Israel warns Gaza airstrikes will intensify and hits West Bank ahead of war’s ‘next stage’

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Israel’s military vowed to increase airstrikes on Gaza and struck Hamas targets in the occupied West Bank as it signaled it was readying for a new phase of war against the Palestinian militant group, including a potential ground incursion.

All eyes are now on the next move of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which has amassed huge numbers of troops outside Gaza and pounded the densely populated enclave with near-constant airstrikes in its attempt to eradicate Hamas following its deadly October 7 attacks on Israel.

“We will increase our strikes, minimize the risk to our troops in the next stages of the war, and we will intensify the strikes, starting from today,” IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Saturday, adding that a ground operation in Gaza would be launched when conditions are optimal.

“We continue to destroy terror targets ahead of the next stage of the war, and are focusing on our readiness to the next stage,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Sunday the IDF launched an airstrike on the Al-Ansar mosque in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank, which it said was being used by militants to plan for “an imminent terror attack.”

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told CNN it had new intelligence that “suggested there was an imminent attack coming from a joint Hamas and Islamic Jihad squad,” that was making preparations from an underground command center beneath the mosque.

Three people were killed in the Israeli strike, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said in a statement on Sunday.

Violence has flared in the West Bank since the Gaza conflict erupted two weeks ago.

Separately, two people were killed following clashes in Toubas and Nablus, bringing the death toll in the West Bank to at least 90 since October 7, the ministry said Sunday.

In Gaza City, the IDF dropped leaflets written in Arabic that warned residents to evacuate to the south or face the possibility of being considered “a partner for the terrorist organization,” according to a CNN translation.

In a statement, the IDF confirmed it had dropped the flyers, but said there was “no intention to consider those who have not evacuated from the affected area of fighting as a member of the terrorist group.”

The IDF “treats civilians as such, and does not target them,” the statement added.

As of Saturday, Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 4,300 people in Gaza, including hundreds of women and children, according to the Hamas-run government media office in Gaza.

Israel has previously told the more than 1 million residents in northern Gaza to leave their homes and move to the south.

Israel has offered no timeline for the possible ground offensive on Gaza, but military officials have repeatedly told troops an incursion is imminent.

The Israeli Military Chief of Staff, Herzl Halevi, told IDF commanders Saturday that the military will initiate an operation to “destroy” Hamas.

“We’ll enter the Gaza Strip. We’ll embark on an operational and professional task to destroy Hamas operatives and infrastructures,” the chief said in comments to the Golani Brigade of the IDF.

Halevi said that when the IDF enters Gaza, they will “keep in mind” the images that occurred during Hamas’ deadly rampage in Israel.

He acknowledged that Gaza is complicated and crowded, but said the IDF is preparing for the enemy.

The United States and its allies have urged Israel to be strategic and clear about its goals during any ground invasion of Gaza, warning against a prolonged occupation and placing a particular emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties.

During his visit to Israel last week, US President Joe Biden “asked some hard questions” about Israel’s ground invasion strategy, a senior US official told CNN, adding: “we’re not directing the Israelis, the timeline is theirs – their thinking, their planning.”

Meanwhile, the US military is sending more missile defense systems to the Middle East and placing additional US troops on prepare-to-deploy orders in response to escalations throughout the region in recent days.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Saturday he had “activated the deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery as well as additional Patriot battalions to locations throughout the region to increase force protection for US forces.”

The order for troops to prepare for deployment is meant “to increase their readiness and ability to quickly respond as required,” he said.

Both the THAAD and Patriots systems are air defense systems designed to shoot down short, medium and intermediate ballistic missiles.

Conditions in Gaza have become increasingly dire following two weeks of bombardment and a complete siege by Israel, which was unleashed in response to a rampage by Hamas that killed more than 1,400 people in Israel.

Hamas fighters have also abducted about 210 people into Gaza as hostages, according to an estimate released Saturday by the IDF. Two American hostages, a mother and her 17-year-old daughter, were released Friday.

On Saturday, the first convoy of 20 trucks carrying food, water, medicine and medical supplies entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing after intense diplomatic efforts to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

But aid workers and international leaders have warned that much more is needed to combat the “catastrophic” humanitarian situation in the enclave that is home to more than 2 million people.

Citing an acute shortage of food, water, power, and medical supplies that is pushing civilian lives in Gaza “to the edge of catastrophe,” the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said it urgently requires $74 million to sustain its emergency response in Gaza for the next 90 days.

The appeal came in a Palestinian Territories situation report Saturday that said the coastal enclave’s stores have food reserves of less than a week and that the ability to replenish these stocks is “compromised by damaged roads, safety concerns, and fuel shortages.”

Three WFP trucks were part of the convoy of that moved through the Rafah crossing into Gaza on Saturday. Another 40 WFP trucks are waiting at Al-Arish, Egypt, to enter Gaza, the report said.


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