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Clashes Intensify as Israel Prepares Gaza Invasion – WSJ (video)

An artillery shell exploded Sunday over al-Bustan, a village in southern Lebanon that borders with Israel. Hussein Malla/Associated Press
Foreign powers scramble to find diplomatic solution to the crisis. An artillery shell exploded Sunday over al-Bustan, a village in southern Lebanon that borders with Israel. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

Benoit Faucon, Dion Nissenbaum, Dov Lieber, Summer Said, Rory Jones and Sune Engel Rasmussen, WSJ

TEL AVIV
EnergiesNet.com 10 16 2023

Israeli forces struck Gaza in the south on Sunday ahead of an imminent ground attack and amid a growing humanitarian crisis, as fighting between Israel and Islamic militants along its northern border with Lebanon intensified. 

Foreign diplomats meanwhile scrambled to find a solution to a crisis that threatens to engulf the Middle East. 

Officials appeared to make progress with an agreement to allow American citizens to leave Gaza and enter Egypt through the Rafah crossing in return for the delivery of water, food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid, Egyptian officials familiar with the matter said. The border crossing is expected to open Monday morning, and the U.S. and Israel would work to allow safe passage of those leaving Gaza from the south, these officials said. 

On Israel’s northern border, Israeli jets carried out attacks against Lebanon-based militants, which include Iranian ally Hezbollah, after they launched at least six strikes against Israeli territory. Five people were injured in the Israeli town of Shtula after Hezbollah fired antitank missiles, Israel’s military said.

A warehouse in Egypt where foreign aid destined for Gaza is stored. Photo: Mahmoud Khaled/Getty Images

The developments in the north highlight the risks of the conflict spreading, especially as Israel prepares for an unprecedented ground assault against Gaza in retaliation for last week’s attack by Hamas militants that killed at least 1,400 Israelis—the worst single-day death toll for Jews since the Holocaust.

“I’m confident the Israelis are going to do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians,” President Biden said in an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes.” 

“Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust,” the president said. “So I think Israel has to respond.”

Biden has been invited to visit Israel in the coming days and is considering a trip, according to a Biden administration official. But no decisions have been made yet on whether the president will make the trip, the official said.

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the U.S. remained concerned about Hezbollah’s actions and that skirmishes across the Israel-Lebanon border increase the risk of escalation. The U.S. has reached out to Iran, which backs the militant group, to express its concerns, he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But of course, we can’t rule out that Iran would choose to get directly engaged in some way; we have to prepare for every possible contingency,” he said.

Sources: U.N. (crossings); Israel Defense Forces (evacuation zone, strikes); staff reports (strikes)
Sources: U.N. (crossings); Israel Defense Forces (evacuation zone, strikes); staff reports (strikes)

An Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza killed Billal Al Kedra, a Hamas commander responsible for a massacre at Kibbutz Nirim on Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said on Sunday. It vowed to eliminate the remaining Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s leader in Gaza. “Mr. Sinwar is a dead man walking,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, the IDF’s top international spokesman, said.

Thousands of Palestinians in the northern part of the Gaza Strip fled south on Sunday by foot, in cars and on donkey carts as the Israeli military opened a three-hour window of safety during which it vowed not to carry out airstrikes on a central road.

Israel has been urging Palestinian civilians to flee northern Gaza ahead of its expected assault. Hamas, however, is telling people to stay put. A campaign of airstrikes has pounded the enclave and led to growing numbers of casualties as shortages of everything from water to fuel rise.

The timing of an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza remains unclear and torrential rains over the area could delay the beginning of the operation. Israeli authorities have asked the 30,000 inhabitants of Sderot, an Israeli city near the Gaza Strip, to evacuate by Monday, according to the city’s Facebook page.

