Worst conflict since 1973 Yom Kippur War
Israel has increased airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, sealing the region off from food, fuel and other supplies Monday in retaliation for a bloody incursion by Hamas militants, as the war’s death toll rose to nearly 1,600 (at press time) on both sides. Hamas also escalated the conflict, pledging to kill captured Israelis if attacks targeted civilians without warnings.
In the war’s third day, Israel was still finding bodies from Hamas’ stunning weekend attack into southern Israeli towns. Rescue workers found 100 bodies in the tiny farming community of Beeri — around 10% of its population — after a long hostage standoff with gunmen. In Gaza, tens of thousands fled their homes as relentless airstrikes leveled buildings. One day after the attacks, the U.S. dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea to be able to assist Israel.
The Israeli military said earlier this week it had largely gained control in the south after the attack caught its vaunted military and intelligence apparatus completely off guard and led to fierce battles in its streets for the first time in decades. Hamas and other militants in Gaza say they are holding more than 130 soldiers and civilians snatched from inside Israel.
Israeli tanks and drones have been deployed to guard breaches in the Gaza border fence to prevent new incursions. Thousands of Israelis were evacuated from more than a dozen towns near Gaza, and the military summoned 300,000 reservists — a massive mobilization in a short time.
The moves, along with Israel’s formal declaration of war on Sunday, pointed to Israel increasingly shifting to the offensive against Hamas, threatening greater destruction in the densely populated, impoverished Gaza Strip.
“We have only started striking Hamas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”
As the Israeli military brought additional forces near the border, a major question was whether it would launch a ground assault into the tiny Mediterranean coastal territory. The last ground assault was in 2014.
At press time, a reported 900 people, including 73 soldiers, already have been killed in Israel, according to the media. In Gaza, more than 680 people have been killed, according to authorities there; Israel says hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them. Thousands have been wounded on both sides. Fourteen Americans are reported dead.
The surprise weekend attack by Hamas left a death toll unseen since the 1973 Yom Kippur War with Egypt and Syria.