Though it has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks around Gaza, Israel has apparently yet to commit to a full-scale ground invasion of the densely populated Palestinian enclave.
"We are preparing for the next stages of war," Israeli Defense Force spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told a regular briefing with reporters Tuesday, according to Reuters. “We haven't said what they will be. Everybody's talking about the ground offensive. It might be something different."
Israel is preparing in case of a ground operation but is focused on removing Hamas' senior leadership and commanders who remain in the strip, Hecht added, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Hecht’s comments come as the U.S. is preparing a potential boost of its military presence in the region and U.S. leaders have flocked to Israel to show support and coordinate military efforts.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin "placed approximately 2,000 personnel and a range of units on a heightened state of readiness through a prepare to deploy order, which increases DoD's ability to respond quickly to the evolving security environment in the Middle East," the Pentagon announced Tuesday. "No decisions have been made to deploy any forces at this time. The Secretary will continue to assess our force posture and remain in close contact with allies and partners."
Austin also approved a deployment extension for the Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group in the the U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/Sixth Fleet Area of Operations.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden is on his way to Israel while Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command, already arrived In Tel Aviv. CENTCOM oversees U.S. military efforts in the region.
Kurilla will “conduct high-level meetings with Israel’s military leadership, including Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Chief of Defense, to gain a clear understanding of Israel’s defense requirements, outline U.S. support efforts to avoid expansion of the conflict, and reiterate the Department of Defense’s ironclad support for Israel,” CENTCOM said in a statement.
“I’m here to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself, and am particularly focused on avoiding other parties expanding the conflict,” Kurilla said.
Kurilla’s message was addressed at Iran and the Hezbollah militia forces it backs in Lebanon.
In Tehran, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blamed Israel’s ongoing bombardment campaign in Gaza, which is causing massive casualties, on the U.S.
“According to our numerous information, the current policy inside the Zionist regime is being regulated by the Americans,” Khamenei said in a video broadcast Tuesday. “America is responsible for recent crimes. The bombings must stop immediately.”
Khamenei went on to suggest that if Israel continues bombing Gaza, the conflict will widen.
“If the crimes of the Zionist regime continue, no one can stop the Muslims and the resistance forces,” he said.
However, Khamenei seemed to say Iran would stay out of the fight and be content to allow its proxies to battle Israel.
Khamenei's comments come a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian warned that the country's proxies around the Middle East could launch preemptive strikes on Israel "in the coming hours."
"In the coming hours, any preemptive action against the Zionist regime is conceivable," said Amirabdollahian while referencing his recent meeting with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in an interview with Iranian television, The Jerusalem Post reported. "The leaders of the resistance will not allow the Zionist regime to do whatever it wants in Gaza and then go to other fronts of the resistance."
The foreign minister claimed as well that Iran "does not give orders" to the Iran-backed militias and terrorist groups throughout the region which make up what they refer to as "the Axis of Resistance."
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem on Tuesday took a similar stance to Khamenei about the Biden visit in an interview with CNN Tuesday.
"Unfortunately the U.S. administration and the U.S. President Biden took a very aggressive measure against the Palestinian people and fell for the Israeli narrative,” Qassem said. “His visit is only to support the Israelis financially and morally and to encourage the occupation to commit more massacres against our Palestinian brothers and sisters, children and the elderly."
As Iran and Hamas delivered their messages, tensions mounted along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon as the IDF and Hezbollah continued to exchange fire on an almost hourly basis. Israel claimed that there was repeated incoming anti-tank and small arms fire from Lebanon and that it responded with tank and artillery fire.
The IDF said it downed a drone entering Israeli airspace from Lebanon.
It also said it thwarted an attempt by militants to enter Israel from Lebanon.
The increasing intensity of the cross-border skirmishes has residents scared, Al Jazeera reported.
Israel said that across the country, about a half million people have been displaces as a result of the war.
“There are about half a million internally displaced Israelis at the time,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus during a press conference, according to Israel's TPS media outlet.
Conricus said that 20 communities near the Gaza Strip have been evacuated as the army gears up for a ground offensive. As we reported yesterday, another 28 communities within 2 kilometers of the Lebanese border have also been evacuated.
Israel continued to carry out strikes in Gaza, creating additional concerns about the unfolding humanitarian crisis there.
"Israel bombed areas of southern Gaza where it had told Palestinians to flee to ahead of an expected ground invasion, killing dozens of people on Tuesday in attacks it says are targeted at Hamas militants that rule the besieged territory," The Associated Press reported Tuesday. "With no water, fuel or food being delivered to Gaza since Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel last week, mediators struggled to break a deadlock over delivering supplies to increasingly desperate civilians, aid groups and hospitals."
The United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday that Israel's siege of Gaza and its evacuation order for the north of the enclave could amount to a forcible transfer of civilians and be in breach of international law, Reuters reported.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office, said Israel seemed to have made no effort to ensure the civilians temporarily evacuated in Gaza were provided with proper accommodation, as well as satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition.
“Two airstrikes struck 15 minutes apart around 1 kilometer away from the Rafah crossing,” CNN said. “Loud sounds of airstrikes have been heard every 30 minutes since Tuesday at 4 a.m.” local time.
"In videos filmed by the CNN stringer on the Egyptian side, plumes of smoke can be seen rising beyond the main gate into the crossing."
Israel claims it is attacking military targets, including senior Hamas leaders.
"IDF warplanes, under joint intelligence guidance with the Shin Bet, killed one of the senior members of the Hamas terrorist organization, Iman Nofal, who served as the commander of the Hamas Central Camps Brigade in the Gaza Strip, and as the former head of Hamas's military intelligence," Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said.
Hamas continued its rocket barrage into Israel, firing at Tel Aviv and other locations.
Amid the raging fighting are efforts to release the nearly 200 hostages held by Hamas.
“Turkey’s top diplomat said Tuesday his country had been in touch with Hamas over some 200 Israeli and foreign hostages the terror group is holding in Gaza, following requests from several governments,” The Times of Israel reported Tuesday.
“French President Emmanuel Macron also said that talks to free hostages were ongoing and progressing. Hebrew media reported that he will visit Israel in the coming days, and though the French embassy did not confirm the plans, it said he did wish to make such a trip.”
“So far, we have received requests from various countries for the release of their citizens. As a result, we started to discuss these issues, especially with the political wing of Hamas,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said at a news conference in Beirut alongside his Lebanese counterpart, Abdallah Bou Habib, according to the Times of Israel.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Macron also called for the immediate release of Mia Schem, a 21-year-old Franco-Israeli hostage who appeared in a video Hamas released Monday. Schem was injured and kidnapped from an outdoor music festival where over 250 people were killed.
Macron’s office denounced the “ignominy of taking innocent people hostage and their odious staging” in a video. France’s foreign minister has been in touch with families of hostages taken by Hamas, including Schem’s, and is working for their release, the office said.
Her mother, Keren Sharf Schem, appealed for her return at a news conference on Tuesday. "I'm begging the world to bring my baby back home, she only went to a party, to a festival party to have some fun and now she's in Gaza," she said.
You can read more about the challenges Israel faces in any attempt to rescue the hostages in our interview with four experts here.
Update: 4:10 PM EST -
Hundreds are reported killed in a massive explosion at a Gaza hospital. The IDF is pushing back on claims that the al-Ahli Hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike as claimed by Palestinian health authorities. Instead, the IDF said "the Islamic Jihad is responsible for the failed rocket launch which hit the hospital."
Update 4:30 PM EST -
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, visiting Israel, was forced to rush off his government plane and take shelter as rockets were fired toward Ben Gurion airport from Gaza.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news about the Israel-Hamas war.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org