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Israel evacuates 28 villages as tensions erupt on northern border

Israel has ordered the evacuation of 28 villages near its northern border with Lebanon amid fears the war could spread to a new front.

Residents within two kilometres of the border were being moved to state-subsidised guest houses late on Monday (local time) after a Hezbollah missile killed an Israeli civilian and soldier.

As Israel prepares to invade Gaza to its south, tensions have also been escalating on the Lebanese side against Hezbollah, a Lebanese group backed by Iran.

The Hezbollah movement said it had targeted five Israeli positions. In retaliation the Israeli side fired shells into southern Lebanon.

The Israel Defence Force said the evacuations were a precaution which would also give the military “freedom of action if it is required”.

In a speech to parliament, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a warning to Iran and Hezbollah – “don’t test us in the north”.

“Don’t make the same mistake you once made. Because today the price you will pay will be much heavier.”

Netanyahu also spoke of achieving a “crushing victory” over Hamas and removing its threat “once and for all”.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement that rules Gaza, after its fighters burst across the barrier surrounding the enclave on October 7, gunning down 1300 Israelis, mainly civilians, in the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history.

It has put Gaza, home to 2.3 million Palestinians, under a total blockade and pounded it with unprecedented air strikes and is widely expected to launch a ground assault.

Gaza authorities say at least 2750 people have been killed there, including mainly civilians.

According to the United Nations, a million Gazans have already been driven from their homes.

Power is out, sanitary water is scarce and the last fuel for emergency generators could be used up within a day.

Egypt border crossing

Diplomatic efforts have concentrated on getting aid into Gaza through the Rafah crossing with Egypt – the sole route out that is not controlled by Israel.

Thousands of Palestinians have also begun gathering at the crossing in the hopes it will open and they can escape to safety.

But Egypt said Israel was not co-operating, leaving hundreds of tonnes of supplies stuck.

“There is an urgent need to alleviate the suffering of Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said, adding talks with Israel on opening Rafah for aid had so far been fruitless.

Two Egyptian security sources told Reuters a temporary ceasefire in southern Gaza had been agreed to last several hours to facilitate aid and evacuations at Rafah.

However, Egyptian state TV later quoted an unnamed, high-level source as saying that no truce had been agreed.

Israel and Hamas both denied reports of a deal to open the crossing.

Hundreds of tonnes of aid is waiting on trucks in Egypt for clearance to enter the Gaza Strip.

On the ground at Rafah, one source said the Egyptian side of the crossing was ready.

Hundreds of tonnes of aid from agencies and donor countries was waiting on trucks in the nearby Egyptian town of Al-Arish for clearance to enter.

“We are waiting for the green light for the aid to enter and dozens of volunteers are ready at any time,” a Red Crescent official in northern Sinai said.

Palestinians wait at the Rafah Crossing in the hope they can cross into Egypt. Photo: Getty

Gaza strikes intensify

Gaza residents said overnight air strikes were the heaviest yet, and the bombing carried on through the day.

“We were inside the house when we found bodies scattering, flying in the air – bodies of children who have nothing to do with the war,” said resident Abed Rabayaa, whose neighbour’s house in Khan Younis, the main city in the southern part of the enclave, was hit overnight.

The 10 days of strikes so far have failed to eliminate Hamas’ capability to fire rockets into Israel, where warning sirens sounded.

Hamas said it fired a barrage at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

-with AAP

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