Israel troops on Gaza border 'gearing up for a comprehensive offensive' as Netanyahu says 'the next stage is coming'

14 October 2023, 18:07 | Updated: 14 October 2023, 21:31

Netanyahu has said that 'the next stage is coming' as his army prepares to invade Gaza
Netanyahu has said that 'the next stage is coming' as his army prepares to invade Gaza. Picture: Twitter/Getty

By Kit Heren

Israeli army has said it is "gearing up for a comprehensive offensive on Gaza" by land, sea and air.

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The country's tanks rolled into Gaza on Friday night, as its military carried out a series of localised raids ahead of the expected ground invasion.

The incursion had not happened by 6pm UK time, and no details were available on when it was coming.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) released a statement on Saturday evening saying: "IDF is gearing up for a comprehensive offensive" involving "land, sea and air".

It added that "essential combat equipment has already been dispatched" to strategic locations, and that "IDF battalions and soldiers are strategically deployed across the country".

"IDF battalions and soldiers are deployed across the country and are increasing operational readiness for the next stages of the war, with an emphasis on significant ground operations," the IDF said.

It comes after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video to troops: "You ready for the next stage? The next stage is coming."

The video showed soldiers nodding in response, although Mr Netanyahu did not give any more details.

It is not yet clear how many troops have entered Gaza.

Speaking after "localised raids" had begun, Mr Netanyahu vowed to "destroy Hamas".

Spokesperson for the IDF joins Sangita Myska

"Today, everyone knows that we’re fighting for the homeland, and we’re fighting like lions,” he said.

“We’ll never forget the Hamas onslaught. We are striking our enemies with unprecedented might,” Netanyahu added.

“We will destroy Hamas, and we will win, but it will take time.

Bodies of some of the Israelis seized by Hamas during its attack last week were recovered by the army during its ground raid, with the IDF confirming that over 120 civilians are being held captive in Gaza.

It comes after a week of retaliatory strikes from Israel, following Hamas' surprise attack last weekend, which killed 1,300 people. Some 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in response.

On Saturday morning, an Israel Defence Force spokesman said "Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not our enemies and we do not target them as such".

He added: "We are trying to do the right thing, we are trying to evacuate civilians in order to minimise the risk for them."

Israel deploys soldiers near Gaza border
Israel deploys soldiers near Gaza border. Picture: Getty

Civilians living in northern Gaza - who are still yet to evacuate - have been told to use two roads to head south "without any harm".

It is unclear how many of the 1.1million people that were urged to flee northern Gaza were able to get out in time.

Israel claimed that Hamas was blocking Palestinians from leaving, while Hamas said that Israel had killed as many as 70 fleeing civilians with an airstrike.

The United Nations described Israel's order to Gazans as "horrendous".

Read More: French terror attack 'linked to Israel-Hamas conflict', minister says, as terror alert level raised

Meanwhile, the United States has urged Israel to take every precaution in order to avoid innocent lives being lost.

Israel is preparing a full scale assault on Gaza
Israel is preparing a full scale assault on Gaza. Picture: Alamy

Israel's decision to deploy troops into Gaza is the first of its kind since Saturday's attack.

Infantry and tank units were involved in the raids, which were aimed against rocket insurgents.

"Over the past 24 hours, IDF forces carried out localised raids inside the territory of the Gaza Strip to complete the effort to cleanse the area of terrorists and weaponry," a statement from the Israeli Defence Forces said on Friday.

"During these operations, there was also an effort to locate missing persons."

Israel has called up hundreds of thousands of reservists to bolster its army ahead of the attack, and has kept the densely populated, heavily urban area under air attack.

Hamas claimed on Friday evening that 70 people, primarily women and children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on convoys fleeing Gaza City.

Read more: Hezbollah's chief says terror group is 'fully prepared' to join Hamas war against Israel during Lebanon rally

It comes after Israel was accused of using white phosphorus in Gaza, the use of which is legal to make smoke screens, but not cause burns or start fires.

"The current accusation made against the IDF regarding the use of white phosphorus in Gaza is unequivocally false," the IDF said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to "destroy Hamas"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to "destroy Hamas". Picture: Getty

Hamas has continued to fire rockets after its gunmen rampaged through southern Israel, massacring civilians and kidnapping innocent people to hold in Gaza. It is thought they hold at least 120 people.

Read more: Israel's current response will only 'strengthen' Hamas by rearing Gazans who seek revenge warns this James O'Brien caller

Fighting in the urban area is expected to be extremely tough. The area is heavily built up and Hamas will have prepared defences against invading Israelis.

Besides the usual tactics Hamas and other terror groups have available to them, it is feared an extensive tunnel network exists around the strip, making fighting the insurgents even tougher.

Israel has raided Gaza in the last 24 hours
Israel has raided Gaza in the last 24 hours. Picture: Alamy

Israel has already told more than a million Palestinians, or roughly half the strip's population, to move south, with the ground assault believed to be days - or even hours - away.

It has already cut off power to the area and its internet is due to be cut.

Israel has dropped leaflets over Gaza telling them to flee.

"To the residents of Gaza City, terrorist organisation have started war against the state of Israel," they say.

"Gaza City has become a battlefield. You must evacuate your home immediately and head to the south Gaza valley."

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called the order "impossible" without "devastating humanitarian consequences".

Meanwhile, Israeli forces have been deployed to the north of the country to deter any attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

It is feared the well-armed militia could join in and open up a second front.

The UK has come out strongly in support of Israel. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has also vowed to protect British Jews after reports of increased anti-semitic incidents against the backdrop of the conflict.

He said on Saturday evening: "I stand with you, the British Jewish community, and I will do everything I possibly can to protect you.

"To those trying to stir up tensions online and on our streets with intimidating behaviour and shameful antisemitism, I say this: Not here. Not in Britain. Not in our country."

Meanwhile some 50,000 people protested on Britain's streets on Saturday against Israel's actions in Gaza.

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