Israeli troops entered Gaza City in full force on Tuesday evening, according to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said in a press conference that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were now operating deep inside the city.
He added that Hamas’ senior leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is “hiding” in an underground bunker somewhere in the city and that Israeli forces had isolated him “without contact with his associates” in the Palestinian militant group.
Sinwar allegedly helped mastermind the Oct. 7 massacre of Israeli civilians that kicked off the now month-long conflict—leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to declare him a “dead man walking.”
Hamas did not comment on Sinwar’s status Tuesday.
In his prepared statement, Gallant added that Israeli troops would stop at nothing to destroy the militant group’s infrastructure and dismantle its leadership.
“IDF (Israeli military) forces…came from the north and the south. They stormed it in full coordination between land, air, and sea forces,” Gallant said, according to Reuters. “They are maneuvering on foot, armored vehicles and tanks, along with military engineers from all directions and they have one target: Hamas terrorists in Gaza, their infrastructure, their commanders, bunkers, communications rooms. They are tightening the noose around Gaza City.”
The Israeli military had encircled the city earlier this week after weeks of aerial bombardment and heavy fighting inside Gaza that has killed over 10,000 civilians in Gaza, according to a tally from the Palestinian Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas.
Earlier on Tuesday, Israel announced a four-hour-long window for civilian residents of Gaza City to flee to the southern region of the enclave, with some evacuees reporting sightings of tanks and dead bodies on their way out of the city.
The fighting had effectively split north and south Gaza in what the military said represented a “significant stage” for the war, which was launched early last month after Hamas terrorists launched a surprise attack in Israel, killing 1400 and kidnapping over 200 people, according to Israeli officials. Israel has said that its goals in the war are to completely eliminate Hamas and save hundreds of hostages Hamas is believed to be holding inside Gaza.
A delegation for the International Committee of the Red Cross said that one of its humanitarian convoys, which was carrying much-needed medical supplies to hospitals around the enclave, was attacked in a “deeply” alarming incident in Gaza City on Tuesday.
“We are deeply troubled that our humanitarian convoy in Gaza City came under fire today. It was carrying lifesaving medical supplies to health facilities,” the ICRC said. “Under [international humanitarian law], humanitarian workers must be protected.”
Israel’s decision to continue attacking inside Gaza and killing civilians that have effectively no way to escape the territory has prompted widespread outcry from humanitarian organizations and activists across the world.
“An entire population is besieged and under attack, denied access to the essentials for survival, bombed in their homes, shelters, hospitals and places of worship. This is unacceptable,” several United Nations leaders, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk, said in a statement. “We need an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. It’s been 30 days. Enough is enough. This must stop now.”
“The horrific killings of even more civilians in Gaza is an outrage, as is cutting off 2.2 million Palestinians from food, water, medicine, electricity and fuel,” the joint statement added.
Israel has declined to entertain the idea of a ceasefire, demanding that Hamas release the hostages it has captured first.
The Biden administration has been pushing for a “humanitarian pause” in Gaza to make way for foreign nationals to leave and to allow aid deliveries into the enclave.
But U.S. officials have said that the Biden administration believes now is not the time for a ceasefire, fearing it would allow Hamas to coordinate further attacks.
“It’s our view that a ceasefire now would leave Hamas in place to regroup and repeat attacks,” U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a briefing on Saturday in Amman, Jordan, in his third visit to the region since the war began.
“We still don’t believe that a general ceasefire is appropriate at this time,” the National Security Council coordinator John Kirby reiterated on a call with reporters on Monday.
In the meantime, the Biden administration will continue to call for humanitarian pauses to be implemented “as soon as possible.”
Regional leaders have been at odds with Blinken and Biden’s approach to the conflict.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan told Blinken that a ceasefire is needed urgently in Gaza, Reuters reported.
The United Arab Emirates president’s diplomatic adviser, Anwar Gargash, said the United States should change course or risk being viewed as powerless in the region.
“If this crisis continues, and especially the humanitarian side, and if this crisis brings us back full circle to the old containment policy of pre-Seventh of October, I think the American role here… is not going to be seen as effective,” Gargash said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
Although Israel has not budged, Kirby said the Biden administration’s current thinking is that there may still be wiggle room in Israel to convince counterparts to implement humanitarian pauses.
“This remains something we are actively discussing with our Israeli counterparts,” Kirby told reporters. “We consider ourselves at the beginning of the conversation, not at the end of it. You can expect that we’re going to continue to advocate for temporary, localized pauses in the fighting.”
The Biden administration has woven a delicate story about the United States’ support for Israel as it goes after Hamas in Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians in the process. When asked Monday if the United States believes that Israel is being careful enough in its targeting to avoid civilian deaths, Kirby acknowledged and lamented the thousands of deaths, but reiterated that the Biden administration supports Israel’s goals in trying to eliminate Hamas.
“We have seen some indications that there are efforts being applied in certain scenarios to try to minimize [civilian deaths]. But I don’t want to overstate that,” Kirby said. “There have obviously been many many thousands of innocent people killed and each one’s a tragedy. And we don’t want to see any innocent life taken as a result of this war.”
“We’re going to continue to work with our Israeli counterparts to do everything we can to urge them to be as discriminate as possible,” Kirby added. “We also continue to support his desire to go after Hamas,” Kirby said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
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