Israel and Hamas exchanged heavy fire on Thursday in the ongoing Gaza war, which has tragically claimed thousands of lives. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a significant visit to Israel, aiming to underscore strong solidarity with the nation while simultaneously urging restraint to safeguard Palestinian civilians.
The conflict escalated as Israel’s military launched numerous strikes on Hamas, leading to heightened expectations of a ground invasion in the densely populated region. Hamas militants had previously inflicted substantial casualties on Israel, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,200 Israelis, the majority of whom were civilians, and the taking of around 150 hostages.
Over the course of the six-day conflict since Hamas initiated their unprecedented attack, more than 1,200 Palestinians in Gaza lost their lives. The Israeli response included the destruction of entire city blocks and thousands of buildings, marking one of the bloodiest chapters in Israeli history.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed a resolute message to his nation, vowing to eradicate Hamas, likening the group to the Islamic State, and declaring his intent to “crush and destroy them.” Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden, who has been a staunch supporter of Israel and had begun sending military aid, called for Israel to adhere to the rules of engagement despite the prevailing anger and frustration.
Amidst the chaos, concerns mounted for the 2.4 million residents of Gaza, enduring their fifth conflict in 15 years within this long-blockaded territory, which had also faced shortages of water, food, and power supplies due to Israeli actions.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed deep concern over the escalating cycle of violence and suffering, urging the release of hostages and the lifting of the siege, emphasizing the paramount importance of protecting civilians.
Calls emerged for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to enable Palestinians to escape potential urban combat and house-to-house fighting in the event of an Israeli ground invasion.
Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz declared that the total siege of Gaza would persist until the hostages were released, effectively blocking humanitarian aid until their return.
The Israeli military mobilized 300,000 reservists and dispatched forces, tanks, and heavy armor to the southern desert areas bordering Gaza, where Hamas initiated its attack on October 7. Israeli forces have since cleared southern towns and kibbutz communities while encountering heartbreaking scenes of civilian casualties, including children.
The profound devastation led one Israeli army spokesman to compare the aftermath to “an atomic bomb” having struck. Netanyahu drew attention to the brutal nature of the conflict, stating that it was reminiscent of the “savagery” seen during the Holocaust.
Hamas’s capture of at least 150 hostages, including Israelis and foreign nationals, deepened the anguish in Israel, as the group threatened to harm the captives if Israeli attacks on civilian targets continued without prior warning.
Unrest spread to the occupied West Bank, where protests in solidarity with Gaza turned violent, resulting in the deaths of 27 Palestinians in clashes since Saturday.
The crisis prompted Netanyahu to set aside political differences, forming an emergency government that includes centrist former defense minister Benny Gantz. As the conflict intensified, Gantz emphasized the unity of the nation, declaring, “Israel before anything else.”