Israel bolsters troops at border with Gaza as Hamas hits Ashkelon with rocket barrage

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Israel is hammering Gaza with airstrikes, hitting hundreds of targets and reducing neighborhoods to rubble, as new atrocities are uncovered in its territory after a devastating surprise attack by Hamas militants.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had “more or less” secured the border with Gaza by Tuesday, after Hamas sent fighters pouring into Israeli territory on Saturday. At least 1,000 people were killed in Israel and thousands more injured in the militant group’s onslaught, according to the IDF.

During an inspection of the front line along Israel’s border with Gaza on Tuesday, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he has “released all restraints” for the IDF troops in their fight against Hamas.

“They will regret this moment – Gaza will never return to what it was,” Gallant said

As Israeli troops regain ground, details are gradually emerging of the horror unleashed during the weekend attack. More than 100 bodies have been found in the Israeli kibbutz Be’eri, a farming community near Gaza, which was one of first places targeted by militants on Saturday. Bodies were also found at the nearby Kfar Aza kibbutz, according to an Israeli general.

Israel, which has formally declared war on Hamas, is now battering the densely-inhabited strip with air strikes that have killed at least 900 people, including hundreds of children, women, and entire families, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. It said thousands more had been injured.

Israeli officials have also pledged to cut off food, water and energy to the impoverished coastal enclave, which Hamas controls, in a “complete siege” ahead of an expected ground incursion. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to obliterate Hamas’ strongholds.

The strikes have already damaged Gaza’s medical infrastructure, say Palestinian officials, and have forced more than 187,500 Palestinians to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

The full scale of Israel’s response is still unclear, but complicating its retaliation operations are 150 army and civilian hostages – including American citizens according to US President Joe Biden – believed to have been taken to Gaza by militants.

Fears of a wider conflict

There are rising fears of Hezbollah entering the conflict, potentially opening a second front in the war. The IDF said Tuesday that it has added tens of thousands of additional troops to its northern border with Lebanon in anticipation of an attack by the Iran-backed group.

A US carrier strike group is headed to the eastern Mediterranean Sea, according to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, which officials say is intended to deter Hezbollah in Lebanon and other militants groups.

Lebanese media outlet Al Manar reported Tuesday that rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel. The IDF said that it responded with artillery fire after “launches” were “identified from Lebanese territory toward Israeli territory.”

Rockets were also launched from Syria into Israeli territory, the Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday, adding that they landed in open areas.

Meanwhile, attacks have continued by Hamas, whose fighters have sought to breach the border with Israel in order to launch suicide missions, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

Israel accused of deliberately targeting civilians

Scenes of desperation have emerged from Gaza amid Israel’s bombing campaign as the Palestinian health ministry accuses Israeli forces of deliberately targeting “civilian neighborhoods, health facilities, and notably, medical and rescue crews, as well as ambulance vehicles.”

Asked whether Israeli forces were distinguishing between civilian, governmental and military targets, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said the distinction was not so simple.

“In buildings where people are living there could be a weapons store… there could be a Hamas kingpin living there,” he said Tuesday.

Homes, schools, medical institutions, dozens of schools and government buildings were flattened in Gaza, the Palestinian Ministry of Information said Tuesday, forcing displaced people to 70 shelters in the city amid continuing airstrikes.

A total of 168 buildings, including 1,009 residential units were completely destroyed, the statement said, adding that 12,630 units were partially destroyed.

Ten medical institutions, including seven hospitals, were bombed, while 12 ambulances have been directly targeted, it added.

Most of those arriving at hospitals in Gaza have sustained second- and third-degree burns and amputations, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Health Ministry, Ashraf al-Qidra, told Palestinian news outlet Shihab Agency on Monday. Many have also sustained shrapnel injuries, al-Qidra said.

Those seeking hospital care are mainly women and children, al-Qidra said, adding that this is a “result of Israelis directly targeting residential houses and buildings.”

The UNRWA said its emergency shelters in Gaza are at 90% capacity with more than 137,000 people taking cover from Israeli strikes. It also said that one UN school housing displaced families was “directly hit,” without giving further details. It’s unknown how many people were in the shelter at the time of the strike.

The only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been closed after an Israeli strike on Tuesday.

Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on Earth, where some 2 million people live in an area of 140 square miles.

It has been almost completely cut off from the rest of the world for nearly 17 years, when Hamas seized control, prompting Israel and Egypt to impose a strict siege on the territory, which is ongoing. Israel also maintains an air and naval blockade on Gaza.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said late Monday it has been forced to close all 14 of its food distribution centers in Gaza and “as a result half a million people have stopped receiving vital food aid.”

More than half of its population lives in poverty and is food insecure, with nearly 80% of its population relying on humanitarian assistance.

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