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Why Gaza Ground Offensive May Lead To Jump In Casualties, Harm Israel Too

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For Israel, carrying out a ground offensive in Gaza and wiping out Hamas is a task easier said than done

New Delhi:

A mass movement of people fleeing from the war in Gaza will lead to devastating humanitarian consequences, the United Nations has warned after Israel forces asked Gaza city residents to move south. Israel described as shameful the UN’s response to the warning, which is being seen as an indication of Tel Aviv’s plan to launch a ground offensive in Gaza in retaliation to the Hamas attacks last weekend.

Israel’s Ground Offensive?

About a couple of hours back, the official handle of Israel Defense Forces put out a post on X. The post asked Gaza city residents to evacuate their homes and move south for their safety. The post says the residents should return to Gaza city only after Israel’s notification. It also asked them not to approach the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

“Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City in tunnels under houses in Gaza City, and inside many buildings are innocent civilians. The IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City in the coming days, and wishes to avoid harming civilians,” the post read. Earlier, news agency Reuters had reported that Israel Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had told soldiers about a ground offensive plan. “Hamas wanted a change and it will get one. What was in Gaza will no longer be. We started the offensive from the air, later on we will also come from the ground,” he had said.

UN’s Warning, Israel’s Response

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the population that Israel wants to move to the south of Gaza is approximately 1.1 million people. The UN “considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences”, Dujarric said in a statement.

This drew a sharp response from Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN. “For years now, the UN has been “turning a blind eye” to the arming of Hamas and its use of civilians to hide its murderous instruments. And now, instead of standing by Israel after the massacre by Hamas, they dare to preach to us when Israel tries to minimise harm to civilians. Right now, the only thing the UN should focus on is the return of the abductees to Israel.”

News agency Reuters has reported that a Hamas spokesperson has asked Gaza citizens not to heed Israel’s warnings. Salama Marouf has said the relocation warning was Israel’s attempt “to broadcast and pass on fake propaganda, aiming to sow confusion among citizens and harm our internal cohesion”.

What Is Gaza’s Situation Now

Gaza is on the brink of running out of critical supplies, the UN has warned. More than 3 lakh people have been displaced by Israel’s air strikes. More than two-thirds of them have taken shelter in schools run by the UN. Over 2,500 homes have been destroyed or are uninhabitable now, a UN report has said. At least 88 education facilities have been struck. UN’s rights experts have called upon Hamas to release hostages it took during its attack on Israel. At the same time, they have said there is no justification for Israel’s “indiscriminate attacks” on Palestinian citizens.

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The UN report warned that water crisis is worsening across Gaza Strip due to damaged infrastructure and lack of electricity due to Israel siege. “Water supplies cannot be replenished due to the total blockade on the Strip by the Israelis authorities. Fuel cannot be brought in, and Israeli water suppliers can no longer deliver water in Gaza,” it said.

The UN’s sexual and reproductive health agency said Gaza currently has 50,000 pregnant women, who cannot access health services. About 5,500 of them are due to give birth in the next month. According to a UN report published yesterday, 1,000 people, including over 300 children, have died since the October 7 attacks sparked a wave of violence. Twelve UN staff members have also lost their lives.

Possible Impacts Of Ground Offensive

A mass movement of over a million people, many of them women and children, in a war zone is likely to lead to very high casualties. It will also hit already-disrupted supply for food and medicines. The ground offensive may also prompt Hezbollah to scale up their involvement in the Israel-Hamas war. Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire along the Lebanon border but there has not been an all-out confrontation yet.

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Hezbollah and Hamas have long been part of a “joint operations room” that includes Quds Force — the foreign operations arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — a source close to the Hezbollah told AFP. The groups are part of the so-called “axis of resistance” — Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian and other Iran-backed armed opposition to Israel. “A decisive attack against one of the components of this alliance” would prompt “the intervention of other components”, said Mohanad Hage Ali from the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Hezbollah could find itself forced to participate in the war” if a ground offensive begins, the analyst told AFP.

The Cost For Israel

For Israel, carrying out a ground offensive in Gaza and wiping out Hamas is a task easier said than done. Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, told Reuters earlier this week that airstrikes in Gaza “seemed very similar to previous Israeli operations” but these tactics had not neutralised Hamas. The Israel government, he said then, was reluctant to start a ground initiative because it “might involve many, many more Israeli casualties”.

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In a ground offensive, Israel would lose its edge in firepower as it takes on a group well-acquainted with the Gaza Strip. Hamas has been controlling Gaza for 17 years now and during this time it has built a network of tunnels its operatives can attack from and disappear into. Add to it the hostage situation. Talal Okal, an analyst in Gaza, told Reuters, “It wants to make Gaza pay a heavy price, but I don’t think it is prepared to pay the heavier prices should they enter Gaza.”