While more than 10,000 civilians have already been killed in Gaza, Israel could launch the ground offensive around Gaza City at any moment. “This operation could take months.”
After ten days of bombings and ‘preparatory actions’, Israeli army forces cut the Gaza Strip in two and surrounded Gaza City. On Sunday, Gaza faced the heaviest bombardment since the start of the conflict. Palestinian organizations reported that the internet and telephone traffic were again out of service. The signals are clear: Israel can launch its planned ground offensive in the north of the Gaza Strip at any moment now.
According to former Colonel Roger Housen, the Israeli armed forces face the most difficult task in history. With mixed teams of infantry and armored cars, they will try to get to the Hamas command posts via the main axes of Gaza City in the near future.
Israel must fight Hamas not only above ground and in the air, but also in the miles-long tunnel network underground. The fact that Hamas also has many Israeli and foreign hostages and, according to Israel, has installed its most important command posts near hospitals, makes the operation even more complicated.
According to Housen, Israel has learned from its previous offensive in Gaza. Then it discovered that the classic method of going district by district with infantry resulted in too many men dying. Since then, the Israeli military has invested in an extensive arsenal of unmanned reconnaissance and weapons systems. Robotic snakes, echo-location systems and (armed) robots with cameras will therefore play an important role in distinguishing Hamas fighters from civilians in hospitals and tunnel networks.
The Israeli army has repeatedly sent the message to the largest hospitals in Gaza to leave the area as quickly as possible. That seems completely unfeasible at the moment. “Every month, around 5,500 women in Gaza have to give birth,” said Jonathan Crickx, the Belgian spokesman for Unicef in Palestine. “Where should these women go if they cannot go to the hospital? The same goes for the hundred babies in incubators. It would be a tragedy if the electricity were to be cut off there.”
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, controlled by Hamas, more than 10,000 Palestinians have now been killed in the conflict. According to Unicef, about 4,000 of them are children; 400 die every day. “Gaza has become a graveyard for children,” Unicef spokesman James Elder noted during a press briefing. “And for everyone else it is a living hell.”
Aid organizations fear that the number of child victims will rise even faster in the near future. Children are not only more vulnerable to bombings, the shortage of healthy drinking water and hygiene also puts them at risk. “We see more and more children with chronic diarrhea,” says Crickx. “That is a major health problem.” UNICEF therefore supports the call from the various UN organizations to immediately introduce a humanitarian ceasefire.