Death toll exceeds 8,000 in Gaza; Israel PM says war on Hamas ‘will be long and difficult’

Tel Aviv: More than 8,000 people including children were killed in Gaza as Israeli continued its strike on the Hamas controlled region in the Palestinian territory. The Hamas authorities reported that a “large number” of people had been killed overnight in Israeli air strikes on two refugee camps in northern Gaza. As Hamas demanded the release of all Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages it seized three weeks ago, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday warned that war on Gaza militants will be “long and difficult”. 

The United Nations warned thousands more civilians could die in Gaza as Israel said ground forces were still operating inside the Hamas-run territory more than 24 hours after entering it on Friday.

And the head of the International Red Cross appealed for an end to the “intolerable” suffering of Gaza’s civilians.

Israel unleashed a massive bombing campaign after Hamas gunmen stormed across the Gaza border on October 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing 230 hostages, according to Israeli officials. 

Israel’s Home Front Command earlier warned residents in the southern cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon of incoming missile and rocket attacks.Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service said it had dispatched first responders to the scenes of “reported rocket strikes”. No casualties were reported.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned of “the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza”, saying “thousands more civilians” could die.Mirjana Spoljaric, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, appealed Saturday for all sides to deescalate the conflict.

Israeli army soldiers stand by a tracked vehicle at a position in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel near the border with Lebanon. Photo: AFP


“It is unacceptable that civilians have no safe place to go in Gaza amid the massive bombardments, and with a military siege in place there is also no adequate humanitarian response currently possible.This is a catastrophic failing that the world must not tolerate,” she said.

New phase in the war

The intense strikes against Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, provided cover for Israeli ground forces to step up operations.

“Since early Friday evening, combined combat forces of armour, combat engineers and infantry have been operating on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip,” the Israeli army said late Saturday.

Israel has massed tens of thousands of troops along the Gaza border raising expectations of a full-blown invasion, with its soldiers also making limited ground incursions on Wednesday and Thursday.

“This is the second stage of the war whose goals are clear: destroying the military and leadership capabilities of Hamas, and bringing the hostages back home.The war in the (Gaza) Strip will be long and difficult and we are prepared for it,” he said, describing an “existential test” for Israel,” Netanyahu told journalists.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: AFP


Defence Minister Yoav Gallant earlier said “we’ve entered a new phase in the war”. He added: “We attacked above the ground and below the ground,” alluding to the network of tunnels Hamas has built under Gaza.

Israeli fighter jets dropped leaflets over Gaza City warning residents that the area was now a “battlefield”, that shelters in northern Gaza were not safe, and they should “evacuate immediately” to the south.

The army delivered similar warnings earlier in its campaign, but many who fled south have returned home after failing to find refuge from Israeli bombing.

230 hostages in Gaza

Hamas’s armed wing said it was ready to release the hostages it abducted if Israel freed all the Palestinian prisoners it was holding.

“The price to pay for the large number of enemy hostages in our hands is to empty the (Israeli) prisons of all Palestinian prisoners.If the enemy wants to close this file of detainees in one go, we are ready for it. If it wants to do it step by step, we are ready for that too,” Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Obeida said.

Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said the group stood ready to make an “immediate” exchange. Israel’s military said late Saturday that it has now counted 230 hostages taken to Gaza, with officials saying dozens of them are foreigners or dual nationals.This week, the Brigades said “almost 50” of the hostages had been killed in Israeli strikes.

Facing increasing anger over the fate of the captives as Israel steps up its war on Hamas, Netanyahu met representatives of hostage relatives on Saturday.

Ifat Kalderon, whose cousin Ofer Kalderon is believed to be held in Gaza along with members of his family, told AFP she supported the idea of a prisoner release in exchange for the hostages.

“Take them, we don’t need them here. I want my family and all the hostages to come back home,” she said.

Netanyahu made no commitment to any exchange deal but assured hostage families Israel would “exhaust every option to bring them home”.

Communications blackout

Overnight to Saturday, hundreds of buildings and houses were completely destroyed and thousands damaged, Gaza officials said.Hamas retaliated with fresh rocket fire, which wounded three people in central Israel.

Billionaire Elon Musk said his Starlink satellite service would support internet access for “internationally recognised aid organisations in Gaza” a day after communications and phone networks were cut across Gaza.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said this was affecting emergency calls and critical ambulance sorties. Human Rights Watch warned it could provide “cover for mass atrocities”.

Starlink is a network of satellites in low Earth orbit that can provide internet to remote locations, or areas where normal comms infrastructure has been disabled.

1.4 million people displaced in Gaza

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell demanded a “pause of hostilities” to allow aid into Gaza, after the UN General Assembly called for an “immediate humanitarian truce”.

The non-binding resolution on Friday received overwhelming support, but Israel and the United States criticised it for failing to mention Hamas.

Addressing several hundred thousand pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Istanbul on Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “the main culprit behind the massacre unfolding in Gaza is the West”.His comments prompted Israel to recall all of its diplomats from Turkey.

A Palestinian woman is assisted, as people search for casualties at the site of an Israeli strike on a residential building in Gaza City on Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS/Yasser Qudih


Israel’s military campaign has displaced more than 1.4 million people inside Gaza, according to the UN, more than half of its 2.4 million inhabitants.Supplies of food, water and power to the crowded territory have been almost completely cut off.

A first convoy of aid was allowed on October 21, but only 84 trucks have crossed in total, according to the UN, which says that on average, 500 trucks entered Gaza daily before the conflict.

Between the bombardments and the fuel shortages, 12 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals have been forced to close and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said it has had to “significantly reduce its operations”.

Violence has also risen sharply in the occupied West Bank since the October 7 attacks, with 109 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or settlers, including 33 children, according to the UN.

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