From the frontlines of the Israel-Palestine war, String Reveals brings you daily despatches by journalist Allan Sorensen, Middle East Correspondent for Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad, giving insights and gripping first-hand accounts from the war-torn region.
At first light on Tuesday morning, 72 hours after Hamas attacked Israel on Saturday, the fighting was on.
Israeli air raids on Gaza have hit more than 1,200 targets since the beginning of the latest escalation, according to the Israeli army spokesperson. At least 580 Palestinians have been killed and 2,700 wounded. Among them, several children and women. The Israeli death toll has now crossed 900, while 2,600 have been wounded. Some 1,23,000 Gazans have left their homes to seek shelter in UN schools and uninhabited areas considered to be safer.
According to statements from Hamas in Gaza, around 200 hostages are still in captivity inside Gaza. Most of them are Israeli citizens, but some of them are foreign nationals.
In a statement to media outlet Alghad, Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said some of the hostages held in Gaza were senior Israeli army officers.
In another statement on Monday, Hamas threatened to hurt the hostages if Israel continued its attacks on Gaza. In Israel, this threat is broadly seen as psychological warfare and an attempt to prevent Israel from escalating the attacks further.
Late Monday, the Israeli military said it managed to gain full control over Israeli towns infiltrated by Hamas terrorists. But, in the night between Monday and Tuesday, new clashes erupted between Hamas fighters and Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the border. According to Israeli media, the Hamas fighters managed to enter Israel via a hole in the border fence.
On Monday afternoon, Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Galant, announced a “full blockade” on Gaza including a ban on entry of food, electricity and fuel. Israel expects Gaza to run out of fuel within 24 hours.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed his distress regarding the Israeli blockade.
“Civilians must be respected and protected at all times. Civilian infrastructure must never be a target. I am deeply distressed by Israel’s announcement today of a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, nothing will be allowed in, no electricity, no food or fuel,” he said in a statement.
The European Union announced that it would be suspending aid for Palestinian authorities and reviewing financial assistance after the attacks on Israel. The military wing of Hamas is considered a terror organization by the EU. But hours later, EU reversed its suspension of aid to the Palestinians.
“There will be no suspension of payments at the moment,” a European Commission statement said late Monday, five hours after EU Commissioner Oliver Varhelyi’s announcement that all payments from the development program for Palestinians would be suspended.
After the UN Security Council failed to achieve the unanimity needed for a joint statement, Russia and The Arab League released a statement calling for a two-state solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
“This situation is potentially fraught with the danger of spillover, and therefore, of course, it is a subject of our special concern these days…We are extremely concerned,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said at a news conference.
The main concern is that the fighting between Israel and Hamas will spiral and drag other regional actors into the conflict, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah.
Several worrying incidents were reported on the Israeli-Lebanese border on Monday. An anti-tank missile was fired from Lebanon on the Israeli army post of Avivim but no casualties were reported. In another incident, the Hezbollah lost five of its fighters in a shootout with Israeli soldiers in the border area. One Israeli soldier was killed in that incident and the general situation along the border remained tense.
The Israeli army has ordered the evacuation of all Israeli communities within two km of the Lebanese border. Many of the 300,000 Israeli reservists that have been called up for duty are heading to the border with Lebanon, indicating two possible scenarios. Either Israel is expecting an attack from the Hezbollah in the near future, or it has decided to attack the Hezbollah as a broader part of an effort to weaken Iran’s proxies in the region.
A report in The Wall Street Journal suggests that Iran helped Hamas plan its surprise attack against Israel. Iran’s mission to the United Nations said Tehran was not involved in the attacks.
“We emphatically stand in unflinching support of Palestine, however, we are not involved in Palestine’s response as it is taken solely by Palestine itself,” Iran’s mission said in a statement.
The Mission of the State of Palestine to the UN released a statement saying, “These developments did not occur in a vacuum, they are preceded by the killing this year of hundreds of Palestinians. So far, 2023 has seen the most Palestinian casualties in more than a decade.”
An unnamed Egyptian intelligence official was quoted on Monday as saying that Israel ignored Egyptian warnings about the Hamas plan to carry out a comprehensive attack.
In a public statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called this report “fake news” and a complete lie. Like the ministers in his government, Netanyahu says Israel did not have any early indications of an attack.
In his speech to the nation on Monday, Netanyahu declared that Israel’s response to the Hamas attack would change the entire Middle East. The Israeli prime minister gave no further details, but his statement has led to speculation about what next.
One message from Netanyahu’s talk about a change in the Middle East may involve Israel’s main regional enemy Iran. Speculation points at Netanyahu optimally seeking to weaken both Hamas in Gaza and Hizbollah in Lebanon. Thereby, Iran will lose great parts of its regional deterrence against Israel.
As of the early hours of Tuesday morning, Israel still threatens to invade Gaza in a ground offensive aiming to weaken the military capabilities of Hamas. The Israeli military build-up on the Gaza border is increasing heavily on a daily basis.
(Allan Sorensen is the Middle East correspondent for the Danish daily newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad.)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.