After giving the northern Gaza strip an evacuation ultimatum on Friday, Israel has so far withheld from launching a "significant" ground operation, with some speculating that requests from the US to evacuate all US citizens out of Palestine ahead of the invasion is what is holding Israel back. Meanwhile, Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday said that if Israeli “war crimes & genocide” are not stopped, the war might expand to other parts of the Middle East if Hezbollah joins the battle, and that would make Israel suffer “a huge earthquake.” Meanwhile, Axios reported that Tehran has sent Jerusalem a message through the UN that it will intervene if the campaign in Gaza continues, and particularly if it launches a ground offensive.
This was followed by news Sunday morning that the US has been backchanneling with Iran in recent days to warn against escalating the conflict in Israel (after all, Biden can't afford to lose those sanctioned Iranian oil exports whose re-embargo would promptly send the price of oil above $100).
Another reason why Israel may be waiting: the Pentagon confirmed that it has ordered a second carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea after a first carrier strike group, led by the USS Gerald R. Ford, arrived off the coast of Israel last week.
On Saturday, the Israeli army said it’s making preparations for “significant ground operations” in Gaza, with the Israel Defense Forces saying in a statement that the next phase of the war can include a coordinated land, sea and air assault.
Israel has called up a record 300,000 reservists and has been pounding Gaza after the unprecedented incursion in which more than 1,000 Hamas fighters swept across the border and attacked Israeli military posts, bases and settlements. More than 1,300 Israelis died, mostly civilians, and up to 150 people were abducted and taken into Gaza. More than 1,900 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombing campaign as fears mount of major casualties once Israel sends troops into the crowded coastal strip, home to 2.3 million people. Israel on Friday gave 24 hours for more than 1 million Palestinians to evacuate their homes in Gaza.
Separately, Israel confirmed for the first time that there were intelligence indications of something happening in Gaza two hours before the attacks last week. The head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, spoke with military personnel about the reports, said Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s National Security Council. “Both sides assessed that this is something other than it turned out to be,” he said.
Meanwhile, Hamas, which has been designated as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, said Israeli air strikes killed another nine of its hostages in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 26. Many governments, including the US and European countries, are rushing to evacuate citizens in anticipation of an Israeli incursion into Gaza, though the Rafah border crossing out of Gaza to Egypt was reported to be closed to foreign nationals Saturday.
On the diplomatic front, Joe Biden’s team has voiced anxiety about Israel’s 24-hour evacuation demand, a deadline that the European Union and the United Nations called unrealistic. On Friday, Biden said people shouldn’t “lose sight of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians had nothing to do with Hamas” something Biden tweeted on Sunday morning.
The US Embassy in Israel said it’s “working on potential options for departure from Gaza.” US citizens living in or visiting Gaza may be allowed to leave on Saturday, according to a US official. The embassy said it’s facilitating more chartered evacuation flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and urged US citizens and immediate family members to use them “while they are available.” The US government also said it is assisting US nationals and their immediate family members with a valid travel document to depart Haifa via sea for Cyprus on Oct. 16, according to a statement on the US Embassy in Israel website.
The State Department in Washington authorized the departure of non-emergency embassy personnel on Friday, citing an “unpredictable security situation.” With commercial flights to Israel disrupted, European countries such as France and Germany also have been providing planes to get their citizens out of the region.
Israel Says More Than 600,000 Gazans Have Moved South
More than 600,000 Gazans from Gaza City and its surroundings have relocated southward, following instructions from the Israeli Defense Forces, IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari says.
Bloomberg notes that this is Hagari added this exodus is despite efforts by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, to keep them in the north to serve as human shields.
Hagari urged those remaining in the north to evacuate for their safety.
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Egypt Weighs Letting in Foreigners and Palestinians From Gaza
Egypt is coming under intense pressure to allow refugees to cross the border and escape an Israeli bombing campaign and expected ground invasion.
But, as WSJ reports, for Cairo, opening the border is a tough call.
Egypt plays a unique role with Hamas, mediating its conflicts with Israel while also helping squeeze the U.S.-designated terrorist group with a blockade on goods and travel out of the Gaza Strip. It has been reluctant to allow the tensions and troubles of Gaza to enter its own country in the form of large numbers of refugees.
The US is confident Egypt’s border with Gaza will be opened to allow in crucial humanitarian aid, Blinken told reporters in Cairo.
“Rafah will be open,” the top US diplomat said after meeting President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
“We’re putting in place with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel a mechanism by which to get assistance in.”
A US envoy, David Satterfield, will be in Israel on Monday to work out practical details.
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FBI Director Warns of possible copy-cat attacks
“Here in the U.S. we cannot and do not discount the possibility that Hamas or other foreign terrorist organizations could exploit the conflict to call on their supporters to conduct attacks on our own soil,” Wray told reporters on Sunday.
The FBI has been sharing intelligence about possible violence with state and local law enforcement, he said, though officials said most of the threats haven’t proved credible.
