Israel forms emergency government and steps up Gaza offensive as brutality of Hamas attacks laid bare

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Israel has formed an emergency government and war management cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz jointly announced Wednesday, in the wake of Hamas’ surprise attacks on border communities that killed at least 1,200 people and injured thousands more.

Gantz, a former defense minister, will join Netanyahu and current defense minister Yoav Gallant in a wartime cabinet.

“There is time for war and time for peace. This, now, is the time for war,” Gantz said during a televised address.

The government will not pass any laws or make any decisions that do not concern the conduct of the war, the announcement said.

Israel has stepped up its offensive in Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 onslaught, when armed militants poured over the heavily-fortified border into Israel, raiding homes, rampaging through farms and communities and taking as many as 150 hostages back to Gaza.

Since Israel began airstrikes on the Palestinian enclave Saturday at least 1,100 people have been killed in Gaza, including hundreds of children, women, and entire families, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Thousands more have been injured, it said.

Israel has ordered a “complete siege” on the enclave, including halting supplies of electricity, food, water and fuel. On Wednesday, Gaza’s only power station stopped working after running out of fuel, the head of the Gaza power authority Galal Ismail told CNN.

People are still able to use power generators, Ismail said, but with a blockade on all sides of the border, the fuel needed for the generators to work is running out.

The Palestinian health ministry warned that hospitals are set to run out of fuel on Thursday, leading to “catastrophic” conditions.

Violence spreads to the West Bank

Beyond Gaza, violence has risen in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, leaving a total of 29 Palestinians dead and 150 injured, according to the Palestinian health ministry on Wednesday.

Four Palestinians were killed by Israeli settlers Wednesday in the village of Qusra, south of the city of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, and several others were injured, the head of the Qusra council, Abdelathim Wadi, told CNN.

Two of those killed by settler gunfire were adolescents, the Palestinian foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

Settlers “protected by Israeli forces” also opened fire on farmers in the town of Kafr al-Dik and the village of Marda, east of Nablus, the foreign ministry statement added.

In the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem, two Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli police Tuesday, the Red Crescent said in a statement, adding that paramedics were “prevented from entering Silwan to evacuate those who sustained gun wounds.”

Israeli police said they fatally shot two people who launched fireworks at a close range and threw stones at officers operating in the area.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli military forces erupted amid an IDF-imposed closure of various entry and exit points, limiting the movement of Palestinians within the West Bank and between the West Bank and Israel, according to several Palestinian residents who told CNN on Wednesday.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said earlier this week that the military was on high alert in the area, adding it was preparing to thwart any potential attacks.

“Anyone who challenges us in Judea and Samaria will be met with huge force,” Hagari said, using the Jewish biblical names for the West Bank.

Brutal attacks

Days after Hamas launched its large-scale surprise assault on Israel, horrifying details are still emerging.

In Kfar Aza, a kibbutz in southern Israel, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told CNN that militants carried out a “massacre” in which women, children, toddlers and elderly were “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action.”

Hamas has denied that its militants beheaded children and attacked women during its surprise assault. Spokesman and senior official Izzat al-Risheq said there was “no evidence to support such claims and lies.”

Less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, the farming community Be’eri was among the worst-hit, with more than 100 bodies recovered and eyewitnesses describing assailants going door to door, breaking into homes and executing civilians.

In retaliation for the atrocities, Israeli jets have been pounding Gaza – the densely-inhabited coastal strip that Hamas controls – with hundreds of airstrikes, reducing homes and neighborhoods to rubble and trapping residents, with many cut off from food and electricity.

The IDF has also bolstered troops and tanks along the border as speculation of a possible Israeli ground incursion into Gaza grows. An IDF spokesperson said Wednesday that it has massed 300,000 reservists near the border.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he has “released all restraints” for the IDF in their fight against Hamas, saying the response will permanently change Gaza.

“They will regret this moment – Gaza will never return to what it was,” Gallant said.

Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the seaport of Gaza City on October 10.  - Mohammed Salem/Reuters
Smoke rises after Israeli strikes on the seaport of Gaza City on October 10. - Mohammed Salem/Reuters

That has deepened fears that Palestinian civilian casualties will continue to rise in the days ahead as Israel responds to the worst attack on its territory in decades.

Dozens of Israeli fighter jets struck more than 70 targets in the Daraja Tuffah area of Gaza Wednesday, where the IDF claimed “a large number of terror attacks against Israel are directed.” The IDF also said it had struck Hamas naval targets in Gaza early Wednesday, which it claimed were used to carry out attacks on the Israeli coastline.

The Palestinian Ministry of Interior Affairs said residential areas in the eastern part of Jabalia and the Qizan al-Najjar region of Khan Yunis came under intense airstrikes, with attacks targeting civilians’ homes and roads, resulting in “direct injuries among citizens,” the ministry said.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday pledged that the US would make sure Israel has the tools needed to defend itself and is surging military assistance to it.

Humanitarian crisis

Civilians in Gaza are facing a deepening humanitarian crisis as Israel ramps up its bombardment for a fifth day and the “complete siege” ordered by Israeli Defense Minister on Monday takes effect.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said imposition of sieges that endanger civilians by depriving them of essential goods “is prohibited under international humanitarian law.”

“These risks (are) seriously compounding the already dire human rights and humanitarian situation in Gaza, including the capacity of medical facilities to operate, especially in light of the increasing number of injured people,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said Tuesday.

Cutting off the water supply to Gaza “affects over 610,000 people and will result in severe shortage of drinking water,” UN OCHA’s Jens Laerke added.

The strikes have already damaged Gaza’s medical infrastructure, say Palestinian officials, and have forced more than 263,000 Palestinians to flee their homes, the United Nations said.

Destruction of infrastructure and streets by Israeli bombs is hampering efforts by medical teams to reach victims, according to the UN.

Officials with the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) said 11 of its employees have died as a result of airstrikes on Gaza and at least 14 of their facilities there have been damaged directly or indirectly.

The agency has been unable to bring any aid into Gaza since Saturday, according to UNRWA director of communications Juliette Touma.

Israel controls the movement of residents from Gaza into Israel through two crossings, Erez and Kerem Shalom, both of which have been shut.

The only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt was struck by Israeli warplanes Tuesday, the spokesperson for the Palestinian Interior Ministry Eyad al-Bozom said.

The tightly controlled Rafah crossing is the only one available to Gazans looking to flee.

The IDF said it struck the Rafah area Tuesday, including an underground tunnel used for “smuggling weapons and equipment.”

Plea for hostages

There are rising fears of the Lebanon-based Shia militant faction Hezbollah entering the conflict, potentially opening a second front in the war. The IDF said Tuesday that it has added tens of thousands of additional troops to its northern border with Lebanon in anticipation of an attack by the Iran-backed group.

In a briefing on Wednesday, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said that Hezbollah in southern Lebanon fired anti-tank missiles and rockets at Israeli positions and soldiers.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah claimed that many Israeli soldiers had been killed and injured in an attack on an Israeli site on the Lebanon-Israeli border. The IDF did not immediately respond when asked by CNN about the casualties.

Rockets were also launched from Syria into Israeli territory, the IDF said Tuesday, adding that they landed in open areas.

Families in Israel are left with little information about their missing loved ones, as Hamas warned it will start executing hostages if strikes on Gaza continue.

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog on Tuesday strongly urged the international community to pressure Hamas to unconditionally release people taken as hostages.

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said that the US has special operators who “are going to help” the Israeli military “with intelligence and planning” for potential operations regarding hostages taken by Hamas.

CNN’s Richard Allen Greene, Ibrahim Dahman, Nadeen Ebrahim, Abeer Salman, Kareem Khadder, Sophie Tanno, Xiaofei Xu, Eve Brennan, Raja Razek, Lauren Izso, Celine Alkhaldi, Kaitlan Collins, Mostafa Salem, Tamara Qiblawi, Elliott Gotkine, Charbel Mallo contributed reporting.

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