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Israeli soldiers listen to Israel's defence minister Yoav Gallant as he meets them in a field near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel October 19 2023. Picture: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS
Israeli soldiers listen to Israel's defence minister Yoav Gallant as he meets them in a field near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel October 19 2023. Picture: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

Jerusalem/Beirut — Germany and the US on Thursday urged their citizens to leave Lebanon on fears Israel’s military campaign against Gaza and Hezbollah rockets barrages over the border may escalate into a regional conflict.

Germany’s foreign ministry said its citizens should leave Lebanon immediately. They were also urged to register their contact details on an online crisis portal, according to a post from the ministry on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

The US embassy in Beirut said its citizens should “make plans to depart as soon as possible while commercial options are still available”. In an emailed advisory to citizens, the embassy said it was closely monitoring the security situation in Lebanon. “We recommend that US citizens who choose not to depart prepare contingency plans for emergency situations,” the embassy said.

Shelling intensified between northern Israel and southern Lebanon on Thursday. Lebanese group Hezbollah said it fired rockets at an Israeli position in the village of Manara that drew an Israeli artillery barrage in response, the latest exchange in the worst escalation in violence on the border in 17 years.

The Iran-backed group says 13 of its fighters have been killed so far in the cross-border exchanges that have flared since October 7, when Palestinian group Hamas attacked southern Israel and Israeli forces launched a counteroffensive on Gaza.

Hezbollah, which fought a war with Israel in 2006, said it hit Manara with guided missiles. It also said its fighters had attacked four other Israeli positions on Thursday.

The Israeli military earlier reported fighters in Lebanon had fired at least two anti-armour missiles into Israel, striking Manara without causing casualties.

Hezbollah has said it is ready to contribute to the conflict with Israel. But sources familiar with its thinking say its attacks on the border have been designed to keep Israeli forces busy without opening a major new front.

Hezbollah supporters carry flags during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon, October 18 2023. Picture: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS
Hezbollah supporters carry flags during a protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon, October 18 2023. Picture: MOHAMED AZAKIR/REUTERS

Israel’s defence minister Yoav Gallant said on October 15 that Israel had no interest in waging war on its northern front, and that if Hezbollah restrained itself then Israel would do so too.

On Thursday, Gallant told troops gathered at the Gaza border they would soon see the Palestinian enclave “from inside”, suggesting an expected ground invasion with the aim of annihilating Hamas could be nearing.

“You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside. The command will come,” Gallant told soldiers.

Israel pounded Gaza with more air strikes on Thursday over the October 7 rampage by Hamas gunmen who killed 1,400 Israelis.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak followed US President Joe Biden with a visit to demonstrate Western support for the war against Hamas militants.

Israel has put the Gaza Strip’s 2.3-million people under siege and bombarded the enclave in strikes that have killed thousands.

Troops were not expected to enter while foreign leaders were visiting. Gallant also said the battle would be long and hard.

Bodies of Palestinians killed during Israeli air raidsin Khan Yunis, Gaza, October 19 2023. Picture: AHMAD HASABALLAH/GETTY IMAGES
Bodies of Palestinians killed during Israeli air raidsin Khan Yunis, Gaza, October 19 2023. Picture: AHMAD HASABALLAH/GETTY IMAGES

Shortly after Gallant’s statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a video of himself with troops near the border promising victory.

The families of some of those taken hostage to Gaza from Israel begged Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to release them and urged the Israeli military to consider their safety as it pursues Hamas. An estimated 200 people, including 30 minors and young children and 20 people over the age of 60, are being held, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan said, citing military sources.

Biden returned to the US overnight from his brief Israel trip after a planned summit in Jordan joined by the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders was cancelled over a Gaza hospital explosion that Palestinians blamed on an Israeli air strike but that Israel and the US said was caused by a failed rocket launch by militants.

An unclassified US intelligence report, seen by Reuters on Thursday, estimated that the death toll from the hospital blast was “probably at the low end of the 100 to 300 spectrum”, but added that the assessment may evolve. It said only light structural damage had been observed at the hospital.

Palestinian officials had said 471 people were killed in the blast at Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital late on Tuesday.

Biden had only limited success in his attempt to get aid into Gaza, getting agreement with Israel and Egypt for 20 trucks.

Meanwhile, Egypt took steps to prepare to let in aid through its border crossing with Gaza with first deliveries expected on Friday. The crossing has been out of operation since the first days of the conflict and Israeli bombardments on the Palestinian side of the border.

Two Egyptian security sources said equipment was sent on Thursday through its crossing to repair roads on the Gaza side. More than 100 trucks were waiting in Egypt.

Eight Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Thursday.

The spokesperson for Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida on Al Jazeera called for anti-Israel rallies across Arab and Muslim countries on Friday and said the group was prepared for a long battle with Israel.

According to Palestinian health officials, the toll from Israeli strikes on Gaza has risen to more than 3,500 dead and more than 12,000 wounded.

In Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip men rushed to the main Nasser hospital carrying dead and wounded children in their arms, in ambulances and the back of a flatbed truck after a bomb struck a house. Medics said four people were killed and many wounded, mainly displaced children from northern Gaza who had been playing soccer in a lot next door.

The UN says around half of Gazans have been made homeless, still trapped inside the enclave, one of the most densely populated places on earth.

Their plight has enraged the Middle East, making it harder for Biden and other Western leaders to rally Arab allies to prevent the war from spreading.

Before Biden left, he made a plea for Israelis to rein in their wrath: “While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. And while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Reuters 

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