Netanyahu tells Palestinians in Gaza to ‘leave now’ as almost 1,000 killed in Israel-Hamas conflict

Published October 8, 2023
An artillery unit fires near the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, October 8, 2023. — Reuters
An artillery unit fires near the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, October 8, 2023. — Reuters
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in Gaza, October 8, 2023. — Reuters
Smoke rises following Israeli strikes in Gaza, October 8, 2023. — Reuters
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel October 8, 2023.  — Reuters
Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel October 8, 2023. — Reuters
People inspect a building destroyed in Israeli strikes in Gaza City on October 8. — AFP
People inspect a building destroyed in Israeli strikes in Gaza City on October 8. — AFP
Fire and smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on October 8. — AFP
Fire and smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on October 8. — AFP

A day after Palestinian group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel with a barrage of rockets and a large-scale ground assault, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Palestinians in Gaza to “leave now” as the death toll on both sides neared 1,000.

The conflict’s worst escalation in decades has claimed more than 600 lives, including that of a key commander, on the Israeli side, the government press office said, while Gaza officials reported at least 370 deaths, with thousands more wounded on each side.

Thousands of Israeli forces were deployed to battle holdout Hamas fighters in the south and the airforce again pounded targets in the Gaza Strip as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned of a “long and difficult” war ahead.

“We are embarking on a long and difficult war that was forced on us by a murderous Hamas attack,” Netanyahu said on X, formerly Twitter, early on Sunday.

“I say to the residents of Gaza: Leave now because we will operate forcefully everywhere,” he said in another post on X.

Gun battles raged in towns and on highways as the Israeli army sought to secure desert regions near the coastal enclave, rescue Israeli hostages and evacuate all areas near Gaza within 24 hours.

“We’ll reach each and every community until we kill every terrorist in Israel,” vowed military spokesman Daniel Hagari, a day after hundreds of Hamas fighters launched their shock offensive and surged into Israel using vehicles, boats and even motorised paragliders.

As fighting raged on Sunday, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement said it had fired “large numbers of artillery shells and guided missiles” at Israeli positions in a contested border areas “in solidarity” with Hamas, while in Alexandria, two Israeli tourists were shot dead along with their Egyptian guide.

An Israeli soldier sits next to an artillery cannon as he mans a position at an undisclosed location in northern Israel bordering Lebanon on October 8. — AFP
An Israeli soldier sits next to an artillery cannon as he mans a position at an undisclosed location in northern Israel bordering Lebanon on October 8. — AFP

Overnight Israel attacked the Gaza Strip with air strikes as rockets from the blockaded Palestinians territory rained on Israel. In southern Israel, Hamas fighters were still fighting Israeli security forces 24 hours after the surprise attack.

Israeli air strikes hit housing blocks, tunnels, a mosque and homes of Hamas officials in Gaza.

Hamas has labelled its attack “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood” and called on “resistance fighters in the West Bank” and “Arab and Islamic nations” to join the battle.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh has predicted “victory” and vowed to press ahead with “the battle to liberate our land and our prisoners languishing in occupation prisons”.

In a statement on X, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that an Israeli commander was among dozens of soldiers killed in fighting.

“The Commander of the Nahal Brigade, COL Jonathan Steinberg was killed today during a confrontation with a terrorist,” it said.

US to send military ships, aircraft closer to Israel

The United States will send multiple military ships and aircraft closer to Israel as a show of support, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said, with Washington believing Hamas’ latest attack may have been motivated to disrupt a potential normalising of Israel-Saudi Arabia ties.

Austin also added that the United States will provide munitions to Israel, and that its security assistance will begin moving on Sunday. The Pentagon will be adding fighter jets to the region as well, he said.

US President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today that additional assistance for the Israeli Defense Forces was on its way to Israel and more would follow in the coming days, the White House said after their call.

Austin said he ordered moving a carrier strike group closer to Israel, which includes the Ford carrier and ships that support it.

“I have directed the movement of the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said in his statement.

“It wouldn’t be a surprise that part of the motivation may have been to disrupt efforts to bring Saudi Arabia and Israel together, along with other countries that may be interested in normalizing relations with Israel,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN earlier on Sunday.

“We think it would be in both countries’ interests to continue to pursue this possibility,” US Deputy National Security adviser Jon Finer told Fox News Sunday.

Blinken added that the United States has also taken note of reports of several Americans killed and kidnapped in Israel, and Washington is looking to verify the details and figures.

“We have reports that several Americans were killed. We’re working overtime to verify that,” Blinken said.

Blinken labeled the attack on Israel as a “terrorist attack by a terrorist organisation.”

UN agency says humanitarian access needed to get food to Gaza

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has called for the creation of humanitarian corridors to bring food into Gaza as Israeli air strikes pounded the Palestinian enclave following deadly Hamas attacks.

“As the conflict intensifies, civilians, including vulnerable children and families, face mounting challenges in accessing essential food supplies,” the Rome-based WFP said.

“WFP urges safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to affected areas, calling on all parties to uphold the principles of humanitarian law … including ensuring access to food.”

The UN agency provides direct food assistance to some 350,000 Palestinians monthly, while also offering aid to nearly 1 million Palestinians in cooperation with other humanitarian partners via cash transfers.

WFP said it was ready to set up pre-positioned food stocks for people who had been displaced or were in shelters.

“While most shops in the affected areas in Palestine currently maintain one month of food stocks, these risk being depleted swiftly as people buy up food in fear of a prolonged conflict,” it said.

