Israel retakes towns from Hamas fighters and moves to control border
By Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner
Israel said Tuesday that its military had regained control over towns near the Gaza Strip, four days after Palestinian gunmen launched a devastating cross-border assault, as the country girded for the next phase of what Israeli officials have warned will be a crushing campaign against Hamas militants.
Israel’s government approved the call-up of an additional 60,000 reservists, raising the total number mobilized over the last three days to 360,000, the most in such a short period since the country’s founding. The call-ups have touched nearly every corner of the country of 10 million, already awash in grief and anger over the deaths of more than 900 people in the attacks that began Saturday.
With the border nearly secured, the scale of the horror unleashed on towns and villages near Gaza was slowly coming into grim focus: In one kibbutz a mile and a half from Gaza, New York Times journalists saw Israeli soldiers carrying slain residents on stretchers, and more than a dozen bloated bodies lying on the ground.
It is not yet clear if or when Israel will order a ground invasion of Gaza, an impoverished coastal enclave ruled by Hamas. But the Israeli military said Tuesday that its airstrikes against the coastal strip would be “bigger than before and more severe” because of the scale of the Palestinian incursion. The Israeli military said it had recovered the bodies of around 1,500 Palestinian assailants since Saturday morning.
Israeli bombardments since Saturday have leveled mosques, a marketplace and other civilian areas, according to United Nations officials. Health officials in Gaza said Tuesday that 765 Palestinians have been killed and 4,000 others have been wounded in the last four days, though it was unclear how many were civilians.
Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesperson, declined to say whether the military’s actions would be affected by the presence of what is believed to be around 150 Israeli hostages who were abducted to Gaza on Saturday. Hamas on Monday threatened to kill a hostage each time Israel strikes Gaza without warning.
Here’s what else to know:
— President Joe Biden is scheduled to deliver remarks on the attacks in Israel on Tuesday at 1 p.m. Eastern time, according to White House officials. The White House released a joint statement Monday from Biden and other world leaders expressing “steadfast and united support” for Israel and the “unequivocal condemnation” of Hamas.
— At least 11 U.S. citizens have been killed in the fighting, Biden said, and more are still unaccounted for.
— The United Nations’ top human rights official condemned the “horrifying mass killings” and executions allegedly committed by Palestinian armed groups. At the same time, he warned that Israel’s announcement of a “complete siege” of Gaza would exacerbate the “already dire” humanitarian conditions there.
— Israel has asked the United States for more weapons, including precision-guided munitions for combat aircraft and interceptors for its Iron Dome missile defense system. Hamas has fired thousands of rockets at Israel since Saturday, putting a strain on Israel’s defenses. Israel has struck more than a thousand targets in Gaza in retaliation.