JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister said Wednesday that the apartheid state is readying a ground war in Gaza, pressing ahead with plans that have troubled allies and threaten to worsen an already cascading humanitarian crisis.
Facing ever-louder international calls to temper Israel’s ferocious 19-day bombing campaign in the Hamas-controlled territory, he delivered a nationally televised address, saying that Israel will decide how the war is prosecuted.
On October 7, throngs of Hamas gunmen poured from Gaza into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 222 more, according to official tallies.
Thousands of Gazans are already believed to have died in Israel’s aerial assault, with the toll expected to rise substantially if tens of thousands of Israeli troops massed around Gaza move in.
United States (US) President Biden on Wednesday said he had privately suggested Israel should get hostages out if possible before any ground invasion.
“It’s their decision, but I did not demand it”, Biden said, as he called on Congress to allocate more money for Israeli defence.
Speaking in Cairo, French President Emmanuel Macron warned: “A massive intervention that would put civilian lives at risk would be an error.”
But boasting of “raining down hellfire on Hamas” and killing “thousands of terrorists”, Netanyahu said his war cabinet and the military would determine the timing of a “ground offensive” to “eliminate Hamas” and “bring our captives home.”
“I will not detail when, how or how many,” he said.
AFP could not independently verify the ministry’s claims, and US President Biden has stated he has “no confidence” in the Hamas ministry figures.
While the exact toll from the war in Gaza is unclear, the depth of the suffering is not in question.
Entire neighbourhoods have been razed, overflowing hospitals carry out procedures without anaesthetic, and residents have been forced to use ice cream trucks as makeshift morgues.
“They’re not waging war on Hamas, they’re waging war on children,” raged Abu Ali Zaarab, after his family home was bombed in the southern town of Rafah. “It’s a massacre.”
About 1.4 million people — more than half the population — have been displaced, according to the United Nations (UN).
The UN says 12 of the territory’s 35 hospitals have closed due to damage or insufficient fuel, and a key UN aid agency serving almost 600,000 Palestinians “began to significantly reduce its operations.”
Israel has cut off Gaza’s normal supply corridors for water, food and other necessities, and fewer than 70 relief trucks have entered the impoverished territory since the war began.
None contained fuel, which Israel fears Hamas will use for rockets and explosives.
Aid agencies have warned that more people will die if medical equipment, water desalination plants and ambulances stop operating because of a lack of fuel.
Once the generators stop, hospitals will “turn into morgues”, the Red Cross has warned. Hospitals are also struggling with a shortage of medicines and equipment.
“There’s not enough anaesthetic,” said Ahmad Abdul Hadi, an orthopaedic surgeon working at Nasser hospital in Khan Yunis.
“The wounded are in severe pain but we can’t wait for the procedure, so we’re forced to do the operation. We performed a number of surgeries without anaesthetic. It’s tough and painful, but with the lack of resources, what can we do?”