It's just a good job the US' southern border is so secure!
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Iran’s foreign minister on Saturday called on Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza, warning that the war might expand to other parts of the Middle East if Hezbollah joins the battle, and that would make Israel suffer “a huge earthquake.” Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Beirut that Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group has taken all war scenarios into consideration and Israel should stop its attacks on Gaza as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the Axios news site reported that Tehran has sent Jerusalem a message through the UN that it will intervene if the campaign in Gaza continues, and particularly if it launches a ground offensive. The report cited two diplomatic sources with knowledge of the matter. The report said Amirabdollahian made the comments when he met Saturday with UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland in Beirut, a meeting that led to intense criticism from Israel. A short while later, Iran’s mission to the UN warned in a tweet that if Israel’s “war crimes & genocide” are not stopped immediately, this could have “far-reaching consequences” and the situation could “spiral out of control.”
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US Warned Iran in Back-Channel Talks on War: The US has held back-channel talks with Iran in recent days to warn the country against escalating the conflict in Israel, as Israeli forces prepare an expected ground assault in response to last weekend’s surprise attack by Hamas. “We have means of communicating privately with Iran, and we have availed ourselves of those means over the past few days to make clear privately that which we have said publicly,” White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Sunday on CBS News’s Face the Nation. Sullivan said the US couldn’t rule out that Iran might intervene in the conflict, and was monitoring both the possibility of direct involvement by Tehran and proxy activity by Hezbollah across the border with Lebanon.
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Israeli army awaits "political" green light for Gaza invasion: The Israeli army is awaiting a "political decision" on the timing of a major ground offensive on the Gaza Strip, military spokesmen said Sunday as civilians stepped up desperate efforts to flee northern Gaza. Military spokesmen Lt. Col. Richard Hecht and Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told separate briefings on Sunday that "a political decision" will set off any action against Hamas. "We will be holding discussions with our political leadership," Hecht told one briefing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told troops near the Gaza border on Saturday that "more is coming." But he did not say when any ground operation would start. Military spokesmen have told reporters that any invasion would aim to eradicate Hamas' militant network and leadership so that it cannot stage more attacks. The Israeli military has particularly singled out Yahya Sinwar, the chief of Hamas in Gaza who they blame for the Oct. 7 attacks. "That man is in our sights," Hecht said on Saturday. "He is a dead man walking and we will get to that man."
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Rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and southern Israel overnight, and the Israel Defense Forces attacked targets in and around the northern part of Gaza. It was not immediately clear how much damage, if any, was caused in the rocket attacks. One Israeli died on Sunday in a Hezbollah attack on Israeli army posts near the border with Lebanon. Subsequent reports indicate that more rockets had been fired into northern Israel from Lebanon.
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Moroccans Push to Sever Israel Ties in Mass Protest: Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Rabat, Morocco’s capital, demanding King Mohammed VI to severe ties with Israel which were restored in 2020. The marchers denounced as “barbaric” ongoing military intervention by Israel in Gaza and demanded the closing of its liaison office in the Moroccan capital.
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Blinken Meets With Saudi Crown Prince: Blinken travelled to Riyadh on Sunday for an hour-long talk with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the top US diplomat deemed “very productive.” MBS highlighted Riyadh’s diplomatic outreach “to calm the situation,” the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
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Blinken Will Return to Israel on Monday: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to Israel on Monday for further consultations with senior officials there, his spokesman said. The top US diplomat was previously in Israel on Thursday as part of a frenetic tour of the region that included stops in Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates as well as Saudi Arabia, as the Biden administration tries to limit the threat of a spreading conflict in the Middle East.
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Blinken Urges China to Use Its Influence: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Beijing to use its influence to prevent other state or non-state actors from attacking Israel and widening its war with Hamas, the State Department said. Blinken spoke with Foreign Minister Wang Yi before departing from Riyadh, where the top US diplomat was attempting to shore up support for Israel among Arab nations, said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. He met with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the State Department said.
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Israel, Hezbollah exchange fire, heightening fears of a second front opening: Cross-border fire erupted between Israel and Lebanon early Sunday, killing at least one person on the Israeli side of the border. Both the Israeli military and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah acknowledged the fighting. Hezbollah says it fired guided missiles toward an Israel army post in Shtula from Lebanon, according to the militant group’s Al-Manar TV. The Israeli military said earlier it was targeting southern Lebanon after initial report of a shooting near the Lebanese border.
The group said in a statement the attack was in retaliation for Israeli shelling that killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah on Friday and two Lebanese civilians on Saturday. Israel has responded by targeting the outskirts of the town of Ait el-Shaab, the Israeli military said. The Israel Defense Forces also banned civilians from going within two-and-a-half miles of the Lebanese border. In addition, the Reuters news service reports, Israel disrupted GPS electronic location services in the northern border area and at the Gaza front, according to Reuters. Israel's Magen David Adom rescue service said a 40-year-old man was killed in the attack from Lebanon, without elaborating or giving his nationality. As Israel wages its war against Hamas over last week's unprecedented attack by the Gaza Strip militant group, there's been concern that Hezbollah could enter the war as well as Israel moves toward launching a ground offensive in Gaza.
