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Israel 'expanding' ground attack in Gaza as Biden urges aid increase

The Israeli military Sunday signaled a heavier assault on the Gaza Strip, saying it had expanded its ground invasion, while President Joe Biden urged Israel’s leader to protect the lives of civilians.

The precise number of soldiers operating in the territory since Friday remained unclear, but the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson said that it was “gradually expanding the ground activity and the scope of our forces” and that they were “progressing through the stages of the war according to plan.”

Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Sunday and reiterated the right of Israel to protect itself but also “underscored the need to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritizes the protection of civilians,” according to a summary of the call released by the White House. Biden asked Israel to “immediately and significantly” increase the amount of humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza, where a three-week siege and a bombardment of Israeli airstrikes have killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands more from their homes, according to officials in the Hamas-controlled enclave.

Conditions on the ground have been steadily deteriorating. The UN agency that aids Palestinians said Sunday that thousands of people had broken into its warehouses to take wheat flour and other “basic survival items.”

Biden also spoke with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, whose country has been the sole route into Gaza for relief trucks, including 33 that carried food, water and medical supplies into the enclave Sunday, according to a spokesperson for the Hamas-controlled side of the crossing. That is the most in a single day since trucks were first allowed in more than a week ago.

A White House summary of the call said the two leaders “committed to the significant acceleration and increase of assistance flowing into Gaza beginning today and then continuously.” Both leaders affirmed a commitment to “work together to set the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace in the Middle East to include the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

Phone and internet connectivity that had been knocked out for days in Gaza partially returned Sunday morning. Two American officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the United States believed Israel was responsible for the communications loss in Gaza and had urged Israeli counterparts to do what they could to restore service. Officials in Israel have declined to comment on Palestinian accusations that it instigated the blackout.

Here’s what else to know:

Netanyahu wrote a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after midnight that said Israel’s security establishment had not warned him before Oct. 7 that Hamas had “war intentions.” The post, which drew an immediate outcry, appeared to blame intelligence officials for the failure to stop the Hamas attack, which killed about 1,400 people. It was deleted, and Netanyahu wrote a post later Sunday apologizing for it.

The death toll in Gaza since Oct. 7 surpassed 8,000 people, including 3,342 children, a spokesperson for the Hamas-run health ministry said Sunday. Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, said in an interview on CNN‘s “State of the Union” that even though Hamas has placed its rocket infrastructure among civilians and used them as human shields, Israel remained responsible under international humanitarian law “to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and to protect the lives of innocent people.”

Videos released by the Israeli military and geolocated by The New York Times indicated at least three separate places where Israeli troops have crossed the border into Gaza over the past few days.

Israel’s military said that it had also responded to attacks from the north and bombarded targets in Lebanon belonging to Hezbollah, the armed Shiite organization that has sought to show solidarity with Hamas. Both groups are backed by Iran, whose president, Ebrahim Raisi, again raised the specter of a wider regional conflict by saying Sunday that Israel had crossed a “red line, which may force everyone to take action.”

(Published 30 October 2023, 03:08 IST)

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