In a rare move, Israeli authorities asked residents of Sderot, a city of 30,000 near the Gaza Strip, to evacuate by Monday, according to the city’s Facebook page. The request came as the Israeli army is gearing up for a land invasion in Gaza. Photo: Jonathan Alpeyrie/Bloomberg News
Watch video: In a rare move, Israeli authorities asked residents of Sderot, a city of 30,000 near the Gaza Strip, to evacuate by Monday, according to the city’s Facebook page. The request came as the Israeli army is gearing up for a land invasion in Gaza. Photo: Jonathan Alpeyrie/Bloomberg News

Following Israeli attacks in retaliation for militant group Hamas’s assault last weekend, the death toll in Gaza now stands at 2,750, the Gazan Health Ministry said Monday, surpassing the death toll during Israel’s seven-week 2014 war, known as Operation Protective Edge. More than 9,700 have been wounded in the strikes.

Israeli authorities said the death toll from the Oct. 7 attack has reached at least 1,400. Some 289 Israeli soldiers died on Oct. 7 and afterward, they said. Hamas has taken at least 155 people hostage.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah militants shot at security cameras along the Israeli border near Metula, the area’s biggest town, according to the Lebanese faction, video footage posted online by residents and Israeli state television Kan.

The United Nations headquarters in southern Lebanon was hit by a shell, but there were no injuries. The U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon said it was still trying to determine who was responsible.

Israel warned its civilians not to come within 2.5 miles of the Lebanese border, where clashes with Hezbollah forces are escalating.

In addition, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has been redeploying fighters from the eastern Syrian city of Deir Ezzour to an area close to Damascus, which is closer to the Israeli border, according to a Syrian government adviser and a Deir Ezzour activist. The Syrian government adviser said Iran’s aim was largely defensive.

r said Iran’s aim was largely defensive.

People were evacuated on Sunday from the Israeli city of Sderot, near the border with Gaza. Photo: Amir cohen/Reuters
People were evacuated on Sunday from the Israeli city of Sderot, near the border with Gaza. Photo: Amir cohen/Reuters
A truck loaded with bodies was headed for burial on Sunday in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza Strip. Photo: mahmud hams/AFP/Getty Images
A truck loaded with bodies was headed for burial on Sunday in Deir Al-Balah, central Gaza Strip. Photo: mahmud hams/AFP/Getty Images

In an interview with Israeli state channel Kann, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari accused Iran of directing Hezbollah to escalate the situation in northern Israel and challenge the county in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

Tehran has publicly warned of a risk of a regional conflict and said Washington could also be dragged into the escalation. “If the scope of the war expands, heavy losses will befall America,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told Al Jazeera Sunday.

Meanwhile, foreign powers are struggling to find common ground to end the crisis.

On Sunday, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Sisi called for an international summit to discuss the future of the Palestinian issue after meeting his national security team.

Sisi met U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who underscored the U.S. focus on preventing Hamas’ attacks on Israel and ensuring the conflict doesn’t spread.

Blinken also pressed Sisi on the importance of facilitating the safe passage through Egypt of hundreds of American citizens and family members from Gaza. As part of the deal to open the Rafa border crossing, Egyptian officials say Americans would be allowed to leave and aid trucks would be permitted to enter Gaza, as a first step that is expected to be followed by other foreign nationals also leaving the Palestinian territory, these officials said. The U.S. estimates that there are between 500 and 600 Americans in Gaza.  

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Blinken in Riyadh early Sunday. Mohammed told Blinken he wanted to “discuss ways to stop the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people” and “a peace path to ensure that the Palestinian people obtain their legitimate rights,” according to Saudi Press Agency, the state news agency. Blinken is now set to return to Tel Aviv on Monday.

