Tanks roll into Gaza: Israel vows to 'hunt down and destroy Hamas' as thousands of civilians flee for their lives

14 October 2023, 00:19 | Updated: 14 October 2023, 07:44

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel&squot;s Prime Minister, has vowed to "destroy Hamas"
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister, has vowed to "destroy Hamas". Picture: Getty/Alamy
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Israeli tanks have rolled into Gaza as its military carries out a series of localised raids ahead of an expected ground invasion.

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The Israeli military announced on Friday evening that it had entered parts of the Gaza Strip on the ground for the first time in a bid to hunt down Hamas and search for hostages.

It is not yet clear how many troops entered Gaza.

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.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Israel's counter-offensive against Hamas is 'only the beginning'.

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."

Civilians living in northern Gaza - who are still yet to evacuate - have been told to use two roads to head south between 10am and 4pm local time "without any harm".

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

It comes after Israel issued a 24-hour warning to Gazans on Thursday urging them to flee northern Gaza for the south as it prepared to launch a ground invasion.

The deadline has since passed and soldiers are expected to move in imminently.

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

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

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

"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."

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 though they hold at least 120 people.

It has led to more than 1,000 deaths on both sides after a week of violence.

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.