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.
ran’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.”