Israel vows complete siege of Gaza as it strikes the Palestinian territory after incursion by Hamas

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s military ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip on Monday, halting entry of food, fuel and supplies to its 2.3 million people as it pounded the Hamas-ruled territory with waves of airstrikes in retaliation for the militants’ bloody weekend incursion.

More than two days after Hamas launched its surprise attack from Gaza, the Israeli military said it had largely gained control in its southern towns where it had been battling Hamas gunmen. Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence apparatus was caught completely off guard by Hamas, resulting in heavy battles in its streets for the first time in decades.

Tanks and drones were deployed to guard breaches in the border fence to prevent new incursions. Thousands of Israelis were evacuated from more than a dozen towns near Gaza, and the military summoned 300,000 reservists — a massive mobilization in a short time.The moves, along with Israel’s formal declaration of war on Sunday, pointed to Israel increasingly shifting to the offensive against Hamas, threatening greater destruction in the densely populated, impoverished Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, strikes leveled much of the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, which Israel said Hamas was using as a staging ground. On Monday, the Israeli military blared messages to residents to evacuate Rimal, a residential and commercial district of central Gaza City where offices of The Associated Press and other international media are located, a signal that heavy strikes were to come.

A major question remains whether it will launch a ground assault into the tiny Mediterranean coastal territory, a move that in the past has brought intensified casualties. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy “the military and governing capabilities” of the militant group.

As Israel hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza, Palestinian militants continued firing barrages of rockets, setting off air raid sirens in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Video posted online appeared to show a plume of smoke near a terminal at Ben Gurion International Airport. There was no immediate word on casualties or damage from the latest bombardment.

Civilians have already paid a high price. Around 700 people, including 73 soldiers, have been killed in Israel, according to Israeli media outlets, citing rescue service — a staggering toll by the scale of its recent conflicts. The Gaza Health Ministry said 493 people, including 78 children and 41 women, were killed in the territory. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.

Palestinian militant groups claimed to be holding over 130 people abducted in Israel and dragged into Gaza. The armed wing of Hamas claimed on its Telegram channel that four of them were killed in Israeli airstrikes. That could not be independently confirmed.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and block the entry of food and fuel.

Gallant said Israel was at war with “human animals,” using the kind of dehumanizing language often employed by both sides at times of soaring tensions.

Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza of varying strictness since Hamas seized power in 2007. In recent years Israel has provided limited electricity and allowed the import of food, fuel and some consumer goods, while heavily restricting travel in and out.

By Associated Press

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