Israel Vows Gaza Siege, Hamas To Air Live Hostage Executions (Updated)

With an Israeli ground assault into Gaza imminent, both sides say they will take extreme measures as the bloodshed continues.

byHoward Altman|
Israel and Gaza continue to strike each other as the rhetoric heats up.
(Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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The now three-day-old Israel-Hamas war is descending deeper into the abyss as strikes by both sides rage-on unabated. Israel is preparing for what it vows will be a “complete siege” of Gaza. Meanwhile Hamas says it will begin live broadcasts of executions of its Israeli hostages if strikes on what it calls civilian targets continue.

“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip," Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Monday, according to the Times of Israel. "There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly."

Asked whether it thought such an action were "appropriate," the Pentagon on Monday declined to comment, deferring questions that action to Israeli authorities.

Human Rights Watch called those comments "a call to commit a war crime."

Gallant’s comments came after an assessment of the situation at the IDF Southern Command in Beersheba. The move would cut off vital supplies to Gaza's more than two million people. Preparing for an imminent, large-scale ground assault into the small, densely populated strip of land on the Mediterranean Sea, Israel has massed troops and equipment and called up 300,000 reservists.

Meanwhile, as both sides bombard each other, Hamas says it will execute one Israeli civilian hostage for every time a home in Gaza is struck without warning. The Israeli strikes have killed at least 560 people, including dozens of children, and left 2,900 injured, according to claims made by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, CNN reported Monday.

An initial promise to protect those hostages under Islamic law was negated by those airstrikes, Hamas said.

“In the past hours, we have experienced pain over what happened to many families throughout the Gaza Strip of barbaric fascist Zionist crime by bombing homes on the heads of their residents,” Hamas said Monday on its Telegram channel. “Therefore, we have decided to put an end to this. As of this hour, we announce that every targeting of our people who are safe in their homes without prior warning will be met with regret by the execution of one of our enemy’s civilian hostages, and we will urgently broadcast this with audio and video, and as we announce this decision, we will hold the Zionist enemy and its leadership responsible for this decision before the world, for the ball is in its court, now.”

The Hamas statement is in reaction to the ongoing Israeli airstrikes that are part of what Jerusalem calls Operation Iron Swords.

"Throughout the last day, Air Force planes have been carrying out extensive attacks along the length and breadth of the Gaza Strip, wreaking havoc on Hamas terrorists," IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Twitter. "In just the last three hours, about 130 targets were attacked using dozens of planes. The focus of the attack: Beit Hanon, Sajaya, Al Furkan and Rimal."

Rimal “serves as a hub for the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, from which many attacks against Israel were launched,” the IDF added.

"IDF aircraft have attacked many targets of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip since the morning hours," said IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari. "Among other things, the aircraft attacked a building used by the terrorist organization Hamas in investigations and an operational infrastructure used by the terrorist organization located inside a mosque."

The IDF also said it is mopping up any remnants of Hamas on the ground in Israel.

"After a difficult start, we are shaping the contact line," Chief of the General Staff, LTG Herzi Halev, told Israeli troops and commanders in the field, according to the IDF Telegram channel. "We targeted a lot of terrorists - whoever gets close, gets killed. We will finish neutralizing the terrorists in the area, so that we will not have terrorists here in Israel, and we are at the same time already striking on offense. We have many more tasks, we need to be strong. It started badly, and will end very badly on the other side.”

In addition to attacks by land, the IDF is also staging maritime strikes as well.

"Israel Naval Forces are currently striking terror targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organiztion on the coast of the Gaza Strip," the IDF said on its Telegram channel.

The attacks by Hamas killed more than 700 people and wounded another 2,300, the largest number of casualties ever inflicted on that nation's civilians, the IDF said. That number is likely to grow over time, possibly significantly.

U.S. President Joe Biden said today that "we now know that at least 11 American citizens were among those killed" during the Hamas attacks —"many of whom made a second home in Israel."

Biden also said that for U.S. citizens who are currently in Israel, "the State Department is providing consular assistance as well as updated security alerts. For those who desire to leave, commercial flights and ground options are still available. Please also take sensible precautions in the days ahead and follow the guidance of local authorities."

Hamas, meanwhile, is continuing what it calls Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, with rocket barrages into Israel. Before announcing its plan to broadcast Israeli civilian hostage executions, Hamas on its Telegram channel said it launched a massive attack on the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon, a city is about seven miles north of the Gaza border. Those strikes were in response to Israeli strikes in Gaza they say hit civilian homes, Hamas said.

“In response to the bombing of civilian homes, Al-Qassam Brigades launches a missile strike with 80 missiles on the occupied city of Ashkelon,” Hamas said Monday on its Telegram channel.

Hamas rocket barrages are also aimed near Jerusalem as well as across other areas of Israel.

“Qassam rockets hit several settler cars and caused a number of casualties in the Beitar Illit settlement near occupied Jerusalem,” Hamas also reported.

On the political front, U.S. officials say they continue to try and broker normalization efforts between Israel and Saudi Arabia, however a very challenging task is made even more difficult by the ongoing fighting. The Hamas attack was very likely timed to derail that. A Biden administration senior official on Saturday told reporters, including from The War Zone, that these actions would not, but that remains to be seen.

