Israeli warplanes struck targets across Gaza overnight and into Sunday, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank allegedly used by militants, as the two-week-old war with Hamas threatened to spiral into a broader conflict.
Since the start of the war, Israel and the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon have exchanged gunfire almost daily. Tensions are particularly high in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Israeli soldiers have recently conducted two airstrikes and fought militants in refugee camps.
In response to Hamas’ deadly October 7 attack, Israel has appeared to be preparing to launch a ground offensive in Gaza for several days. Tens of thousands of soldiers and tanks have gathered along the border, and Israeli officials have mentioned an unclear next phase of operations.
Nevertheless, despite a broad evacuation order, the military admits that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents remain in northern Gaza, complicating any ground invasion. Additionally, they might hesitate if they run the risk of starting a wider conflict with Hamas’ backers in Syria and Lebanon.
On Saturday, 20 trucks of aid were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the first time anything has gone into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege two weeks ago.
Aid workers said it was far too little to address the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where half the territory’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes. Hospitals packed with patients and displaced people are running low on medical supplies and fuel for generators, forcing doctors to perform surgeries with sewing needles, using kitchen vinegar as disinfectant, and without anaesthesia.
Food is running low and the water that the Palestinians taking refuge in tent camps and schools managed by the United Nations is tainted. More than a week ago, the only power plant in the territory shut down, devastating the water and sanitation systems and resulting in a territory-wide blackout. According to the U.N. humanitarian organisation, the scarcity of potable water is contributing to an increase in instances of diarrhoea, scabies, and chicken pox.
Intense Israeli bombings were reported by Gaza’s Interior Ministry, which is operated by Hamas, throughout the region overnight and into Sunday, including in the southern regions where Israel had instructed Palestinians to seek shelter.
In the southern town of Khan Younis, displaced people had gathered at a cafe late on Saturday to charge their phones when an airstrike occurred. According to the adjacent Nasser Hospital, 12 people died and 75 were injured.
According to Israeli military statements, civilians are not the goal of any strikes on Hamas members or their facilities. Hamas claims that Palestinian terrorists started their regular rocket strikes on Tel Aviv early on Sunday.
According to Israeli media, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a meeting of his Cabinet late on Saturday to discuss the anticipated ground assault. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a military spokesman, stated that Israel intended to increase airstrikes beginning on Saturday in anticipation of the “next stages of the war.”
Both sides’ casualties would probably dramatically increase in the event of an Israeli ground attack. Over 1,400 Israelis have lost their lives in the conflict, the majority of them were civilians murdered in the first Hamas onslaught. Men, women, children, and elderly individuals made up at least 210 of the people that were taken prisoner and sent back to Gaza. Hamas claimed that the release of two Americans on Friday was a humanitarian act.
The Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, reports that over 4,300 people have died in Gaza. This includes the disputed death toll from an explosion at a hospital.
Israeli airstrikes have reportedly targeted Aleppo, a city in northern Syria, as well as the international airport in Damascus, the country’s capital, according to Syrian official media. It stated that one person was killed and that the runways were rendered unusable due to damage from the hits.
Since the start of the conflict, Israel has launched multiple strikes in Syria, including ones on the airports. Although Israel rarely confirms specific strikes, it claims that it takes action to stop Hezbollah and other extremist organisations from obtaining weapons from Iran, which also backs Hamas.
Hezbollah announced that six of its members had died on Saturday in Lebanon, and Sheikh Naim Kassem, the group’s deputy leader, threatened to punish Israel severely if it launched a combat operation in the Gaza Strip. In response to rocket fire, Israel attacked Hezbollah targets early on Sunday, according to the IDF.
Additionally, Israel declared preparations to evacuate 14 more towns close to the Lebanon border. The more over 20,000 residents of Kiryat Shmona were ordered to leave last week.
Numerous Palestinians have lost their lives in confrontations with Israeli forces, arrest raids, and attacks by Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank. In an effort to thwart strikes, Israeli forces have shuttered checkpoints connecting cities and borders into the region. Since October 7, hundreds of Palestinians—mostly alleged Hamas members—have been detained by Israel.
Although the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority is extremely unpopular and has been the focus of violent Palestinian protests, it manages portions of the West Bank and works with Israel on security matters.
The Palestinian Health Ministry reports that at least five individuals were killed by Israeli soldiers early on Sunday in the West Bank. An attack on a mosque in Jenin, a town that has witnessed intense gunfights between Israeli troops and Palestinian terrorists for the past year, claimed the lives of two people.
According to the Israeli military, militants from Islamic Jihad and Hamas owned the mosque compound and were plotting another attack, which was one of several they had carried out in recent months.
According to the Health Ministry, Sunday’s deaths elevated the total number of Palestinian deaths in the West Bank since the conflict began on October 7 to 90. The majority seem to have died in violent protests or during combat with Israeli soldiers.
A skirmish in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarem last week claimed the lives of thirteen Palestinians, five of whom were children, and a member of Israel’s paramilitary Border Police. Israel also conducted an airstrike during the battle.
Aid workers demanded the creation of a 24-hour aid corridor in Gaza, but the Israeli military declared the humanitarian situation there to be “under control”.
The U.N. humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, said the convey that entered Saturday carried about 4% of an average day’s imports before the war and “a fraction of what is needed after 13 days of complete siege.” It is calling for 100 trucks a day to enter. Huge quantities of aid have been gathered near the Egyptian side of the crossing, but there has been no word on when more might enter.
President Joe Biden said the U.S., which has worked with other mediators to reach an agreement on Rafah, “remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas.”
In a statement, he said the U.S. would work to keep Rafah open and let U.S. citizens leave Gaza. But hundreds of foreign passport holders who had gathered at the crossing on Saturday were unable to depart after the aid convoy entered.
American citizen Dina al- Khatib said she and her family were desperate to get out. “It’s not like previous wars,” she said. “There is no electricity, no water, no internet, nothing.”