Israel prepares for ‘next stage of war’ as Blinken condemns Hamas terror
By Edwar Wong, Hiba Yazbek and Victoria Kim
The Israeli military said its troops were preparing “for the next stage of the war” Thursday, signaling that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip could be coming, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Hamas’ “reign of terror” during a visit to Tel Aviv, Israel.
Meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to show U.S. support after the deadliest assault on Israel in more than half a century, Blinken invoked the horrors of the Holocaust and “the harrowing echoes that Hamas’ massacres carry for Israeli Jews and for Jews everywhere.”
Netanyahu pledged in televised remarks Wednesday night to “crush and eliminate” Hamas, in response to the group’s weekend incursion into southern Israel, which left more than 1,200 people dead. Earlier in the day, his right-wing government and members of the centrist opposition formed an emergency unity government to navigate Israel’s response.
Israel continued to pummel the 140-square-mile Gaza Strip with airstrikes of a magnitude and intensity not seen in past assaults on the blockaded territory. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is believed to be holding about 150 hostages there who were taken during the weekend incursion. The Gazan Health Ministry said 1,354 Palestinians had been killed and 6,049 others injured since Saturday.
Here is the latest:
— Blinken was scheduled to travel next to Jordan and meet with other regional leaders, including the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, on Friday, according to a senior official in the authority. U.S. officials said the United States was talking to Israel and Egypt, which also borders Gaza, about safe passage for civilians out of the blockaded strip.
— The humanitarian crisis was spiraling in the Gaza Strip as its sole power plant ran out of fuel and shut down on Wednesday, leaving already overwhelmed hospitals dependent on generators with a dwindling supply of a few days’ fuel. Nearly 340,000 people have been displaced by the conflict, according to the United Nations.
— The brutality and devastation of the Hamas attack was coming into clearer view in the dozens of towns and a military base targeted: civilians, including children, shot dead in homes, in cars, on streets and in hiding places. Netanyahu said the assailants burned people alive, raped women and beheaded soldiers.
— Concern of a broader conflict was brewing with continuing skirmishes and artillery fire on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, raising the possibility of open hostilities with Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant organization in Lebanon that is more powerful than Hamas.