Israeli tanks enter Gaza to 'prepare battlefield' as ground invasion looms

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) says its tanks and infantry struck numerous targets in Northern Gaza in the early hours - but stopped short of a full-scale invasion and returned to Israel.

  • The Israeli military said troops and tanks briefly entered northern Gaza overnight hitting more than 200 targets.

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warned his military is 'preparing for a ground operation' on Gaza but did not specify when it might occur.

  • More hospitals in Gaza are ceasing to function as they run out of fuel and water.

  • The hostage toll has increased to 224, the Israeli ministry reports.

  • The death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 7,000, while more than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, according to respective health officials. Israel's military raised the number of remaining hostages in Gaza to 222 people.

Israeli troops launched an overnight ground raid in Gaza, the military said, hitting several targets as a wider invasion loomed after more than two weeks of heavy air raids.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said troops and tanks briefly entered northern Gaza striking several militant targets and fighters in order to “prepare the battlefield”. 

It comes after Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday night his military is "preparing for a ground operation" on Gaza as the territory plunges deeper into a humanitarian crisis without crucial aid.

Mr Netanyahu did not specify "when, how, how much," but added "all Hamas members are marked to death" as he spoke of the looming ground offensive.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said it attacked over 250 Hamas targets over the past 24 hours, targeting operational headquarters and tunnel shafts were attacked - as well as rocket launchers that had been "placed in a civilian environment."

It has bombarded the Gaza Strip with rockets since the surprise terror attack on October 7 by Palestinian proscribed terror group Hamas, killing more than 1,400 Israelis.

The Israeli military has said there are 224 hostages - a revised number up from 222 - being held by Hamas. Four of the captives have been released since the attack.

Hamas said more than 700 people were killed by Israeli air strikes from Tuesday to Wednesday - the deadliest day since the conflict began.

It brings the total death toll to 7,028 in Gaza, while more than 17,000 are injured, according to the Hamas-led Health Ministry - figures which cannot be independently verified.

ITV News Senior International Correspondent John Irvine reports on the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where more than 2,000 children have been killed

EU leaders meet to discuss conflict in Middle East

European Union leaders have gathered to plan out how more aid can reach Palestinians in need, and how to help EU citizens in Gaza escape danger, including those held hostage by Hamas.

EU nations have been divided on their approach to Israel and the Palestinians. But, the nature of the Hamas attack on Israel October 7 has brought those divisions into the spotlight.

Across the EU bloc, Austria, Germany and Hungary are among Israel's top supporters. The leaders of Austria and Germany went to Israel to show solidarity after the assault. While Spain and Ireland have focused on the plight of the Palestinians.

Hamas, for its part, is on the EU’s list of terrorist groups. Leaders have even argued over whether to call for a “humanitarian pause” or “pauses,” or even a “window” in the fighting, to allow aid in.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “I’m not obsessed about what language we use. What we want is the killing and the violence to stop; to stop so that humanitarian aid can get into Gaza, where Palestinian people are ... suffering, and also to allow us to get EU citizens out."

UNWRA says fuel shipment needed urgently as Gaza supplies have almost run out

Juliette Touma, the chief spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, said that an urgent shipment of fuel needs to enter the Gaza Strip as soon as possible, as UNRWA’s supplies have almost run out.

Aid workers have been making the "excruciating decision" over where fuel supplies are distributed, while hospitals cease to function amid shortages.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has been sharing its own fuel supplies so that trucks can transport aid, bakeries can feed people in shelters, water can be desalinated, and hospitals can keep incubators, life support machines and other vital equipment working.

If it continues doing all of that, fuel will run out by Thursday, so the agency is deciding how to ration its supply, said UNRWA spokeswoman Tamara Alrifai.

“Do we give for the incubators or the bakeries?” she questioned. “It is an excruciating decision.”

Touma said that if UNRWA runs out of supplies they will have to significantly reduce some of their aid operations, and in some cases, “bring it to a total halt.”

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society has said 12 trucks - carrying food, water and medical supplies - from their Egyptian Red Crescent counterparts entered into the besieged territory on Thursday.

It brings the total number of vehicles that have crossed the Rafah border to 74. But desperately needed fuel had not been allowed to enter, said the Red Crescent.

Israel's military said it will not allow any fuel to enter Gaza because Hamas needs it for its operational infrastructure.

Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari has claimed that fuel from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was "stolen by Hamas."

More than half of Gaza’s primary health care facilities and roughly a third of its hospitals have stopped functioning and are now focusing efforts on emergency life-threatening situations, the World Health Organization said.

At Gaza City’s al-Shifa Hospital, the lack of medicine and clean water have led to “alarming” infection rates, the group Doctors Without Borders said.

Amputations are often required to prevent infection from spreading in the wounded, it said.

200 chairs, each bearing the photo of a Hamas hostage, has been set up outside the UN headquarters in Geneva. Credit: AP

200 chairs placed in front of UN headquarters

Protestors demanding the release of the 224 hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza have set up 200 chairs facing the UN European headquarters in Geneva.

Each chair has a poster, which are thought to be photos of the captives, pinned to it and a banner reading 'bring them home' has been unfurled behind the symbolic demonstration.

Amid the sea of plastic chairs are a scattering of prams, also with pictures attached, believed to acknowledge the children that are allegedly being held.

What is happening in the West Bank?

In the occupied West Bank, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed and 1,650 wounded since the Hamas attack.

US President Joe Biden on Wednesday spoke out against retaliatory attacks by "extremist settlers" against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Rights groups say settlers have torched cars and attacked several small Bedouin communities, forcing them to evacuate to other areas. 

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden will chair the Cobra meeting on Thursday. Credit: PA

Israel could not fight back “without there being some civilian impact”, says UK deputy PM

Ministers will attend a Cobra meeting later on the Middle East, after the government joined calls for a humanitarian “pause” in the escalating Israel-Hamas conflict.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said he would be chairing the meeting later, as global attention remains fixed on the crisis in Gaza.

It comes after Rishi Sunak said temporary breaks or “specific pauses” in the violence could allow British nationals and hostages to be freed and aid to be provided to the Gaza Strip.

But Mr Dowden said Israel could not fight back against Hamas “without there being some civilian impact” in Gaza.

Asked on Sky News about the loss of life in Gaza, Oliver Dowden said: “I deplore and I’m heartbroken by every loss of innocent civilian life.

“But actually the way to stop further losses of innocent civilian lives is to remove the terrorist threat and to move to a position where we can restore stability and peace to this region.”

He added: “You can’t conduct a military offensive against an enemy that hides among the civilian population, that targets your country from among a civilian population without there being some civilian impact.

“But I believe that Israel is seeking to minimise those numbers and we continue to urge Israel to respect international law and minimise civilian casualties.”

“So that if there is a possibility for our nationals to cross the Rafah crossing, we’re ready to get them in and bring them back.” Credit: Peter Nicholls/PA

Border Force in position to help get Britons out of Gaza, PM says

The UK has “pre-positioned” Border Force teams in Egypt to help any British nationals trying to leave Gaza, Rishi Sunak said.

“We’re very keen to be able to bring them out and bring them home. What I can tell you is we’ve pre-positioned Border Force teams to Egypt.

“So that if there is a possibility for our nationals to cross the Rafah crossing, we’re ready to get them in and bring them back.”

The Prime Minister said it remains complex on the ground in Israel and Gaza.

“So it’s not something we can do immediately but when the moment arises, we’ll be ready to take it quickly.”

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