Netanyahu vows to demolish Hamas, as Gazans urged south

Palestinians are being urged not to leave Gaza by Hamas, despite Israel being on the verge of unleashing a massive ground offensive.

Palestinians are being urged not to leave Gaza by Hamas, despite Israel being on the verge of unleashing a massive ground offensive. Photo: Getty

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “demolish Hamas” as his military prepared ground operations in Gaza to root out the militant group, whose deadly rampage through Israeli border towns stunned the nation.

Israel has urged Gazans to evacuate south, which hundreds of thousands have already done in their Hamas-controlled enclave that is home to 2.2 million people, about half in Gaza City.

Inside besieged Gaza, where conditions are deteriorating and deaths from Israeli air strikes rising, civilians said they had nowhere to flee and were not safe anywhere.

Hamas has asked them to stay put.

With fears of the conflict spilling over, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued his rapid tour of Middle East states, seeking to prevent escalation and secure the release of 126 hostages Israel says were taken by Hamas back into Gaza.

Arab leaders stressed the need to protect Gaza civilians.

“The reaction went beyond the right to self-defence, turning into collective punishment,” said Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Israel’s retaliatory strikes.

The violence in Gaza has been accompanied by the deadliest clashes at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon since 2006.

In a call with his French counterpart, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned about further escalation if Israel attacked the Gaza Strip, Iranian state media reported.

“If the Zionist aggressions do not stop, the hands of all parties in the region are on the trigger,” said Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, adding that Tehran could not simply stay an observer.

Netanyahu convened Israel’s expanded emergency cabinet, including former opposition MPs, for the first time on Sunday.

“Hamas thought we would be demolished. It is we who will demolish Hamas,” he said, adding that the show of unity “sends a clear message to the nation, the enemy and the world”.

Israel is carrying out the most intense bombardment Gaza has ever seen in response to the killing of 1300 people when Hamas fighters rampaged through Israeli towns on October 7. They shot men, women, children and soldiers and seized hostages in the worst attack on civilians in the Israel’s history.

Israel’s military said 279 of its soldiers had died.

Graphic video of the attacks, and reports from medical and emergency services of atrocities in the overrun towns and kibbutzes, deepened Israelis’ sense of shock.

Authorities in Gaza said more than 2300 people had been killed in Israel’s retaliatory strikes so far, a quarter of them children, and nearly 10,000 wounded. Hospitals are running short of supplies and struggling to cope with the flow of injured.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Sunday that 300 people had been killed and 800 more injured in Gaza during the last 24 hours.

The Israeli military on Friday told residents of the northern half of the Gaza Strip – which includes Gaza City’s more than one million residents – to move south immediately.

“Residents of Gaza City, I call upon you again: Hamas is trying to prevent your evacuation. We will enable it southward. Leave Gaza City and all the surrounding areas for the sake of your personal security,” reiterated chief Israeli military spokesperson Daniel Hagari on Sunday.

Some Palestinians who went south said they were heading back north because they were attacked wherever they went.

The World Health Organisation said Israel’s orders for the evacuation of 22 Gaza hospitals were a “death sentence for the sick and injured”.

UN relief operations in Gaza “are on the verge of collapse,” said Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of the UN agency for the Palestinians, UNRWA.

“The number of people seeking shelter in our schools and other UNRWA facilities in the south is absolutely overwhelming, and we do not have any more the capacity to deal with them,” he said.

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