June 22, 2024

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Israel’s move into Gaza marks dangerous new phase in war

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As convoys of Israeli tanks and armoured personnel carriers rumbled across wasteland into Gaza on Friday evening, it marked the beginning of a new phase in the war.

Whether it will prove to be the full-scale invasion that Israel has been threatening, or more limited but sustained incursions into the besieged coastal strip, the escalation heightens the risks of a broader conflict.

In Israel, a nation traumatised and enraged by the deadliest single attack in its history, many no doubt will feel it is time to punish those responsible — Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza.

On Friday, Israeli officials made clear the objective is to destroy and uproot Hamas and bring a new administration to the enclave.

For the 2.3mn people of Gaza, the intensifying Israeli offensive will bring fear and trepidation. Over the past three weeks, the strip has endured the deadliest Israeli onslaught since Hamas took control of it in 2007.

Israel has been advised by many of its friends to avoid a full-scale invasion of the territory, particularly as more than 200 hostages are still being held by Hamas and the Palestinian civilian death toll is mounting.

The militant group is embedded in Palestinian society and its fighters will have been preparing for a ground offensive for years, hiding in a vast network of tunnels known as the “Gaza Metro” and stocking up on supplies and weapons.

A Hamas official told the Financial Times that the group boasts at least 40,000 fighters. It will be joined in the battle by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a smaller Islamist faction that is closer to Iran.

Military experts have compared Israel’s task with the huge struggle to drive Isis out of the Iraqi city of Mosul in 2016-17. Unlike Israel’s mission, that offensive was backed by a US-led international coalition with the support of the western and Arab worlds. It took nine months to rid Mosul of Isis.

Even if Israel is able to kill or capture Hamas’s leadership and dismantle the…

2023-10-28 08:20:27

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