Israel is escalating measures against the Gaza Strip to a “total blockade” including a ban on admitting food and fuel, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday, after Hamas stunned Israel with surprise offensive.
Gaza’s health ministry said there were dozens of Palestinians killed and wounded in Israeli air strikes on the Jabalia refugee camp. Israel has launched hundreds of strikes on Gaza since Saturday, when Hamas fighters launched attacks in Israel and fired thousands of rockets at the country.
- Israel military says control of communities reestablished but fighting continues in pockets
- Israel calls up 300,000 reservists, to go ‘on offensive’
- Palestinian death toll in retaliatory strikes approaches 500
- Over 123,000 displaced in Gaza strip
- 700 Israelis killed in raid, say officials
At least 493 Palestinians had been killed in Israeli bombardments on the blockaded enclave since Saturday, according to a ministry death toll.
More than 123,000 people have been displaced in the Gaza Strip since fighting began, the United Nations said. “Over 123,538 people, have been internally displaced in Gaza, mostly due to fear, protection concerns and the destruction of their homes,” said the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA.
More than 73,000 are sheltering in schools, OCHA said, some of which have been designated emergency shelters.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said he expected the numbers to rise further.
“There’s electricity in these schools, we provide them with a meal, clean water, psychological support and medical treatment,” he told AFP.
Gaza is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, who have lived under a crippling Israeli blockade imposed after Hamas took power in 2007.
At least seven Palestinians were killed in two Israeli air strikes on two houses in Gaza, according to medics. Israeli planes also carried out dozens of air strikes, many in the northern town of Beit Hanoun. The Associated Press reported that 19 members of a single family were killed in one such strike.
“The price the Gaza Strip will pay will be a very heavy one that will change reality for generations,” said Defence Minister Yoav Gallant in the town of Ofakim, which suffered casualties and had hostages taken.
To that end, Tel Aviv is escalating measures against the Gaza Strip to a “total blockade” including a ban on admitting food and fuel, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said, describing this as part of a battle against “beastly people”.
300,000 reservists called
Chief military spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel has drafted a record 300,000 reservists and is “going on the offensive”.
Hagari said control of border villages and towns in which there were Palestinian fighters had been re-established but that isolated clashes continued as some gunmen remained active.
“We are now carrying out searches in all of the communities and clearing the area,” he said in a televised briefing.
Military officials had previously said that their focus was on securing Israel’s side of the border before carrying out any major escalation of the counter-offensive in Gaza.
Hagari said 300,000 reservists have been called up by the military since Saturday, a number suggesting preparations for a possible invasion – though any such plans have not been officially confirmed.
“We have never drafted so many reservists on such a scale,” he said. “We are going on the offensive.”
Hagari confirmed media reports that 700 people had been killed on Israel’s side of the border, including 73 confirmed members of the security forces. He said Israel’s military had killed hundreds of Palestinian gunmen.
Fighter jets, helicopters and artillery struck over 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip overnight, with targets including Hamas and Islamic Jihad command centres and the residence of senior Hamas official Ruhi Mashtaa who allegedly helped direct the infiltration into Israel.
Oil prices were up more than $3 a barrel in Asian trade on Monday as the violence deepened political uncertainty across the Middle East and raised concerns about supplies from Iran.
Iran is an ally of Hamas and while it congratulated Hamas on the attack, its mission to the United Nations said Tehran was not involved in the attacks.
Any sustained rally in oil prices would act as a tax on consumers and add to global inflationary pressures, which weighed on equities as S&P 500 futures shed 0.7pc and Nasdaq futures lost 0.6pc.
Several international air carriers have suspended flight services with Tel Aviv in light of the Hamas attack, saying they are waiting for conditions to improve before resuming. Beyond blockaded Gaza, Israeli forces and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia exchanged artillery and rocket fire on Sunday, while in Egypt, two Israeli tourists were shot dead along with a guide.
Appeals for restraint came from around the world, though Western nations largely stood by Israel.
The Palestinian foreign ministry denounced what it called a “barbarous campaign of death and destruction” by Israel.
“As an occupying power, Israel has no right or justification to target the defenceless civilian population in Gaza or elsewhere in Palestine,” it said on Sunday.
In southern Israel, Hamas gunmen were still fighting Israeli security forces after their surprise assault with rocket barrages and bands of gunmen who overran army bases and invaded border towns.
“It’s taking more time than we expected to get things back into a defensive, security posture,” Lt Col Richard Hecht told a briefing with journalists.