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Israeli army carries out largest ground incursion into Gaza since the start of the war

Tanks and infantry entered the northern end of the Strip for several hours in a targeted raid aimed at ‘preparing the next stages of combat,’ while airstrikes continue to kill hundreds every day and deepen the humanitarian crisis

Guerra de Israel en Gaza
A tank with Israeli soldiers patrols along the border with southern Gaza on Thursday.ABIR SULTAN (EFE)

Early on Thursday the Israeli army carried out its largest ground incursion into Gaza since the Hamas attack of October 7, the military reported. It was not the invasion to destroy the military and governing capabilities of Hamas that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been announcing for days, and which he promised on Wednesday will arrive in due course. But it is the first time in 20 days that tanks and infantry have penetrated “for hours” into the Gaza Strip to “eliminate terrorists,” “neutralize threats” and deactivate explosives, as explained by the military spokesman, Daniel Hagari, in his daily report to the media. The Israeli army has released videos of the targeted raid that took place in northern Gaza. Armored vehicles can be seen crossing the same concrete barrier that hundreds of Hamas members crossed in the surprise attack of October 7 that left 1,400 Israeli citizens dead, mainly civilians, and triggered the current crisis.

The overnight raid was aimed, in Hagari’s words, at “preparing the next stages of combat,” an effort that runs parallel to an intense campaign of airstrikes that are killing hundreds of Palestinians daily, 68% of them women and children, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health of the Gaza Strip, and deepening the humanitarian crisis. Due to lack of fuel for their generators, hospitals have begun to ration electricity to use it only for emergency events. And the humanitarian aid, already considered meager when it began flowing from Egypt last Saturday, is becoming increasingly scarce. In the last 48 hours, only 20 trucks carrying water, food and medicine have been allowed through the Rafah border crossing, the only one that is open, linking the Palestinian enclave with Egypt. That is to say, 2% of those that did it every day before the war.

None of these trucks carried fuel, which Israel and the United States refuse to allow through. The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) warned on Thursday that “the next 24 hours are very important” because, if fuel does not arrive, they will be forced to reduce, and in some cases stop, their humanitarian operations throughout Gaza. Of the more than one million people who have left their homes due to the bombings, 613,000 are taking refuge in UNRWA facilities, such as schools and hospitals. The agency has also lost 38 workers in the air raids. Israel will not allow fuel to enter Gaza, arguing that Hamas, the Islamist armed group that has ruled the Strip since 2007, is using it for its “operational needs,” as the military spokesman said.

In recent days, Netanyahu has been forced to emphasize that he has not backed down on the invasion, and that the government and the Armed Forces are going hand in hand. “We are preparing for a ground invasion. I will not elaborate on when, how or how many. I will also not elaborate on the various calculations we are making, which the public is mostly unaware of and that is how things should be,” he said on Wednesday in a televised speech to the nation, after days of leaks to the national media about army discontent with delays in launching an operation that has been ready for days.

In public, Israel and the United States insist that only the former is making the decisions on timing and actions. American participation is, they say, limited to providing aid (such as aircraft carriers deployed in the Mediterranean) so that Israel will not be alone “to defend itself,” as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said shortly after the Hamas attack. President Joe Biden has reiterated Israel’s “right and responsibility” to “defend its citizens from terrorism and to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law.” The White House statement comes in the midst of controversy over Biden’s questioning of the Palestinian death toll figures released by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.

Behind closed doors, Americans are, however, concerned about Israel’s ability to deal with the regional war that could be triggered by the invasion. In fact, its Navy reported the interception of a volley of missiles and drones launched from Yemen against Israel, apparently by the Houthi militias, which Iran backs.

It is, according to various analysts, one of the main factors delaying the invasion. But Washington not only wants to help its ally before it goes all-out on Gaza. The U.S. government also aims to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion, with the mediation of Qatar, to free the at least 224 hostages remaining in Gaza, some of whom are also U.S. nationals. Since last weekend, Hamas has freed four: an American mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women. Qatar is currently working on a much larger package of around 50 hostages with foreign passports.

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