Netanyahu says Israel is preparing ground invasion of Gaza
Israel's prime minister declines to provide details on the timing of the operation
Jerusalem — Israel is preparing a ground invasion of Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised statement on Wednesday, but he declined to provide any details on the timing or other information about the operation.
He said the decision on when forces would go into the Palestinian enclave, controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas, would be taken by the government’s special war cabinet, which includes the leader of one of the centrist opposition parties.
“We have already killed thousands of terrorists and this is only the beginning,” Netanyahu said.
“Simultaneously, we are preparing for a ground invasion. I will not elaborate on when, how or how many. I will also not elaborate on the various calculations we are making, which the public is mostly unaware of and that is how things should be.”
Israel has carried out days of intense bombardment of the densely populated Gaza Strip following the October 7 Hamas attack on Israeli communities that killed some 1,400 people. More than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in the bombardments, according to Gaza’s health ministry.
Netanyahu, who has so far not taken responsibility for the security failures that led to the Hamas attack, said all involved would be called to account.
“The scandal will be fully investigated,” he said. “Everyone will have to give answers, me too. But all this will happen only after the war.”
Israeli tanks and troops are massed on the border with Gaza, amid growing international pressure to exercise restraint to avoid endangering more than 200 Israeli hostages in Gaza and enable aid to reach stricken Palestinian civilians in the enclave.
Earlier, citing US and Israeli officials, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had agreed to delay the invasion of Gaza for now, so the US could rush missile defences to the region.
The US military and other officials believe their forces will be targeted by militant groups once the invasion of the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory starts.
The US is hurrying to deploy nearly a dozen air-defence systems to the region, according to the Journal.
Reuters reported on Monday that Washington advised Israel to hold off on a ground assault and is keeping Qatar — a broker with the Palestinian militants — apprised of those talks as its tries to free more hostages and prepare for a possible wider regional war.
Meanwhile, Israel intensified its overnight bombing of southern Gaza, where officials said record numbers of Palestinians were killed again, as a showdown loomed at the UN on Wednesday over desperately needed aid.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled from north to south in the tiny, crowded enclave after Israel warned them it would bombard the north, including Gaza City, to wipe out Hamas.
Palestinian anger over the more than 6,500 toll has been inflamed further by a sense of betrayal as many of those who heeded Israel’s call to move south are also being killed.
The Israeli military says that Hamas, which seized control in Gaza in 2007, has entrenched itself among the civilian population everywhere.
One overnight strike brought down several apartment buildings in Khan Younis.
“This is something not normal, we have not heard something like this before,” said Khader Abu Odah, one of many shell-shocked residents waiting for an excavator to lift rubble so they could look for survivors.
Israel said its latest strikes had eliminated more Hamas operatives including the head of the Islamist group’s battalion for Khan Younis, Tayseer Bebasher.
It said Hamas tunnel shafts, command centres, weapons caches and rocket launch positions were targeted, plus a cell of Hamas divers trying to infiltrate Israel by sea near Kibbutz Zikim.
In Gaza City, rescue workers pulled an apparently lifeless young child out of rubble before trying to calm an agitated, partially buried man crying out his family’s names.
“They are OK, I swear,” one rescuer said in video footage from the scene.
Israeli fighter jets also struck Syrian army infrastructure in response to rockets fired from Syria, an ally of Iran, the Israeli military said. The strike stoked concerns that its war with Iran-backed Hamas will ignite the wider region.
Syrian state media said Israel had killed eight soldiers and wounded seven more near the southwestern city of Deraa, and hit Aleppo airport in the northwest, already out of action.
Israel did not accuse the Syrian army of launching rockets but is suspicious of Iran, its arch-enemy which has a significant military and security presence in Syria.
Iran has sought regional ascendancy for decades and backs armed groups in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere, as well as Hamas. It has warned Israel to stop its onslaught on Gaza.
Israel said its forces also hit five squads in south Lebanon preparing attacks. Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group said 42 of its fighters had been killed since border clashes with Israel resumed after the Gaza war erupted.
Israeli-Hezbollah clashes have unnerved civilians on both sides of the border. “You don’t know what will happen in a few days. You just wait,” said Rabab Yousef, a mother who lost a daughter under the rubble of an Israeli air strike in 2006.
Update: October 25 2023
This story has been updated with Netanyahu's address.