A senior Pentagon official on Monday, meanwhile said while Iran "is in the picture," the Biden administration has "no information corroborating the specifics" of a story published by The Wall Street Journal story. That story claimed Iran "helped plan Hamas’s Saturday surprise attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday."

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also said that the U.S. is "surging" the delivery of air defense ammunition, but would not specify what kind. Israel has reportedly requested additional munitions for its Iron Dome air defense system which the U.S. has a limited inventory of.

"The bottom line is we are working as fast as possible to provide critically needed munitions of various types and other equipment are also contacting us industry to gain expedited shipment of pending Israeli orders of military equipment."

Asked if the U.S. could rush new supplies to Israel and continue to support Ukraine's defense against Russia, the official said "we are able to continue our support both to Ukraine, Israel and maintain our own global readiness."

The Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group is being deployed to the eastern Mediterranean "to serve as a deterrent signal to Iran, Lebanese Hezbollah, and any other proxy across the region who might be considering exploiting the current situation to escalate conflict."

Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah supporters take part in a rally in Beirut's southern suburbs to praise the unexpected attack by Hamas militants against Israeli towns and settlements near the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images)

As for concerns about the civilian casualties Hamas says Israel is creating during its attacks on Gaza, the official said that "engagement on mitigating collateral damage and civilian casualties is always part of the conversation with all of our allies and partners. It's no different with Israel. But I want to be very clear about this moment in time. And I want to underscore a comment I made up front. This is ISIS level savagery. And we back Israel and its right to respond to ensure that its own citizens and its territory or state from Hamas terror, and recognize that there's going to need to be a response for Israel to restore deterrence."

Palestinian citizens inspect the damage to the Al-Sussi Mosque and their homes following Israeli air strikes in the Al-Shati Palestinian refugee camp. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, as both sides exchange fire, the northern border is heating up. Israeli attacked with helicopters and artillery in response to a ground incursion from Lebanon. There are reports that Hezbollah, claiming that four of its fighters were killed in that bombardment, opened fire again into northern Israel. You can read more about this in our story here.

Israel faces an extremely tough challenge in any major incursion into Gaza, where Hamas has prepared its network of tunnels and other defenses anticipating an IDF ground attack. That's in addition to the presence of millions of civilians who live in that packed strip of land that is now effectively a battlefield.

Hamas grabbing so many hostages, including what are believed to be some U.S. citizens and other non-Israelis, greatly complicates matters. Hostage rescues are among the most difficult military operations in the best of circumstances, but during a ground invasion into a highly dense and extremely hostile environment crawling with a prepared enemy force makes that far more difficult.

The Hamas promise to begin live executions only raises the urgency.

UPDATE: 5:36 PM EST—

Video purports to show Israel shutting off water pipelines into Gaza. We could not verify that is what is happening here, but it would fit with Israel's openly stated goals.

New video is emerging of a running gun battle with Hamas militants that infiltrated into Israel, with one police officer firing on them with his pistol while chasing them on his bike. In another video, the police face the heavily armed gunmen with just pistols.

Additional harrowing footage from the doomed music festival that turned into a killing spree for Hamas gunmen has emerged. Hundreds of people were murdered at this event.

Hamas is claiming they have built a homegrown air defense system. By the video posted, it uses remote tube launchers, although how it works, if at all, is unclear. There appears to be no seeker so it's possible these are artillery rockets that can have their fuzes programmed to detonate at specific altitudes.

Hamas having actually proven anti-air weaponry is a concern, but mainly this has centered around shoulder-fired heat-seeking missiles that are smuggled in to Gaza. They do pose a threat to Israeli aircraft operating below 15,000 feet, although just how prevalent they are is not known publicly.

Update: 7:22 PM EST -

In a Monday evening press briefing with reporters, including from The War Zone, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby addressed several issues about the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

Here are some key takeaways.

  • Though the U.S. has bolstered its presence in the region by sending the Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group and additional aviation assets, “there is no intention to put U.S. boots on the ground. That said…the president will always make sure that we are protecting and defending our national security interests wherever those interests are, including, particularly, that part of the world.”
  • The U.S. “can’t confirm” that Hamas is holding American hostages. “That said we have to accept the grim possibility that some are and I don't want to say that we're assuming it but we have to accept that possibility. So we're going to keep at this. We're going to stay in touch with Israeli officials as closely as we can to get as much information as we can about all the Americans and particularly those that that we know are not accounted for because they have family members that can't reach them.”
  • On whether the U.S. would use force to recover any Americans determined to be hostages. “Even if we did have specific information that can confirm Americans are being held hostage, we are very, very careful about talking publicly about our efforts to try to recover those Americans. We just don't typically talk about that in any way that might jeopardize their safety and our ability to get them home with their families.”
  • On normaliztion talks with Saudi Arabia. “I think it's too soon to say that we hit the brakes on this. Understandably, it isn't the main area of focus right now.”
  • On the story published by The Wall Street Journal claiming Iran "helped plan Hamas’s Saturday surprise attack on Israel and gave the green light for the assault at a meeting in Beirut last Monday," Kirby said: “We cannot corroborate the reporting in The Wall Street Journal. We are obviously looking at this. Our Israeli counterparts are looking at it and they too have said publicly that they cannot point to specific Iranian involvement in these sets of attacks over the weekend. So again, you know, we'll just keep at it.”

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com

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