“Complete victory will be the only possible outcome of this battle,” he said Saturday. “We will not only collapse Hamas military and governmental capabilities, but ensure that they will not be able to revive themselves afterward.”
The Israeli military is preparing a “wide range of offensive operative plans” for Gaza, including attacks by land, sea and air, the Israeli government said in a statement Saturday.
Hanegbi said that he had “made a mistake” in failing to accurately assess Hamas’s desire to confront Israel following the Hamas assault last Saturday that killed more than 1,300 Israeli civilians and soldiers. He did not directly address the possibility of the ground invasion, even as Israel has amassed special battalions, tanks and other battle equipment near the barrier fence that divides Israel from the Gaza Strip.
Hanegbi said that he was aware of 150 to 200 hostages, including Israelis and foreign nationals, captured by Hamas and currently held in the Gaza Strip, and that Israel was not waiting to the end of the war to resolve the issue of their release. He said it was impossible for “Israel to hold negotiations with an enemy that we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth.”
Near the Gaza border, where Hamas militants killed families in their homes on Oct. 7, a group of Israeli soldiers in white protective suits filled a truck with body bags on Saturday. It was the second truck they had filled that day, carrying what they said were bodies of Palestinian fighters.
Other soldiers nearby cheered at the sound of firing mortar rounds. Some were writing messages on tank shells in memory of soldiers that had been killed.
Soldiers in the area said they were preparing for Israel’s ground invasion into Gaza – but said they didn’t know when it would begin. One Israeli soldier from Tel Aviv, who asked only to be identified by his first name, Dan, because he was not authorized to speak to journalists, said, “There’s no way of possibly knowing when it’s going to come. We’re ready. We don’t have a choice not to be.”
The threat of a ground invasion came as aid groups, diplomats and others tried to relieve a quickly escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Those efforts have focused on trying to convince Israel to rescind an evacuation order in northern Gaza, affecting some 1.1 million people, or at least to pause its bombing campaign to allow for aid deliveries from Egypt.
As airstrikes continued Saturday and thousands of people fled northern Gaza, there was no sign those efforts were bearing any fruit. Instead, Israel renewed its call Saturday for a mass evacuation, and hinted at the broad scope of its invasion plans.
“They have to start moving,” a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, told reporters Saturday, referring to the Palestinians. He did not provide a deadline for the evacuation, a day after Israel had insisted the entire population of nearly 1.1 million in northern Gaza — half the population — should head south within 24 hours.
“They have time to move,” Hecht said Saturday.
A funeral procession was held Saturday in Lebanon for Issam Abdallah, a Reuters journalist who was killed Friday while working near Lebanon’s southern border on Friday. Six other journalists were injured in what colleagues said was Israeli shelling on the area they were reporting from.
Abdallah’s death has sparked outrage in Lebanon. The injured journalists were from Reuters, Agence France-Presse and Al Jazeera. Reuters reported, citing one of its journalists at the scene, that “missiles fired from the direction of Israel struck them,” including one that hit Abdallah as he was sitting on a low stone wall, and another missile that hit a car being used by the group.
In response to questions about the shelling, Hecht, the Israeli military spokesman, said Saturday that Israeli military was “very sorry” for the journalist’s death but that it was not sure who was responsible and would investigate.
Hanegbi, the national security chief said, said Israel was not interested in an escalation along its northern border with Lebanon as “our goal is not to be pulled into a two-front war.” He said that he believed “Hezbollah would not invite the destruction of Lebanon, which is not what we want, but what would happen.”
The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, said in a joint statement that Ali Kachi, a commander in the Nukhba force, who they said led one of the groups of attackers that infiltrated Israel last week, was killed in an airstrike.
Kachi was a mid-level Hamas operative. He had been previously arrested for kidnapping and killing Israelis, the statement said, before being released as one of 1,027 Hamas prisoners exchanged for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was captured in 2006 and held by the group for five years.
Separately, Hamas’s military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, on Saturday said a group of fighters crossed the border fence with Israel to the east of Khan Younis and attacked Israeli forces. The group destroyed three military vehicles, it said on Telegram. The Israeli military reported gunfire between its forces and “terrorists who attempted to infiltrate Israel” under mortar cover.
Against the rising tide of violence, the staggering scope of the humanitarian crisis has emerged in figures released by aid and health care officials in Gaza. The health ministry there said Saturday that 2,215 Palestinians, including 724 children, had been killed since the start of Israel’s military campaign on Oct. 7. Nearly 9,000 Palestinians had been injured, it said.
Almost 1 million people have been displaced in Gaza over the last week, the U.N. said, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced in the past 12 hours alone. More than 2 million people are at risk as water supplies run out, according to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, saying: “It has become a matter of life and death.”
Aid officials have pleaded for de-escalation. António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, was among those calling on Israel to reconsider its evacuation order. In an opinion piece published in the New York Times on Friday, Guterres described the decision as “dangerous and deeply troubling,”
“We urgently need a way out of this disastrous dead end before more lives are lost,” Guterres continued, calling on Hamas to release all Israeli hostages it was holding and urging both sides to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians.
U.S. officials said Saturday that they had negotiated a deal to allow American citizens to leave Gaza and cross into Egypt, during a five-hour window during the afternoon. But the Rafah border crossing remained closed throughout the window, after Palestinian and Egyptian officials failed to communicate about opening it, an official there said, and by day’s end, no one was allowed to cross.
There are an estimated 500 to 600 Palestinian Americans in Gaza. Some have complained in recent days that the Biden administration was paying little attention to their plight.
Wael Abu Omar, the Palestinian spokesman for the Rafah crossing, said Palestinian officials had not had any communication with their counterparts on the Egyptian side. Egyptian media outlets reported that Cairo was insisting that aid shipments be delivered to Gaza as a condition for allowing foreigners to cross the border.
The aid deliveries earmarked for Gaza have been sent from Turkey, Qatar and other regional countries. Israel had been unwilling to commit to not striking the entering aid vehicles, according to a diplomatic official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss sensitive negotiations. Discussions were ongoing to set up a screening mechanism that would allow Israeli officials to inspect goods in each vehicle entering Gaza, the official said.
Another diplomat familiar with the talks over the aid deliveries said they would require “Israel to stop bombing the enclave for a few hours.”
Hendrix and Tarnopolsky reported from Jerusalem, Hudson from Riyadh and Fahim from Beirut. Heidi Levine in Ashkelon, Israel, Ellen Francis in Munich, Karen DeYoung in Washington and Victoria Bisset in London contributed to this report.