Iran’s president speaks to Hamas, Islamic Jihad leaders

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has spoken with leaders of Palestinian groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, official media said today.

“Raisi discussed the developments in Palestine in separate phone calls with Ziyad al-Nakhalah, secretary general of the Islamic Jihad Movement, and Ismail Haniyeh, the head of the (Hamas) political bureau,” state news agency IRNA reported, without giving further details.

Earlier, President Raisi said Iran supported the Palestinians’ right to self-defence and accused Israel of being a danger to the region, a day after Hamas militants attacked Israel.

“Iran supports the legitimate defence of the Palestinian nation,” Raisi said, quoted by state television.

“The Zionist regime (Israel) and its supporters are responsible for endangering the security of nations in the region, and they must be held accountable in this matter.”

‘Time has come to move forward in line with UN resolutions’

Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi said on Sunday morning that “progress towards peace cannot materialise without condemnation of usurpation and brutalisation of Palestinian rights and people by Israel”.

“Continuous annexation of land, illegal settlements, disproportionate reactions and killings. The result is no hope and no progress towards peace. Time has come to move forward in line with UN resolutions. International community can play a big role today towards world peace,” he said.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani said that Pakistan was “deeply concerned by the escalating hostility in the Middle East and the loss of innocent lives”.

“We stand in solidarity with Palestinians and call for an immediate end to the violence and oppression by Israeli occupation forces. A viable and sovereign state of Palestine must be established on the basis of pre-1967 borders and UN resolutions,” he said.

Jilani said the international community needed to intervene to “bring an end to the conflict, protect civilians, and work towards a lasting peace in the Middle East”.

Hostages

The debris from Saturday’s attack still lay around southern Israeli towns and border communities on Sunday morning and Israelis were reeling from the sight of bloodied bodies lying on suburban streets, in cars and in their homes.

Palestinian fighters escaped back into Gaza with dozens of hostages, including both soldiers and civilians. Hamas said it would issue a statement later on Sunday saying how many captives it had seized.

About 30 missing Israelis attending a dance party that was targeted during Saturday’s attack emerged from hiding on Sunday, Israeli media reported.

Meanwhile, the Israeli ambassador to US said an unknown number of Americans were among hostages held by Hamas.

The diplomat, Michael Herzog, was asked on CBS News if there were Americans among the soldiers and civilians that the Palestinian militant group abducted in southern Israel.

“I understand there are, but I don’t have details,” he said.

The capture of so many Israelis, some filmed being pulled through security checkpoints or driven, bleeding, into Gaza, adds another layer of complication for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after previous episodes when hostages were exchanged for many Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas fired more rocket salvoes into Israel on Sunday, with air raid sirens sounding across the south, and the Israeli military said it would combine an evacuation of border areas with a search for more gunmen.

Rockets are fired from Gaza toward Israel, in Gaza, October 8, 2023. —Reuters
Rockets are fired from Gaza toward Israel, in Gaza, October 8, 2023. —Reuters

Netanyahu’s office said his security cabinet had approved steps to destroy “for many years”, the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another militant group that has said it is also holding captives, including cutting electricity, fuel supplies and the entry of goods into Gaza.

Israeli air strikes on Gaza began soon after the Hamas attack and continued overnight and into Sunday, destroying the group’s offices and training camps, but also houses and other buildings. Hamas said Israel had cut off water to some areas.

More than 20,000 Palestinians in the Gaza have sought refuge in schools run by the United Nations, the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency said.

Black smoke, orange flashes and sparks lit the sky from explosions. Israeli drones could be heard overhead. Unlike in some previous rounds of strikes, Israel’s military did not give advance warning of strikes on residential buildings.

In a refugee camp in central Gaza, neighbours removed rubble to retrieve the bodies of seven people from one family, including five children, whose house had been bombed.

‘Terrorised children’

In Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, people searched through the remains of a mosque early on Sunday. “We ended the night prayers and suddenly the mosque was bombed. They terrorised the children, the elderly and women,” said resident Ramez Hneideq.

Palestinians inspect a mosque destroyed in Israeli strikes in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. — Reuters
Palestinians inspect a mosque destroyed in Israeli strikes in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip. — Reuters

Conditions in the West Bank have worsened under Netanyahu’s hard-right government with more Israeli raids and assaults by Jewish settlers on Palestinian villages, and the Palestinian Authority called for an emergency Arab League meeting.

Peacemaking has been stalled for years and Israeli politics have been convulsed this year by internal wrangles over Netanyahu’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said the assault that began in Gaza would spread to the West Bank and Jerusalem. Gazans have lived under an Israeli-led blockade for 16 years, since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

In a speech, Haniyeh highlighted what he called threats to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, on a site that is also holy to Jews who know it as the Temple Mount, the continuation of Israel’s blockade and Israeli normalisation with countries in the region.

“How many times have we warned you that the Palestinian people have been living in refugee camps for 75 years, and you refuse to recognise the rights of our people?”

In the north, Lebanon’s Hezbollah said in a statement it had carried out a rocket and artillery attack on the Shebaa Farms, a slice of land occupied by Israel since 1967 that Lebanon claims.

Israel responded with artillery fire and drone strikes. Israeli television said it later employed a missile defence system. There were no reports of casualties.

Across the Middle East, there were demonstrations in support of Hamas, while Iran and Hezbollah praised the attack.

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