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Israel-Hamas Conflict Intensifies as Hezbollah and Israeli Military Exchange Fire

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Since the Israel-Hamas war started three weeks ago, the Lebanese group Hezbollah and the Israeli military have frequently exchanged fire along the Lebanon-Israel border. Fears that this could become another front in the conflict are rising, again, as Israel expands its ground offensive in Gaza.

Today, the Israeli military said it had launched a retaliatory strike after thwarting a surface-to-air missile that was fired from Lebanon towards an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). Hours later, it said one of its drones hit a “terrorist cell” in Lebanon that had tried to launch an anti-tank missile at Israel.

Hezbollah said it had carried out several attacks with artillery shells and guided missiles, without giving more details. The violence has forced more than 28,000 people to flee their homes in Lebanon, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK and other countries, is part of the Iranian-backed “Axis of Resistance”, that also includes groups and factions in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

In his first comments since the war began on 7 October, Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, has offered to release all hostages being held in Gaza in return for the release of all Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails. In a statement on the group’s official website, Sinwar said: “We are ready for an immediate exchange deal that includes the release of all prisoners in the prisons of the Zionist enemy in exchange for the release of all prisoners with the resistance.”

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights has warned that large-scale Israeli ground operations in Gaza could produce “catastrophic” consequences, with possibly thousands more civilian deaths. Volker Turk urged the two sides and others with influence in the region to do everything to de-escalate the conflict.

“Last night’s bombardment and ground operations in Gaza by Israeli forces were reportedly the most intensive yet, taking this terrible crisis to a new level of violence and pain,” he said. “Compounding the misery and suffering of civilians, Israeli strikes on telecommunications installations and subsequent Internet shutdown have effectively left Gazans with no way of knowing what is happening across Gaza and cut them off from the outside world.”

Israel says its military operations in Gaza are targeted at destroying Hamas and its infrastructure so it can no longer mount attacks. Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks after Netanyahu, and talks about the hostages.

“It’s a very complex effort to bring them home”, Gallant says. He goes on to add: “The more we hit out at them (Hamas), we know that they will be willing to come to some kind of agreement, and we will be able to bring our dearly beloved hostages home.”

Netanyahu concludes by referring to support he says he has been given from allies in the West and Arab world. He says “this will be a long and difficult war”, adding: “We will win. We will prevail.” He describes the war, which follows Hamas’s attacks on 7 October, as Israel’s “second war of independence”. He continues: “We will fight and we will not surrender. We will not withdraw. Overground and underground.”

Netanyahu says that Israeli soldiers and commanders “are now in the Gaza Strip, they are deployed all over”. Earlier today, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of war crimes. The Israeli PM does not name him but says: “Don’t accuse us of war crimes. If you think that you can accuse our soldiers of war crimes that is hypocrisy. We are the most moral army in the world.” He says the IDF is taking precautions to protect civilians, and accuses Hamas of committing crimes against humanity by “using their people as human shields”.

The health ministry in Gaza, which is run by Hamas, says more than 7,600 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began bombing the territory. The World Health Organization said on Friday that 40% of the dead were children. Hamas killed more than 1,400 people in Israel in the attacks of 7 October. Most of them were civilians, including women and children.

Benjamin Netanyahu says the ongoing ground operation in Gaza is the second stage of the war with Hamas, with “very clear objectives”. Netanyahu says additional Israeli ground forces have gone into what he called “that stronghold of evil”, referring to Gaza, to “dismantle” Hamas and bring hostages home.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara have met representatives of the families of people taken hostage by Hamas. “We will exercise and exhaust every possibility to bring them home,” Netanyahu told them, adding that this was one of the goals of the war. “This effort not only has not stopped, it continues and it continues even harder,” the prime minister said.

We are expecting to hear more from Netanyahu soon in a press conference he will hold with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz.

Throughout Saturday, numerous rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip towards Israel. Some of them have landed, local media reports, including in the southern city of Ashkelon. There, a rocket landed on the shore in the early hours of the morning, but no one was injured. Rocket sirens were also activated on Saturday afternoon in Tel Aviv and surrounding towns.

Israeli news website Ynet news reported that a rocket struck a car park in Kiryat Ono – just outside Tel Aviv – causing several cars to explode. It reports that a man in his 50s in Holon suffered from smoke inhalation, while two others were injured in Tel Aviv seeking shelter.

More than a million people live now in southern Gaza after a huge flight from the north. Some of them live in Khan Younis’s Nasser Hospital, where I’ve been reporting. It’s the second biggest hospital in Khan Younis, serving half of the population. But right now, it’s really struggling with the number of casualties arriving – a situation compounded by the fact that it is running low on fuel and medical essentials. Doctors have shut most of the departments and are focusing only on people that need life-saving interventions.

Tonight, more Israeli planes are flying over Gaza. People here are expecting more heavy bombing. We reported earlier that Israeli army spokesperson Daniel Hagari has issued an “urgent plea” to the citizens of northern Gaza

Rachel Adams

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