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Israel is preparing for a ground offensive in Gaza that would push casualty numbers high on both sides of its war with Hamas, as the nation’s defence minister declared he had released all restraints on the Israeli military.
A massive humanitarian crisis was unfolding in Gaza on Wednesday night, with officials warning the enclave’s electricity supply was about to run out, limiting their ability to provide basic services to the almost two million people who live in the densely packed strip.
Israeli soldiers prepare their vehicles in the city of Netivot amid retaliations in the Gaza Strip.Credit: Getty
The Biden administration said it was in talks with Israel and Egypt about the idea of safe passage for civilians from Gaza, which Israel has declared is under a total blockade.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Hamas has committed an unconscionable crime against the Palestinian people by damaging hopes of a two-state solution, condemning the militant group’s brutal attacks as Israel destroyed key Hamas targets including its aircraft detection system.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking to soldiers near Gaza, said: “Hamas wanted a change and it will get one. What was in Gaza will no longer be.”
According to the Reuters news agency, Gallant declared: “We started the offensive from the air, later on we will also come from the ground. We’ve been controlling the area since day two and we are on the offensive. It will only intensify.”
A ground offensive carries risks for Israel, including to the lives of more than an estimated 100 hostages who were kidnapped and taken to Gaza by Hamas militants.
Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the military was getting ready “to execute the mission we have been given by the Israeli government … to make sure that Hamas, at the end of this war, won’t have any military capabilities by which they can threaten or kill Israeli civilians”.
The IDF said it had destroyed Hamas’ “advanced detection system” in Gaza, which it used to paint an accurate picture of the skies, as well as weapons storage facilities, operational command centres and training compounds.
In a speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne, Wong said Australians were shocked and horrified by Hamas’ attacks on Israeli citizens on Saturday, which constituted the most deadly day for Jews since the Holocaust.
“For a people who have known the horror of genocide, this fact cuts deep,” she said.
Wong said Australia continued to support a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and Palestine, but added that “one of the many tragic consequences of Hamas’s abhorrent attack is that it has pushed that two-state solution further out of reach”.
“That also makes this an unconscionable crime perpetrated by Hamas against the Palestinian people,” she said.
Wong previously introduced motions at Labor Party national conferences, which were successfully inserted into the party’s policy platform, calling on a future Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state and make the issue an important priority.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said putting the prospect of a two-state solution further out of reach was one of the many tragic consequences of Hamas’ attacks. Credit: AP
Israeli officials said the nation’s death toll had risen to 1200 while at least 900 Palestinians had been killed, according to the Gaza health ministry.
The Israeli military on Wednesday took international journalists on a tour of Kfar Aza, a kibbutz located three kilometres from the Gaza Strip, where dozens of residents were killed by Hamas militants over the weekend.
Israeli Major General Itai Veruv said the dead included babies and pregnant women as well as victims who had been decapitated.
Earlier in the day, US President Joe Biden condemned Hamas’s attacks as “pure unadulterated evil”, decrying “stomach churning reports of babies being killed” and “women raped, assaulted and paraded as trophies”.
The Hamas-controlled government in Gaza said on Wednesday that the enclave’s electricity supply would “completely stop within hours”.
“All basic services in Gaza depend on electricity, and it will not be possible to partially operate them with generators due to the prevention of fuel supplies through the Rafah gate,” authorities said.
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency said it had been forced to close all 14 of its food distribution centres in Gaza and “as a result half a million people have stopped receiving vital food aid”.
The United Nations said that 260,000 people – more than one in ten residents of Gaza – had been displaced because of Israeli airstrikes, with the number expected to rise further.
A relentless bombing campaign has flattened parts of Gaza City.Credit: Bloomberg
Photographs also showed large parts of the upscale Gazan neighbourhood of Rimal – a district home to ministries of the Hamas-run government, universities, media and aid agencies – had been reduced to rubble by Israeli air strikes.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour said: “Such blatant dehumanisation and attempts to bomb a people into submission, to use starvation as a method of warfare, and to eradicate their national existence are nothing less than genocidal … These acts constitute war crimes.”
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