Israel's military warns it will attack Gaza City 'very broadly soon'
Updated October 14, 2023 at 9:29 PM ET
Israel's military says it is readying a widespread attack in Gaza City, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have scrambled to evacuate over the past day.
On Saturday night local time, Israel's chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, urged Gazans to head south ahead of the expected ground assault in northern Gaza.
"We are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon," Hagari said.
In a separate statement, the Israel Defense Forces saidSaturday that it was getting ready for "the next stages of the war."
It said it was preparing "a wide range of operational offensive plans, which can include combined and coordinated strikes from the air, sea and land" with a strong emphasis on ground operations.
On Friday, the Israeli military sent out an unprecedented evacuation order affecting over 1 million residents, about half of Gaza's population, in the northern part of the enclave.
Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that northern Gaza will be the center of Israel's next counterattack in an effort to strike Hamas leaders.
"Gaza City is where the focus and the hub of Hamas activities are, that is where most of the commanders are, most of their infrastructure and their ability to continue to operate," Conricus said Saturday.
He added that troops are "in formation" surrounding the Gaza Strip for the next stage of operations.
The Rafah crossing in southern Gaza was expected to be open until 5 p.m. local time Saturday (10 a.m. ET) for Americans attempting to leave Gaza, a senior State Department official said. U.S. officials estimate that between 500 and 600 Palestinian Americans are in Gaza, but it is unclear how many are seeking to leave.
Efforts to flee northern Gaza have also been complicated by Israel's ongoing airstrikes and military presence. Large numbers of Israeli troops and armored vehicles are assembled just outside Gaza's border fence.
On Saturday morning, President Biden saidthe U.S. is working with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and the United Nations "to surge support to ease the humanitarian consequences of Hamas's attack, create conditions needed to resume the flow of assistance, and advocate for the upholding of the law of war."
Biden also spoke separately with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday. Biden vowed to work with other countries in the region to ensure supplies reach civilians in Gaza and to work to prevent the conflict from widening, the White House said.
Speaking on Saturday night at a dinner for the LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, Biden blamed Hamas for the violence. He added: "The humanitarian crisis in Gaza — innocent Palestinian families — the vast majority have nothing to do with Hamas, they're being used as human shields."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday to discuss the conflict with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
"None of us want to see suffering by civilians on any side, whether it's in Israel, whether it's in Gaza, whether it's anywhere else," Blinken said. "And we're working together to do our best to protect them."
Amid the fighting, Gazans are also reeling from the lack of electricity and clean water. On Wednesday, Israel tightened its siege of Gaza, wreaking havoc on hospitals that are now left with only backup generators.
The World Health Organization on Saturday called Israel's orders for the evacuation of 22 hospitals in northern Gaza a "death sentence"for the more than 2,000 inpatients there.
The power shortage has also affected Gaza's water supply, leaving residents only with unsanitary wells, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Tasneem Ahl, a medical student in Gaza, described the water supply crisis as dire. "You drink your water or you wash your face and brush your teeth," Ahl told NPR.
"Brushing your teeth has become a luxury for us. Your mouth is like a desert."Ahl said her family's home was recently bombed and they are unsure where they will seek shelter.
Israel has launched a massive response to the deadly attack launched on Oct. 7 by Hamas militants that left more than 1,300 people dead in Israel, including 29 U.S. citizens. Some 2,200 Palestinians have been killed in Israel's bombardment of Gaza. On Friday, the Israeli military staged limited raids into the Gaza Strip in an effort to find Israelis who were kidnapped by Hamas.
Israeli forces said they retrieved bodies of several missing Israelis, as well as items that could potentially lead them to more missing people. Hagari, the Israeli military spokesperson, added that troops destroyed "terrorist infrastructure and squads, including a Hamas unit that fired anti-tank missiles toward Israel."
Israeli military spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said about 265 Israeli soldiers have died, while 120 people remain hostages in Gaza.
Hecht added that violence in the West Bank — which Israelis refer to as Judea and Samaria — spiked as well, leading the Israel Defense Forces to take action there.
"We apprehended 220 people, and 130 of them are Hamas — you know how dominant Hamas is in Judea and Samaria. And again, we're following closely any nationalistic crime from our side, too," Hecht said, referring to an attack by Jewish settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank, captured on video by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem.
Israeli troops and civilians pulled out of Gaza in 2005 after nearly four decades in the territory. Since then, Israeli forces have re-entered Gaza to fight Hamas a number of times. The largest operation was in 2014, which lasted seven weeks. The invasion claimed 2,000 Palestinian lives, and more than 70 on the Israeli side. While it was a major setback from Hamas, the militant group was able to rebuild.
NPR's Peter Kenyon, Aya Batrawy, Greg Myre and Michele Kelemen contributed reporting.
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