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Israel orders complete siege of Gaza to suffocate Hamas after 16-year blockade

Islamic movement says it will begin executing Israeli civilian hostages for every new unannounced Israeli airstrike

guerra israel hamas
Flames and smoke during the Israeli attacks in Gaza on Monday.MOHAMMED SALEM (REUTERS)

The land and sea blockade imposed by Israel on Gaza since 2007, when the Islamic resistance movement Hamas took power in the Palestinian strip, left its more than two million inhabitants trapped in a tiny territory declared “uninhabitable” by the United Nations. Now, the horror they have suffered for three days of open war between the Israeli Army and the Palestinian militias in the enclave threatens to become pure hell after the order of “complete siege” given on Monday by Israel’s defense minister, former general Yoav Gallant. The move to block the supply of food and water and, in particular, electricity and fuel, seeks to suffocate Hamas’ rearguard, while Israeli artillery and aircraft continue to crush its bases in retaliation for the massive surprise attack it launched on Saturday, when Hamas militants captured more than 150 hostages.

Hamas, for its part, has stated that it will begin executing an Israeli civilian hostage for every new airstrike that Israel launches without warning. The spokesman for the organization’s armed wing, Abu Obaida, stated that so far they have been acting in accordance with Islamic instructions in keeping Israeli captives safe and sound. But he warned that “any attack against innocent houses in Gaza without prior warning will be met with the public execution of a hostage,” he said in a statement cited by Spain’s news agency Efe. “The execution will be of civilian hostages, not military, and will be broadcast online.”

More than 900 people have been killed in Israel since Saturday, and another 2,600 have been wounded. In Gaza, there are at least 687 Palestinian fatalities and 3,726 injuries. The Israeli Army, which has launched hundreds of attacks, insists that its targets are the military centers of Hamas, which governs the Palestinian territory separately from the Palestinian National Authority, dominated in the West Bank by the secular nationalist Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas.

“This is just the beginning. We have eliminated hundreds of terrorists, and we will not stop there,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to the nation late in the day, in which he called on the opposition to “immediately establish a national emergency government without preconditions,” as happened in the 1967 Six-Day War.

At noon on Monday, the Israeli Army announced the end of the fighting with the small groups of Hamas militants infiltrated in the towns surrounding the strip, and which were still continuing early in the day. “We thought that yesterday [Sunday] we would have full control,” acknowledged military spokesman Richard Hecht, warning, however, that “there may still be terrorists hiding in the area.” In those fringe towns, soldiers stationed at the entrances are preventing people from crossing and residents have been evacuated amid suspicions that armed Palestinians still remain inside. This is also the area hardest hit by rockets when tension with Gaza grows.

The Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, which hit a mosque and a market in the last few hours and caused dozens of victims, are heard frequently and loudly from the city of Ashkelon, eight miles (13 km) from Gaza, and where a rocket has injured four people, one of them seriously. “Is it us or them? Everything has changed so much that I’m not even sure anymore,” Avi asks, startled by the noise as he is refueling his vehicle. Almost all businesses are closed, and gas stations only operate in self-service mode. The liveliest place in Ashkelon is the hospital.

Artillery shells line up next to an armored vehicle as Israeli soldiers take up positions near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Monday.
Artillery shells line up next to an armored vehicle as Israeli soldiers take up positions near the Gaza border in southern Israel on Monday.JACK GUEZ (AFP)

On one of the roads that leads to the city, only a few cars can be seen. But on the shoulder, there are suddenly hundreds of private vehicles parked in a row. Israel has mobilized 300,000 reservists in a country of under 10 million, with a view to keeping up the offensive in Gaza and monitoring the borders with Lebanon and Syria in the north. Four military transport vehicles were loading tanks heading south on Highway 6 in the vicinity of Tel Aviv and, every few miles, there is a “hot corner” where volunteers distribute food and drinks to the soldiers. “We are all with you,” reads a sign in colorful letters that hangs from a bridge.

The Ezedin Al Qasam brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said in a statement that a quarter of the Israelis captured as hostages died in Gaza in an airstrike by the Israeli Armed Forces along with the militants who were guarding them. In Beittar Illit, in the province of Jerusalem, four people were injured, two of them seriously, by the impact of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip. The air raid alarms sounded again on Monday afternoon in Jerusalem, where sirens had not been heard since 2021. Since Saturday, Gaza-based militias have launched more than 4,400 rockets. Many have been intercepted by its Iron Dome air defense system, according to military sources.

In an unexpected twist in the tension in northern Israel, a member of the pro-Iran militia Hezbollah has been killed in an Israeli helicopter attack in an area bordering Lebanon. In response, Hezbollah launched at attack in northern Israel. Armed skirmishes between Hezbollah forces and the Israeli Army, who fought an open war in 2006, have occurred in recent days, raising the risk of a new front for Israel on the territorial dividing line with Lebanon. A spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed to Reuters the seriousness of the latest confrontation and called for restraint on both sides of the so-called Blue Line.

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