Israelis put up posters of hostages taken into Gaza in Tel Aviv. Photo: Maya Levin for The Wall Street Journal
Israelis put up posters of hostages taken into Gaza in Tel Aviv. Photo: Maya Levin for The Wall Street Journal
Palestinians gathered on Sunday to collect water in southern Gaza. Shortages of drinking water in the enclave are endangering lives, the United Nations warns. Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Palestinians gathered on Sunday to collect water in southern Gaza. Shortages of drinking water in the enclave are endangering lives, the United Nations warns. Photo: Mohammed Salem/Reuters

On Sunday, members of the European Council also condemned the Oct. 7 killings of civilians by Hamas and said Israel had the “right to defend itself in line with humanitarian and international law.” It called on the militant group to release the hostages and said it remained committed to peace based on a two-state solution.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticized the actions of Hamas in a phone call with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA, his first public comments on the group since the Hamas attacks. Abbas said Hamas’s actions don’t represent the Palestinian people, appealed for the release of “civilians, prisoners, and detainees on both sides of the conflict,” and called for the opening of urgent humanitarian corridors.

The U.N. has said shortages of drinking water and fuel for hospitals in Gaza are putting lives at risk, deepening concerns about a humanitarian crisis in the enclave. Nearly one million people in Gaza have fled their homes over the past week, according to the U.N., with many seeking refuge at schools and shelters

On Sunday, Israel’s energy ministry said it had turned the water pipes back on in southern Gaza, seen by some as a move to press people in the north of Gaza to head south.

The U.N. had said late Saturday that more than two million people in Gaza were forced to drink dirty water after treatment plants ran out of fuel. “It has become a matter of life and death” because of the risk of waterborne diseases, said Philippe Lazzarini, who heads the agency in charge of Palestinian refugees.

Hospitals in Gaza, overrun by the sick and wounded and filled with families looking for safety, are believed to have about 48 hours of fuel to operate backup generators, said the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, another U.N. agency.

To urge civilians in northern Gaza to relocate to southern areas of the enclave, Israel’s armed forces said that it wouldn’t carry out any operations along a key route during a three-hour window from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday. “During this window, please take the opportunity to move southward from northern Gaza,” it said.

Several residents in southern Gaza were killed in Israeli strikes in the past 48 hours, according to local Palestinian media and officials. That includes at least three people who died in a single incident midday Sunday, they said.

The timing of an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza remains unclear and torrential rains over the area could delay the beginning of the operation.

Israeli tanks near the Israel-Lebanon border, where tensions are escalating. Photo: ayal margolin/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Israeli tanks near the Israel-Lebanon border, where tensions are escalating. Photo: ayal margolin/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The mass casualties have overwhelmed health facilities. Footage on social media showed residents converting ice-cream trucks into mobile morgues. Corpses were piling up in hospitals and spilling onto the streets outside, Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, a British-Palestinian surgeon in Gaza, said in a voice note shared with The Wall Street Journal. 

“Unless there is respite, there is going to be an infectious-diseases public health catastrophe,” he said. “Bodies are piled up outside the morgue. When you drive past one of the destroyed buildings, the stench of decaying bodies is very, very, very prominent.” 

Thousands had flocked to Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical clinic in the Gaza Strip, and were sleeping on the floor between beds, Abu Sittah said.

“People are absolutely terrified. So they think that this is the safest place,” he said.

Abed Nasser, 31, said his family was holed up in a school, having fled their village of Khuza’a near the Israeli border. He said he was worried that if Gazans leave their homes they might not be able to return, like many Palestinians who left what is now Israel at its founding in 1948. 

“The people do not want to go to Egypt because they don’t want to repeat the same mistake made in 1948, when they were told they’d leave and return to their homes within a week, and then had them stolen,” he said. Hamas, he added, “would rather have the people die than flee their land.”

The U.S. is sending a second aircraft carrier, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, and associated ships to the Eastern Mediterranean “as part of our effort to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Saturday evening. The combat ships and aircraft join another carrier strike group, led by the USS Gerald R. Ford.

  • Laurence Norman, Warren P. Strobel, William Mauldin, Amir Mizroch, Ari Flanzraich, Jared Malsin, Vivian Salama, Menna Farouk and Fatima AbdulKarim contributed to this article.
A bulldozer clears rubble in a neighborhood in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: said khatib/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
A bulldozer clears rubble in a neighborhood in the southern Gaza Strip. Photo: said khatib/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WSJ.com, updated Oct. 16, 2023 4:01 am ET

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