Monday March 04, 2024

Israeli forces mass near Gaza, Netanyahu issues warning to Hezbollah

Published : 23 Oct 2023, 04:24

  DF News Desk
Israeli soldiers are seen at a position of a self-propelled howitzer deployed in northern Israel bordering Lebanon, on Oct. 18, 2023. File Photo: Ayal Margolin/JINI via Xinhua.

Israel was stepping up its attacks on the Gaza Strip ahead of an anticipated ground invasion of the Palestinian enclave, said the Israeli military on Sunday, amid escalating tensions also on the country's northern front and in the occupied West Bank, reported Xinhua.

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman Daniel Hagari said the military was "intensifying air strikes on the Gaza Strip," adding that "dozens" of Hamas militants were killed overnight, including Muhamad Qatmash, who was identified as the deputy head of Hamas' artillery array in Gaza.

Hagari also updated the number of known hostages being held in the Gaza Strip to 212. In addition, the ongoing Israel-Gaza conflict, as it entered the 16th day, has led to more than 6,000 deaths on both sides.

More Israeli soldiers were kitted out in full combat gear along the security fence with Gaza in preparation for a possible ground offensive against the Palestinian enclave.

Meanwhile, the Gaza-ruling Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) continued its strikes on Israeli forces despite the odds of a broader war seeming perilously high.

In a press statement, Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said its fighters carried out "a tight ambush" against Israeli troops "east of Khan Younis," a southern Gazan city, on Sunday, killing at least one Israeli soldier.

The Israeli army confirmed that one of its soldiers was killed and three others injured by an anti-tank missile launched from Gaza. The missile targeted a tank and an engineering vehicle near Kibbutz Kissufim, an Israeli community in the vicinity of the Palestinian enclave.

It noted that the troops were ambushed while carrying out an operation as "part of the effort to dismantle terrorist infrastructure, clear the area, and locate missing persons and bodies."

Also on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while visiting troops near the border with Lebanon, warned Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese armed group and political party, against opening a second war front with Israel.

"If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will be making the mistake of its life. We will strike it with a force that it cannot even imagine, that will be destructive for the Lebanese state," he cautioned.

In an interview with the local MTV channel on Sunday, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib reaffirmed that Hezbollah will not intervene in the Israel-Hamas conflict unless Israel launches a large-scale invasion of Gaza or a heavy attack on Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military said in a statement that it carried out four rounds of attacks, including two drone attacks, targeting Hezbollah posts after anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon toward Israel.

According to Israel's state-owned Kan TV news, at least 11 Hezbollah militants were killed by Israeli fire since Saturday night.

As cross-border fighting between Israel and militants in southern Lebanon intensified, Israel on Sunday announced plans to evacuate 14 more communities near the northern border.

In the occupied West Bank, Israel carried out earlier in the day a rare air strike on Al-Ansar mosque, which the IDF claimed to be a hideout of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members.

The strike killed two militants and raised the death toll of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the West Bank to 93 since Oct. 7, according to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Health Ministry.

The airstrike targeted "an underground compound" in the mosque, located in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, according to a joint statement released by Israel's Shin Bet internal security agency and army. They claimed that Hamas and PIJ operatives were "organizing an imminent terror attack" there.

In addition, at nightfall, two Palestinians, including a teenager, were killed during clashes with Israeli forces in the town of Zawata, west of the West Bank city of Nablus.