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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised military action on the ground in the Gaza Strip was “only the beginning” of the war against Hamas, in comments at a press conference on Saturday.
“The war inside Gaza is going to be long,” Netanyahu said. “This is our second independence war. We’re going to save our country. We’re going to fight in the air, ground and we are going to fight and win.”
Netanyahu’s comments came after a meeting with the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, a group representing the families of some of the more than 200 Israeli hostages currently being held by Hamas in the Strip.
Netanyahu has faced increasing public pressure to meet with the families, after they expressed “anxiety and frustration” that the “heavy bombings” could harm the hostages in Gaza.
Hamas spokesman, Abu Obeida, said in a statement earlier on Saturday that the group was willing return all the hostages if the Israeli government free 6,000 Palestinian prisoners currently held in Israeli jails, according to the Daily Mail.
“If the enemy wants to close this file of detainees in one go, we are ready for it. If it wants to do it step-by-step, we are ready for that too,” Hamas spokesman Abu Obeida said.
In a statement after the meeting, a spokesperson for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said they wanted the Israeli government to accept Hamas’ offer and make the exchange.
Shouts of “Everyone for everyone!” could be heard from the crowd as he spoke.
Netanyahu said “every option” would be made to free hostages.
He said Israeli troops are determined to make Hamas pay for its actions on Oct.7.
“They are determined to eradicate this evil from the world, for our existence and, I add, for all of humanity,” he says.
💥TV cuts off Yigal Serousi, father of Almog, when he speaks in English, but in short: The families demand Netanyahu do what Hamas asked: Turn over all Palestinian prisoners~6000 convicts~ to bring the ~229 home. Not an easy meeting. Families shout- "Now! Now! Now! All For All!" pic.twitter.com/m9R30RygcA
— Noga Tarnopolsky נגה טרנופולסקי نوغا ترنوبولسكي💙 (@NTarnopolsky) October 28, 2023
“This is an urgent military advisory,” IDF Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said. “We urge all residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City to relocate south immediately. This is a temporary measure. Moving back to northern Gaza will be possible once the intense hostilities end.”
Hagari said the “impending IDF operation” was set to “neutralize the threat of Hamas with precision and intensity.” He repeated claims that Hamas was putting Palestinian lives in danger by hiding weapons and forces in civilian areas, including “schools, mosques and hospitals.”
An urgent message for the residents of Gaza: pic.twitter.com/GAW3a7lWt8
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 28, 2023
In a separate statement on Saturday IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Israel’s military operation had “multiple stages” and “we are ready to move to the next one,” raising the possibility of a full-scale ground invasion.
“The objectives of this war require a ground operation,” Halevi said.
The IDF’s new warnings come after heaviest night of bombardment of Gaza since the most recent conflict began. Hagari said on Friday that the strikes were aimed at dismantling “underground targets.” Phone and internet services in the Strip collapsed, leaving Palestinians on the ground with no way to communicate.
Critics like MSNBC’s Medhi Hasan criticized the IDF’s English language statement, arguing it was aimed at western audiences, not civilians in Gaza.
“How are Palestinians in Gaza, who have had their electricity and internet communications cut off by the Israeli military, supposed to hear/receive this ‘urgent’ message from the Israeli military?” Hasan tweeted.
In response, the IDF tweeted they had been relaying similar warnings for the last two weeks, including via “dropping paper pamphlets across Gaza,” “Arabic social media” and “phone calls to residents of Gaza.”
Meanwhile, the communications blackout continues to complicate international efforts to understand what is happening on the ground.
On Saturday morning, the Red Crescent said it was still not able to communicate with medical staff providing humanitarian assistance on the ground and it was “deeply concerned” for their safety.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said on Saturday that a ground invasion could have “catastrophic consequences.”
“Thousands have already died, many of them children. Given the manner in which military operations have been conducted until now, in the context of the 56-year-old occupation, I am raising alarm about the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza and the potential for thousands more civilians to die” Turk said in a statement, according to CNN.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement that civilian, healthcare workers and patients had spent the night in “darkness and fear.”
“Health workers who have stayed by their patients’ sides face dwindling supplies, with no place to put new patients, and no means to alleviate their patients’ pain. There are more wounded every hour. But ambulances cannot reach them in the communications blackout. Morgues are full. More than half of the dead are women and children,” the WHO said.
On Saturday morning António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, repeated his call for a ceasefire, saying the “unprecedented escalation of bombardments” was “undermining humanitarian objectives.”
“I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, together with the unconditional release of hostages & the delivery of relief at a level corresponding to the dramatic needs of the people in Gaza, where a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes,” Guterres tweeted.
On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas, with 120 member nations voting in favor of the resolution, 14 voting against, and 45 abstentions.
Gaza’s Health Ministry, which is run by Hamas, have reported 7,650 Palestinians killed since the war began, including at least 2,913 children.