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Hezbollah Strikes Israeli Army Posts: Iran-backed Hezbollah attacked two Israeli army posts near the border with Lebanon in response to what the militant group said was the killing of Lebanese nationals in recent days. One of the Middle East’s most powerful militias, Hezbollah said it fired guided missiles against an Israeli army post in Shtula in Upper Galilee. An hour later, it said its members used “live ammunition” to target an army post in Al-Raheb and destroyed a tank.
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Israeli Shares Down 3% As War Enters Second Week: Israel’s TA-35 stock index fell sharply on Sunday as Israel continues to strike back against Hamas targets and tensions rise on the northern border with Hezbollah. The index was down 3.3% in early afternoon, having reached the lowest levels since mid-2021. Banking stocks led the decline. The sector was down 12.3% last week “on account of volatility concerns,” the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange said. Other Middle Eastern markets were narrowly mixed.
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Israel Acknowledges Reports of Gaza Activity: Israel confirmed for the first time that there were intelligence indications of something happening in Gaza two hours before the attacks last week. The head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, spoke with military personnel about the reports, said Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s National Security Council. “Both sides assessed that this is something other than it turned out to be,” he said.
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Abbas Stresses Need for Humanitarian Corridor in Biden Call: In a phone call with US President Joe Biden late Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stressed the urgent need for humanitarian corridors to be opened in the Gaza Strip so that basic materials and medical supplies such as water, electricity and fuel, can be delivered to civilians. Abbas also told Biden he rejected the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and affirmed his rejection of the killing or abusing of civilians on both sides, calling for the release of civilians, priosners and detainees.
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Pope calls for humanitarian corridors for Gaza residents: Pope Francis called on Sunday for humanitarian corridors to allow the delivery of essentials to the Gaza Strip, which is under heavy Israeli bombardment following a bloody attack on Israel by Gaza's rulers, Hamas. "Humanitarian law must be respected, especially in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors and help the population," said the Pope after his traditional Angelus prayer in Rome's Saint Peter's Square.
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U.S. arranges for ship to evacuate Americans from Israel to Cyprus Monday: The United States has organized a ship to take Americans out of Israel to Cyprus on Monday, the U.S. Embassy said. With Israel moving toward an invasion of the Gaza Strip, the ship will leave from the Israeli port of Haifa for Limassol, taking "U.S. nationals and their immediate family members with a valid travel document," the U.S. embassy said in a security alert Sunday. Tens of thousands of U.S. passport holders live in Israel and 29 have been confirmed killed in the Hamas attacks on October 7. Another 15 are missing and believed to be among hostages held by Hamas since the attacks. The U.S. embassy didn't say how many people would fit on the ship but said "boarding will proceed in order of arrival and is on a space limited basis." Each passenger will have to sign a document promising to repay the cost of the trip and will only be allowed to bring one suitcase. The embassy said some chartered flights would be arranged from Cyprus for onward travel.
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UK Foreign Minister Urges Israel to Show Restraint: James Cleverly called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and respect international law in any military operations against Hamas, saying his “strong advice” was being offered from a position of friendship.” It’s in Israel’s interest to avoid civilian casualties because Hamas wants to turn the conflict “into a wider Arab-Israeli war, or indeed a war between the Muslim world and and the wider world,” the UK foreign minister said on Sky News. His comments came hours after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK stood unequivocally with Israel, making no mention of the plight facing Palestinian civilians.
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Gaza Death Toll Reaches 2,300: The number of people killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza has reached more than 2,300, local authorities said, with thousands more wounded in the past eight days. This now outnumbers the death toll of the 51-day Israel-Hamas war of 2014, according to Ashraf Al-Qedra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry. The 2014 war killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, according to UN figures. At the time it was the deadliest and most destructive violence since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.
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Situation in Gaza hospitals getting ever more desperate: Medics in Gaza warned Sunday that thousands could die as hospitals packed with wounded people run desperately low on fuel and basic supplies. Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave struggled to find food, water and safety ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in the war sparked by Hamas' deadly attack. A week of blistering airstrikes have demolished entire Gaza neighborhoods but failed to stem militant rocket fire into Israel. Hospitals are expected to run out of generator fuel within two days, according to the U.N., which said that would endanger the lives of thousands of patients. Gaza's sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 25-mile-long territory following the Hamas attack.
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Israel Says it Killed Hamas Military Leader: The Israeli military said on Sunday its fighter jets killed the Hamas military leader responsible for the attack on one of Israel’s communities last Saturday, Kibbutz Nirim. In a statement, the military said this occurred Saturday night during operations that also took out Hamas rocket launchers. It said the man was commander of the Nukhba forces in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Nukhba are the elite Hamas military unit that Israel says trained and led the October 7 attack. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.