Israel readies for Gaza mission as death toll mounts

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The death toll in Israel has reached 1,200 people as the country discovered new evidence of mass killings by Palestinian militant group Hamas and prepared for a large-scale operation in Gaza following an unprecedented attack at the weekend.

About 2,700 people are wounded, Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a statement posted early on Wednesday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

He warned that the number would continue to rise as authorities uncovered more civilians killed in the unprecedented incursion on Saturday, in which Hamas militants over-ran towns in southern Israel.

A large but still uncounted number of bodies was discovered on Tuesday in Kfar Aza, a kibbutz that abuts the border with the Gaza Strip and was among the last Israeli locations to be secured. The Israeli military described the site as a “massacre”.

Israel has mobilised 360,000 reservists in preparation for a ground operation in Gaza.

Palestinian health authorities said on Wednesday that 950 people had been killed by Israeli bombardment, with 5,000 wounded over the past four days. Israel said it had hit more than 2,300 “Hamas targets” in the blockaded territory, which is home to 2.3mn people, while more than 4,500 rockets had been fired from Gaza.

The first cargo plane carrying “advanced armaments” from the US “designed to facilitate significant military operations” landed at Nevatim Airbase in southern Israel on Tuesday night, the Israeli army said. The US is sending ammunition and interceptors to replenish the Iron Dome air defence system that Israel relies on to neutralise rocket attacks.

Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US president Joe Biden that Hamas’s atrocities surpassed those of Isis and that Israel was at the beginning of “a powerful and prolonged campaign”.

“The extent of this evil, it’s only gotten worse,” Netanyahu said, according to the prime minister’s office.

Biden addressed the attacks in a speech from the White House on Tuesday, saying Israel had both the “right” and a “duty” to respond. He confirmed that Americans were among the dozens of hostages held by Hamas and said that at least 14 Americans had been killed.

Describing the attacks by Hamas as “sheer evil” that brought back grim memories of “genocide and antisemitism”, Biden vowed that the US would “stand with Israel”.

Israel-Palestinian conflict

Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers, alongside significant military equipment, are massed at the border with Gaza, from which Israel withdrew in 2005 and Hamas has controlled since 2007.

The UN estimates that nearly 300,000 Palestinians have been displaced within Gaza, with many rushing to UN-run schools and refugee camps to seek shelter from Israeli bombardment.

Netanyahu has suggested that civilians “leave” the 40-km strip, stoking concern in neighbouring Egypt. The US is discussing safe passage for civilians with its regional allies, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on Tuesday, without providing details.

“We have sent our infantry, armoured soldiers, our artillery corps and many other soldiers from the reserves,” said Conricus, the IDF spokesperson. Their mission “is to make sure that Hamas at the end of this war won’t have any military capabilities by which they can threaten or kill Israeli civilians”.

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