Israel said on Thursday that its military forces were getting ready for an invasion of the Gaza Strip, but that the final decision had not been made on going forward with an attack of this kind.
Israel’s army has positioned 300,000 reservists along the Gaza border as it responds to Hamas guerilla attacks that killed at least 1,200 people in Israel, almost all of them civilians.
A campaign of Israeli airstrikes that began hours after Saturday’s Hamas incursion has killed an estimated 1,350 people in Gaza.
The United Nations said nearly 340,000 people have been displaced from their homes in Gaza, with more than two-thirds of them taking shelter in U.N. schools.
Humanitarian organizations have expressed alarm about supplies of food, water, fuel and medicine amid an Israeli blockade of Gaza. The main electicity generator in Gaza has now run out of fuel, and water lines from Israel have been cut off.
Hospitals are running low on diesel for emergency generators, and individuals and businesses have gasoline powered generators, but fuel supplies are very low.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi highlighted the need to “ensure the regularity of humanitarian and relief services as well as aid to the people in the Gaza Strip.”
Sissi’s office said in a statement that he told British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a phone call Thursday that Egypt is pushing for calm to prevent “sliding into a bloody path” where civilians will pay the price.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Israel has the right and obligation to defend itself following the Hamas attack, while also stressing the need to take precautions to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
“We know Hamas didn’t commit its heinous acts with the interests of the Palestinian people in mind,” Blinken said as he spoke to reporters alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Hamas has only one agenda: to destroy Israel and to murder Jews.”
Netanyahu thanked the United States for its support and vowed to crush Hamas in the same way that the Islamic State group was defeated.
“There will be many difficult days ahead, but I have no doubt that the forces of civilization will win,” Netanyahu said. “We must stand tall, proud and united against evil.”
Blinken is also due to visit Jordan, where a U.S. official said he will meet Friday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah II.
Also Friday, Brazil, which holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council, is set to chair a council meeting to discuss the Israel-Hamas conflict.
NATO said defense ministers meeting Thursday in Brussels condemned the Hamas attack, expressed their solidarity with Israel and called on the militants to immediately release all hostages.
“Israel does not stand alone,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant briefed the NATO defense ministers by video conference to update them about the conflict.
At the White House, President Joe Biden reaffirmed Washington’s support for Israel and assured a group of Jewish leaders Wednesday that his administration was “working on every aspect of the hostage crisis in Israel.”
Reports say some Americans may be among them — a fact that ties Washington inextricably to the conflict. Biden refused to identify specific efforts to recover the hostages, saying, “If I told you, I wouldn’t be able to get them home.”
Netanyahu created a war Cabinet with former defense chief Benny Gantz, a centrist opposition National Unity Party leader, along with current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, so they can solely focus on combating Hamas.
The unusual arrangement, with other Cabinet members from Netanyahu’s right-wing government apparently remaining in place, pieces together a degree of unity after years of bitterly divisive politics.
Netanyahu has vowed to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza, the densely populated strip of territory along the Mediterranean Sea, so that the militants can no longer threaten Israel.
From Tel Aviv, Yossi Yonah, a former member of the Israeli Knesset, told Alhurra, the U.S. government’s Arabic language satellite TV channel, “The goals (of forming this government) are clear, but I can say the first goal is to continue the strong attacks against Hamas and its supporters in Gaza Strip. There is also a clear option, which is that Israel may carry out ground invasion in Gaza to completely bring down Hamas movement.”
Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday, the fourth call between the two leaders in recent days. In an undated call with Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Biden said they asked him, ‘Why do you feel so deeply about this?’
“It’s not about the region,” Biden said. “I truly believe, were there no Israel, no Jew in the world will be ultimately safe. It’s the only ultimate guarantee. The only ultimate guarantee.”
He added, “I think we have a chance to end this in a way that makes it very difficult for it to be repeated.”
Militants in Gaza are holding an estimated 150 hostages it grabbed in Israel — soldiers, men, women, children and older adults. Their fate is largely unknown, with their relatives pleading in television interviews for their release.
Meanwhile, Hamas continued to fire rockets at Israel on Wednesday, including a heavy barrage at the southern town of Ashkelon, which is a short distance north of the Gaza border. Israeli airstrikes continued to rain down on Gaza.
The World Health Organization said it has run out of supplies at seven hospitals. Doctors Without Borders said surgical equipment, antibiotics, fuel and other supplies were running out at two hospitals it runs in Gaza.
In one, “We consumed three weeks’ worth of emergency stock in three days, partly due to 50 patients coming in at once,” Matthias Kannes, the aid group’s Gaza mission chief, said Wednesday. He said the territory’s biggest hospital, Al-Shifa, only has enough fuel for three days.
Source: VOA White House correspondent Anita Powell contributed to this report. Some information for this article came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters.