safety move southward. We will continue to attack in the area of Gaza City and increase attacks,” Hagari told Israeli reporters on Saturday.
Israel started its “total siege” of Gaza after a 7 October cross-border attack on southern Israel by militants of the Islamist movement Hamas killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, in a shock rampage that has traumatised Israel.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said on Saturday that Israel’s air and missile strikes in retaliation had killed at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, with more than a million of the tiny territory’s 2.3 million people displaced.
The US said it would send more air defence assets, including a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and additional Patriot air defence missile system battalions to the Middle East and would ready more troops.
Drones and rockets targeted two military bases housing US forces in Iraq last week, the latest in a series of attacks after Iraqi militants warned Washington against intervening to support Israel against Hamas in Gaza.
“Following detailed discussions with President (Joe) Biden on recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East Region, today I directed a series of additional steps to further strengthen the Department of Defense posture in the region,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement.
Washington has already sent a significant amount of naval power to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their support ships and about 2,000 Marines.
First aid convoy
The first humanitarian aid convoy allowed into the besieged Gaza Strip since war broke out arrived through the Rafah border crossing on Saturday. The United Nations said the 20-truck convoy brought life-saving supplies that would be received by the Palestinian Red Crescent.
But the UN humanitarian office said the volume of goods that entered on Saturday was just 4% of the daily average of imports into Gaza before the hostilities and a fraction of what was needed after 13 days of siege of the crowded enclave.
Biden, long a firm supporter of Israel, cheered the arrival of the aid after days of intense negotiations. He said the United States was committed to ensuring more aid gets to Palestinians running out of food, water, medicines and fuel.
“We will continue to work with all parties,” Biden said in a statement.
The United States proposed late on Saturday a draft UN Security Council resolution that says Israel has a right to defend itself. The resolution demands Iran stop exporting arms to “militias and terrorist groups threatening peace and security across the region”.
A deadly blast at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza on Tuesday was likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza, not an Israeli strike, Canada’s National Department of Defence said, reaching similar conclusions to the US and France.
“Analysis conducted independently by the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command indicates with a high degree of confidence that Israel did not strike the Al-Ahli hospital on 17 October 2023,” it said in a statement.
Ground invasion looms
Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the fenced border around the narrow coastal enclave for a planned ground invasion aiming to annihilate Hamas, after several inconclusive wars dating to its seizure of power there in 2007.
“We are going to go into the Gaza Strip… to destroy Hamas operatives and Hamas infrastructure,” Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi told troops in a video distributed by the Israeli military on Saturday. “We will have in our mind the memories of the images and those who fell on Saturday two weeks ago.”
Israeli troops have carried out live fire drills “in preparations for the next stage of war”, footage released by the Israeli army on Saturday showed.
Hamas said it fired rockets towards Tel Aviv on Saturday in response to Israeli air strikes that Gaza’s Health Ministry and Hamas media said killed at least 50 people and injured dozens.
Israel said its aircraft struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon on Saturday and that one of its soldiers was hit by an anti-tank missile in cross-border fighting that the Iran-backed group said killed six of its fighters.
As international concern rises that the conflict could widen into a regional war, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken cautioned Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Saturday that the Lebanese people would be affected if his country were drawn in, the State Department said.
Israeli aircraft struck a compound beneath a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank early on Sunday that the military said was being used by militants to organise attacks. Palestinian medics said at least one person was killed.
At least 84 Palestinians in the West Bank have been killed in clashes with Israeli forces since the Hamas rampage, Palestinian officials say.
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