Israel masses troops on Gaza border as fighting with Hamas rages
Israel battled Hamas infiltrators for a third day Monday and massed tens of thousands of troops near the Gaza Strip, which Palestinian militants used as a springboard for the biggest attack in decades on Israeli territory.
A land invasion of the crowded Mediterranean enclave looked possible as the combined death toll on both sides surpassed 1,100. From the air, Israeli warplanes, helicopters and artillery pummeled Gaza for a second consecutive night, striking more than 500 targets that the Israeli military said were linked to Hamas and to Islamic Jihad, a smaller extremist group.
Israel struggled to regain full control of a string of small southern Israeli communities that came under a highly coordinated, multipronged attack from Gaza-based militants before dawn Saturday, a military spokesman told reporters. By late Monday morning, the Israeli military said that the fighting had dwindled to “isolated” clashes but that some of the infiltrators might still be in the area.
“It’s taking more time than we expected to get things back into a defensive security posture,” Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, the military spokesman, said. “We thought by yesterday we would have full control. I hope we will by the end of the day.”
Hecht added that more militants could still be crossing into Israel from Gaza, because not all the breaches in the border fence surrounding the enclave had been blocked.
Across Israel, daily life was upended as reservists reported for duty, flights into the main international airport were curtailed, volunteers rushed to donate blood and most schools remained closed. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the top military spokesman, said Israel had mobilized 300,000 reservists in 48 hours — an unprecedentedly rapid call-up.
Urging restraint won’t work, given the scale of the Palestinian attacks. How far will further escalation go?
The death toll inside Israel rose to 700, according to officials and media reports, but the figure was clouded by chaotic conditions in some of the areas that were overrun in the surprise attack, which saw Israeli civilians gunned down at bus stops, on highways or fleeing into barricaded rooms inside their homes.
In one of the deadliest single episodes, Palestinian gunmen struck an all-night outdoor dance party in the desert a short distance from the Israel-Gaza border fence. Israeli media reports said more than 200 young people were killed, with militants hunting down those who tried to flee in their cars or hide in nearby wooded areas. Dozens remained unaccounted for, and social media platforms were flooded with frantic appeals from relatives trying to locate loved ones who were at the festival, some of them last seen in exuberant TikTok videos from early Saturday, shortly before the strike.
In Gaza, the Israeli strikes targeted several multistory buildings, including the residence of Rawhi Mustafa, a member of Hamas’ political leadership, which the Israeli military said was being used as a command center.
Palestinian officials said the death toll in Gaza had mounted by Monday morning to 493, with more than 2,750 people injured.
At least 150 Israelis, including elderly people and children, were believed to remain captive inside Gaza, with many of them seized and dragged into the enclave in the early hours of the attack. That will complicate any Israeli land invasion of the densely crowded coastal strip and also any political or diplomatic moves by Israel’s far-right government once the fighting stops.
When that will happen, no one knows. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his compatriots Sunday of a protracted conflict as Israel tries to exact retribution and inflict a decisive defeat on Hamas, which has held sway in Gaza for more than 15 years.
Israel’s air force said in a statement that targets inside Gaza have included rocket launchers, a mosque being used as an operating base by militants and 21 high-rise buildings in which militant activity took place. Hamas, in a statement, accused Israel of hitting “homes inhabited by women and children, mosques and schools.”
One path is vengeance. The other path, which requires bolder leadership, requires shattering the old paradigm of eternal enmity.
Israeli officials have not said whether a ground invasion is in the offing, but convoys of Israeli armor headed south in possible preparation for such an assault.
Underscoring the fears around continued incursions from Gaza, officials in Sderot, a small Israeli city about eight miles from the Gaza frontier, called on residents to barricade themselves at home.
“Lock doors and windows, and do not open to any stranger,” the Sderot municipality told residents in a bulletin.
Humanitarian conditions in Gaza, already desperate, worsened with the strife. The United Nations humanitarian agency said nearly 125,000 people inside the impoverished enclave, which has a population of about 2 million, had been displaced since the outbreak of hostilities Saturday.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for the L.A. Times biggest news, features and recommendations in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.