Palestinians rush to buy food and struggle under strikes as Israel readies possible ground operation
JERUSALEM, Oct 12 : Palestinians lined up outside bakeries and grocery stores in Gaza on Thursday after spending the night surrounded by the ruins of pulverized neighborhoods darkened by a near-total power outage. Israel launched new airstrikes and said it was preparing for a possible ground invasion.
International aid groups warned that the death toll in Gaza could mount after Israel stopped all deliveries of food, water, fuel and electricity and the tiny enclave’s crossing with Egypt closed. The war — which was ignited by a bloody and wide-ranging assault on Israel by Hamas militants — has already claimed at least 2,500 lives on both sides.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Thursday that forces “are preparing for a ground maneuver if decided,” but that political leaders have not yet ordered one. A ground offensive in Gaza, whose 2.3 million residents are densely packed into a sliver of land only 40 kilometers (25 miles) long, would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.
As Israel pounds Gaza, Hamas fighters have fired thousands of rockets into Israel since their weekend assault. Militants in the territory are also holding an estimated 150 people taken hostage from Israel.
Already, Palestinians fleeing airstrikes could be seen running through the streets, carrying their belongings and looking for a safe place. Tens of thousands have crowded into UN-run schools while others are staying with relatives or even strangers who let them in.
Lines formed outside bakeries and grocery stores during the few hours they dared open, as people tried to stock on food before shelves were emptied. On Wednesday, Gaza’s only power station ran out of fuel and shut down, leaving only lights powered by scattered private generators.
A senior official with the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that a lack of electricity could cripple hospitals.
“As Gaza loses power, hospitals lose power, putting newborns in incubators and elderly patients on oxygen at risk. Kidney dialysis stops, and X-rays can’t be taken,” said Fabrizio Carboni, ICRC’s regional director. “Without electricity, hospitals risk turning into morgues.”
Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz said nothing would be allowed into Gaza until the captives were released. “Not a single electricity switch will be flipped on, not a single faucet will be turned on, and not a single fuel truck will enter until the Israeli hostages are returned home,” he tweeted.
After Hamas militants stormed through a border fence Saturday and massacred hundreds of Israelis in their homes, on the streets and at an outdoor music festival, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “crush and destroy” the group, which has governed Gaza since 2007.
“Every Hamas member is a dead man,” Netanyahu said in a televised address late Wednesday.
The Israeli government is under intense public pressure to topple the militant group rather than continuing to try to bottle it up in Gaza after four previous conflicts ended with Hamas still firmly in charge of the territory. Israel has mobilized 360,000 reservists, massed additional forces near Gaza and evacuated tens of thousands of residents from nearby communities.
Netanyahu now has the backing of a new war Cabinet that includes a longtime opposition politician. The US has also pledged unwavering support, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Tel Aviv on Thursday to meet with Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders. He plans to meet Friday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The Israeli military said overnight strikes targeted Hamas’ elite Nukhba forces, including command centers used by the fighters who attacked Israel on Saturday, and the home of a senior Hamas naval operative that it said was used to store unspecified weapons. AP