Israel has stepped up its ferocious pounding of the besieged Gaza Strip as its troops struggled to clear out Hamas fighters more than two days after they burst across the fence from Gaza and overran Israeli bases.
Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin said he has ordered the Ford carrier strike group to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist Israel.
Israeli warplanes bombed a densely populated neighborhood at the Jabalia refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
The Gaza Health Ministry said the death toll from the Israeli attacks had reached 510, including 91 children and 61 women, with 2,751 others injured.
In a statement, the Israeli air force said it had dropped some 2,000 munitions and more than 1,000 ton bombs on Gaza in the last 20 hours.
“The Zionist enemy’s military targeting and bombing of homes inhabited by women and children, mosques and schools in Gaza amount to war crimes and terrorism,” Hamas official Izzat Reshiq said in a statement.
Power outages left hospitals and medical facilities in a tight spot, amid a shortage of medicine and medical equipment.
According to rights groups, Israeli attacks have killed multiple members of several families in Gaza.
The Israeli strikes have also led to the displacement of more than 123,000 people in the Gaza Strip, according to the United Nations.
“Over 123,538 people have been internally displaced in Gaza, mostly due to fear, protection concerns and the destruction of their homes,” the UN’s humanitarian agency, OCHA, said on Monday.
More than 73,000 are sheltering in schools, some of which have been designated emergency shelters.
Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), said he expected the numbers to increase further.
Gaza, home to over two million Palestinians, has been under Israeli siege since June 2007. The tight blockade has caused a decline in the standards of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.
Minister of military affairs Yoav Gallant said on Monday Israel is escalating measures against the Gaza Strip to a “total blockade” including a ban on admitting food and fuel, describing this as part of a battle against “beastly people”.
“We are putting a complete siege on Gaza… No electricity, no food, no water, no gas — it’s all closed,” Gallant said in a video message, referring to the enclave that is overcrowded with 2.3 million people.
Israel’s chief military spokesperson said the regime has drafted a record 300,000 reservists as it is “going on the offensive”.
Since Saturday’s surprise operation by Hamas, Israeli aircraft have been pounding Gaza targets while its ground forces have struggled to retake control of villages and towns overrun by Palestinian fighters.
On Monday, fighting was still raging at seven or eight locations inside Israel captured by the fighters.
“It’s taking more time than we expected to get things back into a defensive, security posture,” Israeli Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told a briefing with journalists.
Hamas fighters were continuing to cross into Israel from Gaza, Hecht said.
In the occupied territories, sirens sounded in the Tel Aviv area and al-Quds, and witnesses in the latter city heard explosions that may have been from rocket impacts.
The Israeli military said more than 700 Israelis have been killed since Hamas launched Operation Al-Aqsa Storm on Saturday, but Yediot Ahronot said it estimated there were 1,000 deaths among the Israelis.
Hamas has said the surprise, unprecedented operation came in response to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians in the occupied territories, its 16-year-old blockade of Gaza and the regime’s violations at al-Aqsa Mosque.
The group fired thousands of missiles toward Israel and managed to take control of a vast area near Gaza.
Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziad al-Nakhala has said the number of Israeli forces and settlers that have been captured by the resistance fighters and taken into Gaza amounts to “dozens and more.”
In a sign of direct involvement, the US announced that it was sending additional weapons and munitions to Israel and moving an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean closer to the occupied territories.
Austin said he has ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford to sail to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to assist the occupying regime.
Hamas slammed the US aid as an “aggression” against Palestinians.
The Kremlin said there is a “high risk” of a third party entering the conflict.
“The risk of third forces becoming involved in this conflict is high,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency.
“It is very important to find ways as soon as possible to move towards some kind of negotiation process in order to reduce this escalation and move away from a military solution,” he said.
A senior official with Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement, Hashem Safieddine, also warned that the move will lead to a regional escalation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with Secretary General of the League of Arab States Ahmed Aboul Gheit in Moscow that it is necessary to “urgently stop clashes” between Israel and Hamas to spare civilian victims.
He also said there is a need to “pay special attention to the reasons why a solution to the Palestinian problem has not been found for decades.”