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Israel said on Tuesday that its troops had moved deeper into the Gaza Strip as it stepped up its assault on Hamas, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls for a ceasefire and said it was “a time for war”.
Israeli troops were now operating in “various parts” of northern Gaza, “engaging with Hamas combatants” and “attacking them on the ground and from the air”, Jonathan Conricus, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a briefing.
He said Israeli tanks, bulldozers and armoured vehicles were advancing “slowly, meticulously”, as the army gradually “expand[ed] our activity” in the Strip. Later on Tuesday morning, the IDF warned of the “intrusion of a hostile aircraft” near the Red Sea city of Eilat. It provided no further details.
Conricus was speaking hours after Israel said its forces rescued a soldier from Hamas captivity. The IDF said Ori Megidish, one of 239 hostages Israeli authorities said were captured by Hamas, was back with her family and “doing well”.
More than 1,400 people died in Hamas’s bloody rampage through southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli officials, making it the deadliest attack on Israeli soil in the country’s 75-year history.
Israel responded by declaring war on Hamas and vowing to crush the organisation, which has run Gaza since 2007. More than 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment of the strip, according to the Palestinian health authority, and more than 20,000 injured.
International aid groups have warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the impoverished enclave. The UN said basic services were deteriorating, and medicine, fuel, food and water were about to run out.
Israel has told Palestinians living in the north of the Mediterranean enclave to evacuate to the south, away from what the IDF describes as Hamas’s “centre of gravity”. But aid agencies said many people, including pregnant women, the sick and wounded, were unable to move. They have also pointed out that the south, too, has not been spared the Israeli bombardment.
UNRWA, the main UN agency providing relief in Gaza, said more than 670,000 Palestinians had left their homes in what it described as a “forced displacement”.
Speaking to the UN Security Council on Monday evening, UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said they had sought shelter in overcrowded schools and buildings run by the UN, living in “appalling, unsanitary conditions, with limited food and water, sleeping on the floor without mattresses, or outside, in the open”.
“The level of destruction is unprecedented, the human tragedy unfolding under our watch is unbearable,” he said. “No place is safe in Gaza.”
Lazzarini said 64 UNRWA employees had been killed in just over three weeks, the latest casualty an official killed with his wife and eight children.
With the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorating, pressure has been growing on Israel to pause the fighting — an option Netanyahu has ruled out.
“Calls for a ceasefire are a call for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terror, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen,” he said on Monday evening. “The Bible says there is a time for peace and a time for war. Now is the time for war.”
A senior UN official warned that the war between Israel and Hamas risked spilling over into Syria, which has not found a political solution to its 12-year conflict.
Geir Pedersen, the UN envoy for Syria, told the Security Council that the Syrian people faced “a terrifying prospect of a potential wider escalation”, following Hamas’s attack and Israel’s retaliation.
“Spillover into Syria is not just a risk; it has already begun,” he said.
He pointed to air strikes on airports in Aleppo and Damascus, widely believed to have been carried out by Israeli forces, and retaliation by the US for what it said were multiple attacks on its forces “by groups that it claims are backed by Iran, including on Syrian territory”.
The war between Israel and Hamas has also led to a flare-up in hostilities on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where IDF forces have been engaged in escalating cross-border fire with the Iran-backed militant group Hizbollah in recent weeks.