Rising concerns of a wider Middle East conflict sparked on Sunday as the United States dispatched additional military assets to the region, while Israel continued to strike targets in Gaza and Hamas supporters in Lebanon and Syria.
Medical sources in Gaza reported that over 50 Palestinians lost their lives in Israeli airstrikes overnight, as Israel imposed a “total siege” on the enclave after a cross-border rampage by Hamas militants on October 7, leaving a lasting impact on Israelis.
In neighbouring Syria, where Hamas’s primary regional supporter, Iran, maintains a military presence, Israeli missiles struck Damascus and Aleppo international airports on Sunday, resulting in the tragic loss of at least two workers, according to Syrian state media.
In southern Lebanon, where Iran-backed Hezbollah has engaged in cross-border exchanges of fire with Israel in support of Hamas, Israeli aircraft targeted Hezbollah’s positions on Saturday. Hezbollah confirmed the loss of six of its fighters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed his concerns to Lebanon’s acting prime minister, emphasizing the potential impact on the Lebanese population should their country be drawn into the Israeli-Hamas conflict.
With mounting violence along its borders, Israel expanded its evacuation plan in the north of the country, incorporating 14 communities close to Lebanon and Syria.
The unrelenting Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, situated to the southwest, commenced after Hamas militants breached the border, launching a shocking rampage through nearby communities, resulting in the deaths of 1,400 individuals, predominantly civilians, and the taking of 212 hostages back to Gaza.
The Gaza Health Ministry revealed that Israel’s air and missile strikes in retaliation have claimed the lives of at least 4,385 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, with over a million of the enclave’s 2.3 million inhabitants displaced.
In response to these developments, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced plans to bolster military assets in the Middle East in support of Israel and to enhance the U.S. defence posture in the region. Austin cited “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces,” alluding to Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamist militants.
The deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, additional Patriot air defence missile system battalions, and an increased standby troop presence are part of this strategy.
The United States had already sent a significant naval presence to the Middle East in recent weeks, including two aircraft carriers, their accompanying support vessels, and around 2,000 Marines.
Recent attacks on military bases housing U.S. forces in Iraq, involving drones and rockets, have heightened security concerns. These attacks are the latest in a series following warnings from Iraqi militants, cautioning against U.S. intervention in support of Israel against Hamas in Gaza.
Israel has massed tanks and troops near the fenced border surrounding Gaza, preparing for a planned ground invasion aimed at dismantling Hamas. This decision comes after several inconclusive wars, starting with Hamas’s seizure of power in 2007, following Israel’s 38-year occupation.
“We are going into the Gaza Strip… to dismantle Hamas operatives and infrastructure,” stated Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi during an address to troops on Saturday.
Expanding on Israel’s strategy, military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus explained their intent is “to weaken, tire, and dislocate Hamas in preparation for our next stage of military operations.” He stressed the assumption that Hamas had prepared the battlefield with various dimensions of warfare, including tunnels, and that Hamas would likely inflict heavy casualties on Israeli forces in the initial and intermediate stages.
Hamas’s armed wing responded by firing rockets at Tel Aviv on Sunday, although there were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.
As Israel continued its daily bombardments, devastating densely populated areas, Palestinians received renewed warnings from the Israeli military. These warnings urged residents to move from Gaza’s north to the south to avoid the deadliest theatre of the war. The military leaflets also cautioned that remaining in place could lead to identification as sympathisers with a “terrorist organisation.”
However, the journey south remains perilous due to ongoing airstrikes, with southern areas also being targeted. Many families who relocated from Gaza to the south reported losing relatives during Israeli airstrikes in those regions.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where violence has surged, Israeli aircraft struck a compound beneath a mosque in the Jenin refugee camp early on Sunday. The military claimed this compound was being used by Palestinian militants to plan attacks.
The West Bank has witnessed increased violence, with Israeli forces killing a fifth Palestinian overnight, bringing the total death toll there to 90 since the war’s commencement, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The first humanitarian aid convoy allowed into Gaza since the conflict began arrived via the southern Rafah border crossing from Egypt on Saturday. The United Nations noted that the 20-truck convoy transported life-saving supplies for the Palestinian Red Crescent.
However, the U.N.’s humanitarian office reported that the volume of goods entering Gaza was merely 4% of the daily average before the hostilities, falling far short of the enclave’s dire needs, given that most residents rely on humanitarian aid.
U.S. President Joe Biden, long a staunch supporter of Israel, welcomed the arrival of aid following intensive negotiations. He expressed the United States’ commitment to further discussions to ensure that more aid reaches Palestinians facing shortages of food, water, medicine, and fuel in Gaza.
A fatal explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, which occurred on Tuesday, was likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza rather than an Israeli airstrike, according to Canada’s defense department. This conclusion aligns with assessments made by Israel, the U.S., and France.