The Israeli army carries out its largest ground incursion into Gaza since the start of the war | International

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Early this Thursday, the Israeli army carried out its largest ground incursion into Gaza since the Hamas attack. It has not been the invasion to “destroy the military and government capabilities of Hamas” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been announcing for days and promised this Wednesday that it will arrive in due course. But it is the first time in 19 days that tanks and infantry have penetrated "for hours" into the Strip to "eliminate terrorists", "neutralize threats" and deactivate explosives, as explained by the military spokesman, Daniel Hagari, in his daily report to the press. The Israeli army has released videos of the raid. Armored vehicles can be seen crossing the same concrete barrier that hundreds of militiamen crossed in the studied surprise attack that left 1,400 dead, mainly civilians, and triggered the current crisis.

The maneuver, aimed - in Hagari's words - at preparing the ground for "the next phases of the war", runs parallel to the intense aerial bombardments, which kill hundreds of Palestinians daily - 68% of them children and women, according to the Ministry of Health of the Hamas Government― and deepen the deterioration of the humanitarian crisis, which has reached “catastrophic proportions”, in the words of Ahmed Al-Mandhari, regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean of the World Health Organization. Due to lack of fuel for generators, hospitals have begun to ration electricity to use it only for emergency actions. And the aid, already considered meager when it began flowing from Egypt last Saturday, is becoming less and less. In the last 48 hours, only 20 trucks have crossed the Rafah crossing – the only open one, which links the Palestinian enclave with Egypt – with water, food and medicine. That is, 2% of those who did it every day before the war. The confederation of 21 charitable organizations Oxfam International has accused Israel in a statement of using hunger "as a weapon of war against the civilians of Gaza" and estimates that 30 trucks have been transporting food - solely or partially - since the tightening of the siege to Gaza. root of the attack. It is 2%, he adds, of what could enter.

None of the convoys carried fuel, the supply of which Israel and the United States reject. The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has warned this Thursday that “the next 24 hours are very important” because, if fuel does not enter, it will be forced to “reduce, and in some cases stop, their humanitarian operations throughout Gaza.” Of the 1.4 million Gazans who have left their homes due to the bombings (two-thirds of the population), 613,000 are taking refuge in UNRWA facilities, such as schools and a health center, and some 700,000 in relatives' homes, according to data from the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs. UNRWA has also lost 38 workers in air strikes. Israel will not allow fuel to enter Gaza because Hamas – the Islamist armed group that has ruled the Strip since 2007 – is using it for its “operational needs,” the military spokesman said.

In recent days, Netanyahu has been forced to emphasize that he has not backed down on the invasion, and that the Government and the Armed Forces are going hand in hand. “We are preparing for a ground invasion. I am not going to specify when, how or how much. Nor the different considerations that we make, which for the most part are not known to the public, and that is how it has to be, so that we can preserve the lives of the soldiers," he said this Wednesday in a speech to the nation, after days of leaks to the national media about discontent in the army with the prime minister over an operation that has been in preparation for days.

Behind closed doors, Israel and the United States insist that only the former decides the times and actions. The second is limited to providing aid (such as aircraft carriers deployed in the Mediterranean) to “not defend itself,” as his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, promised shortly after the Hamas attack. The president, Joe Biden, has reiterated Israel's "right and responsibility" to "defend its citizens from terrorism and to do so in a manner consistent with international law." The White House statement comes in the midst of controversy over Biden's questioning of the Palestinian death toll figures released by the Ministry of Health of the Hamas Government in Gaza.

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Behind closed doors, Americans are, however, concerned about Israel's ability to deal with a regional war that could trigger the invasion. In fact, its Navy reported the interception of a volley of missiles and drones launched from Yemen against Israel, apparently by the Houthi militias, which Iran supports.

It is, according to various analysts, one of the main factors that is delaying the invasion. But Washington doesn't just want to tie up the dots for its ally before it goes all-in on Gaza. It also aims to bring negotiations to a successful conclusion sooner, with the mediation of Qatar, to free the at least 224 hostages remaining in Gaza, some of whom are also its nationals. Since last weekend, Hamas has freed four: an American mother and daughter, and two elderly Israeli women. Qatar is currently working on a much larger package: around 50 with foreign passports.

Abu Obeida, the spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, the Ezzedin Al Qasam Brigades, estimated this Thursday at fifty hostages killed by the Israeli bombings themselves. His message on the Telegram network did not provide names or evidence.

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