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Israel-Hamas war: Gaza pounded by air strikes as conflict’s next phase looms

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Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza hold about 150 soldiers and civilians hostage, according to Israel. On Monday, Hamas warned it would start killing hostages every time Israel launches a strike on a civilian target in Gaza without warning.

‘It’s a massacre’: Israeli village turned into hell in Hamas attack

A looming question is whether Israel will launch a ground assault into Gaza a 40km-long (25-mile) strip of land wedged among Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea that is home to 2.3 million people and has been governed by Hamas since 2007.

Israel stepped up its offensive on Tuesday, expanding the mobilisation of reservists to 360,000. Israel’s military said it had regained effective control over areas Hamas attacked in its south and of the Gaza border.

New exchanges of fire over Israel’s northern borders with militants in Lebanon and Syria on Tuesday pointed to the risk of an expanded regional conflict.

In a new tactic, Israel is warning civilians to evacuate neighbourhood after neighbourhood, and then inflicting devastation, in what could be a prelude to a ground offensive.

On Tuesday, the military told residents of the nearby al-Daraj neighbourhood to evacuate. New explosions soon rocked it and other areas, continuing into the night.

Fighter jets returned multiple times to another neighbourhood, al-Furqan, striking 450 targets in 24 hours, the Israeli military said.

Boats on fire after Israeli strikes on the seaport of Gaza City. Photo: Reuters

One blast hit Gaza City’s seaport, setting fishing boats aflame.

“There is no safe place in Gaza right now. You see decent people being killed every day,” Gaza journalist Hasan Jabar said after three Palestinian journalists were killed in the Rimal bombardment. “I am genuinely afraid for my life.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Hamas fired barrages of rockets toward the southern Israeli city of Ashqelon and Tel Aviv. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

This is not the Yom Kippur war 2.0

On Tuesday night, a group of militants entered an industrial zone in Ashqelon, sparking a gun battle with Israeli troops, the military said. Three militants were killed, and troops were searching the area for others.

Israel’s new tactics could point to a new objective.

Four previous rounds of Israel-Hamas fighting between 2008 and 2021 all ended inconclusively, with Hamas battered but still in control.

An overview of the Rimal district in Gaza City. The coastal enclave of Gaza is home to 2.3 million people. Photo: Maxar Technologies

This time, Israel’s government is under intense pressure from the public to topple Hamas, a goal considered unachievable in the past because it would require a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip, at least temporarily.

“The objective is for this war to end very differently from all of the previous rounds. There has to be a clear victory,” said Chuck Freilich, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel. “Whatever has to be done to fundamentally change the situation will have to be done,” he said.

The devastation also sharpened questions about Hamas’ strategy and objectives. Hamas officials have said they planned for all possibilities, including a punishing Israeli escalation.

Could the Israel-Hamas war become multi-front involving Iran and Hezbollah?

Desperation has grown among Palestinians, many of whom see nothing to lose under unending Israeli control and increasing settlements in the West Bank, a 16-year-long blockade in Gaza and what they see as the world’s apathy.

Hamas may have been counting on the fight to spread to the West Bank and possibly for Lebanon’s Hezbollah to open a front in the north.

Days of clashes between rock-throwing Palestinians and Israeli forces in the West Bank have left 15 Palestinians dead, but Israel has clamped down heavily on the territory, preventing movement between communities.

The violence also spread into east Jerusalem, where Israeli police said they killed two Palestinians who hurled stones at police late Tuesday.

The Israeli military said more than 1,200 people, including 155 soldiers, have been killed in Israel. In Gaza, 900 people have been killed, including 260 children and 230 women, according to authorities there; Israel says hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.

The bodies of roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were found on Israeli territory, the military said. It wasn’t clear whether those numbers overlapped with deaths reported by Palestinian authorities.

The US has sent an aircraft carrier and other warships to the eastern Mediterranean as part of efforts to deter an expansion of the conflict, and is also providing other assistance, including sharing intelligence with Israel.

Western powers and many other nations have reported citizens killed, abducted or missing. These include: Brazil, Cambodia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, Paraguay, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Ukraine.

In Gaza, more than 200,000 people have fled their homes, the UN said, the most since a 2014 air and ground offensive by Israel uprooted about 400,000. The vast majority are sheltering in schools run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Damage to three water and sanitation sites have cut off services to 400,000 people, the UN said.

Tens of thousands of people in southern Israel have been evacuated since Sunday.

The UN’s World Health Organization said that supplies it had pre-positioned for seven hospitals in Gaza have already run out amid the flood of wounded.

The head of the medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres said surgical equipment, antibiotics, fuel and other supplies were running out at two hospitals it runs in Gaza.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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