- Israel hit the Gaza Strip overnight with more airstrikes, amid warnings that Israeli forces could invade the Hamas-ruled territory at any time.
- Israel said Friday it plans to evacuate the northern city of Kiryat Shmona. The evacuees will be placed in state-funded guest houses. Kiryat Shmona is near Israel’s border with Lebanon where there have been repeated rocket and missile attacks by Palestinian militants.
- The death toll from the hospital strike in Gaza is now reported to be on the lower end of 100-300 people.
- Israeli defense minister tells troops to get ready for ground invasion of Gaza.
- In Jerusalem, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Israeli President Isaac Herzog that Britain stands by Israel’s right to defend itself. He also stressed the need to provide aid to Gaza's residents. "Palestinians are victims of what Hamas has done."
- More than 1,400 Israelis, 3,400 Palestinians have been killed.
Israel continued to pummel the Gaza Strip overnight with airstrikes, amid warnings that Israeli forces could invade the Hamas-ruled territory at any time.
The Israel Defense Forces posted on X, formerly known as Twitter: “During the night, fighter jets attacked over a hundred operational targets of the terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip, destroying tunnel shafts, munitions warehouses and dozens of operational headquarters.”
Meanwhile, Israel is planning to evacuate the northern city of Kiryat Shmona. Authorities said Friday that the town’s residents will be placed in state-funded guest houses. The northern city is located near Israel’s border with Lebanon and has been subjected to numerous rocket and missile attacks from Palestinian militant groups.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak travels Friday to Egypt, his latest Middle Eastern destination, as the conflict continues to grow. Sunak has already met with Israeli leaders and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Sunak followed U.S. President Joe Biden with a visit to Israel to demonstrate Western support for the war against Hamas militants.
“You have suffered an unspeakable, horrific act of terrorism and I want you to know that the United Kingdom and I stand with you," Sunak said. Later, he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “We will stand with your people. And we also want you to win."
Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told hundreds of thousands of the country’s ground troops to get ready to invade the Gaza Strip.
Gallant met with Israeli infantry soldiers positioned on the Gaza border, telling the forces to “get organized, be ready,” but did not say when the order would come for the invasion.
“Whoever sees Gaza from afar now, will see it from the inside,” he said. “I promise you.”
Israel has amassed 300,000 or more troops along the border following Hamas’ shock, cross-border October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Shortly after Gallant's statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu issued a video of himself with troops near the border promising victory.
Biden said after his brief visit to Tel Aviv Wednesday that he had candid discussions with Israeli leaders as they conduct military strikes that have taken more than 3,400 lives in Gaza, many of them civilians.
“I was very blunt with the Israelis,” he told reporters aboard Air Force One. Biden said that while Israel “has been badly victimized,” the country has “an opportunity to relieve the suffering” of innocent civilians in Gaza “who have nowhere to go.”
He added that it’s what the country “should do.”
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman told VOA’s Urdu service, “The state of Israel never targets civilians intentionally. We target military targets.”
But Major Doron Spielman added, “The problem is that Hamas fires rockets from the schools, next from the hospitals, next to United Nations facilities. And at times when we are targeting them, they themselves put their civilians in the way of [the] fight. All of these questions need to be directed towards Hamas. What were they thinking would happen when they attacked Israel?”
While in Israel, Biden negotiated a deal between Israel and Egypt to allow the passage of aid into Gaza through the Egypt-controlled Rafah Crossing. The agreement will allow 20 trucks of aid to be received and managed by U.N. groups. Dozens more trucks are waiting to follow if the first tranche goes smoothly.
Biden warned that if Hamas blocks or confiscates the aid, “it's going to end.”
During his visit, Biden also announced $100 million in U.S. aid for Palestinians.
The humanitarian crisis has grown increasingly dire in Gaza, with Israel blocking basic necessities from reaching the coastal territory.
Biden denied media reports that U.S. troops will join Israeli soldiers in fighting Hezbollah should the Lebanon-based militant group decide to help Hamas and initiate conflict with Israel.
He said he discussed at length with Netanyahu the prime minister’s plans to invade Gaza to root out Hamas and that the two countries’ militaries have been weighing alternatives. But he declined to provide further details.
Siding with Israel
Biden on Wednesday backed Israel’s account of who was responsible for a massive explosion at a Gaza hospital that killed hundreds and prompted protests across the region.
U.S. intelligence assessed the death toll from the explosion to be between 100-300 people — with that number likely being on the lower end, and minimal structural damage done to the hospital, as first reported to CNN and confirmed by VOA.
“Based on the information we've seen to date, it appears as a result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” Biden said.
Israel said the rocket came from the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which denied responsibility.
“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.
Watson added that the administration is working to corroborate whether it was a failed rocket launched by Islamic Jihad.
Biden vowed to provide Israel what it needs to defend itself but urged restraint in its retaliation.
“You don't live by the rules of terrorists. You live by the rule of law. When conflict is fair, you live by the rule of law, of wars,” he said.
The hospital explosion has ignited massive protests in cities across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Iran, Tunisia and Turkey, where demonstrators laid the blame on Israel.
Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters