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Israel readies troops for invasion amid a mass displacement in the Gaza territory

Monitoring Desk

ISLAMABAD: Israel pressed on Sunday with preparations for a ground offensive in Gaza, after giving Palestinians little time to flee northern areas it has vowed to target in response to the deadliest attack in its history.
Hamas fighters killed over 1,300 people in a surprise attack that Israel has compared to 9/11 in the United States. Israel has retaliated with a massive bombing campaign in Gaza leaving over 2,200 dead.
Israel has warned around 1.1 million Gazans living in the north of the Palestinian territory to flee to the south ahead of a ground incursion which the military has indicated will focus on Gaza City, the base of the leadership of the Hamas group.
The military said Gaza City residents must not delay their departure but a spokesperson said late Saturday they still had time to leave and that the ground offensive would not start on Sunday.
Since Friday thousands of Gazans, who cannot leave the enclave as it is blockaded by both Israel and Egypt, have packed what belongings they can into bags and suitcases, to trudge through the rubble-strewn streets.
A stream of cars, trucks, three-wheeled vehicles and donkey-drawn carts joined the frantic mass movement south, all loaded with families and their belongings, mattresses, bedding and bags strapped onto the roofs of packed vehicles.
Israel pummelled northern Gaza with fresh air strikes on Saturday.
AFP reporters near the southern Israeli city of Sderot saw troops fire at the densely populated enclave, sending huge plumes of black smoke into the sky.
The Israeli military said Saturday the bodies of some of the dozens of hostages abducted by Hamas in its attacks had been found during operations inside Gaza.
Hamas earlier reported 22 hostages had been killed in Israeli bombardments.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a flak jacket, earlier visited troops on the border front line, raising expectations of an imminent invasion.
“Are you ready for what is coming? More is coming,” he was heard telling several soldiers on a video released by his office.
To avert the risk of the war escalating into a regional conflict, the United States deployed a second aircraft carrier that would “deter hostile actions against Israel”, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.
Alarm has grown over the fate of Palestinian civilians in blockaded and besieged Gaza – one of the world’s most densely populated areas, home to 2.4 million – if it becomes the scene of intense urban combat and house-to-house fighting.
Aid agencies have said forcing Gazans to move is impossible while the war rages.
But with food, water, fuel and medical supplies running low because of an Israeli blockade, aid agencies are warning of a deepening humanitarian crisis.
“The situation is catastrophic,” said Jumaa Nasser, who travelled from Beit Lahia in northern Gaza with his wife, mother and seven children.
“We’ve had no food or sleep. We don’t know what to do. I’ve given my fate up to God,” he told AFP.
The World Health Organization said Saturday that forcing thousands of hospital patients to evacuate to already overflowing hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip could be “tantamount to a death sentence”.
Exiled Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh accused Israel on Saturday of committing “war crimes” in Gaza but he ruled out any “displacement” of Gazans, including to Egypt.
Hamas is regularly accused by Israel of using civilians as human shields.
On the diplomatic front, Chinese envoy Zhai Jun will visit the Middle East next week to push for a ceasefire and promote peace talks, state broadcaster CCTV reported Sunday.
Saudi Arabia has also pressed for an “immediate ceasefire”. Russia said it had asked the UN Security Council to vote on Monday on its ceasefire resolution.
In a call Saturday, US President Joe Biden told Netanyahu the United States was working with the United Nations, Egypt, Jordan and others in the region “to ensure innocent civilians have access to water, food, and medical care”.