In show of support for Israel, U.S. ramps up its troops in Mediterranean
Death toll from Hamas’ brutal terrorist attack continues to rise, surpassing 1,400 people, with close to a further 200 people still missing
Jeon Heon-Kyun - Pool/Getty Images
The U.S. continued to ramp up its support for Israel over the weekend, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordering an additional aircraft carrier – the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower – to begin making its way to the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The Eisenhower CSG will join the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, which arrived earlier this week,” a Department of Defense statement said. In addition, the statement said, the U.S. Air Force will also deploy to the region squadrons of F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft.
In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday night, President Joe Biden, who is reportedly mulling a trip to Israel in the coming days, said the U.S. would provide the Jewish state with “everything they need.”
He said he believed that Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that carried out the mass brutal attack against Israel on Oct. 7, should be “eliminated,” adding that it would be a mistake for Israel to re-occupy Gaza.
“Hamas and extremist elements do not represent the Palestinian people,” said the president, adding, “I think it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza again… there must be a path to a Palestinian state.”
The president also warned Hezbollah, the Shiite militia group in Lebanon, not to spark an additional conflict on Israel’s northern border.
Throughout the weekend, the IDF continued its retaliation assault on Gaza with military jets striking key Hamas targets and individuals, as well as limited ground raids inside the territory in order to shore up the border area and collect critical intelligence, a spokesman for the army told journalists on Saturday.
An army announcement said that six key Hamas operatives have been killed in the airstrikes, including the Nukhba commander of forces in southern Khan Yunis, Billal al-Kedra. A joint statement from the IDF and Israel’s Security Agency said that Al-Kedra was responsible for the massacre of civilians on Kibbutz Nirim. Muetaz Eid, the Hamas commander of the Southern District of National Security, was also killed.
Additionally, the IDF struck more than one hundred military targets in the areas of Zaytun, Khan Yunis and West Jabaliya. The strikes, targeting operational command centers, military compounds, dozens of rocket and anti-tank missile launch sites and observation posts, severely impacted the capabilities of the Hamas terrorist organization, the army said.
Still, Palestinian terrorists continued to fire rockets into Israeli territory, causing damage in central Israeli cities such as Bat Yam and sending residents of Tel Aviv into shelters.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the death toll from Hamas’ brutal terror attack and the fallout this past week has caused the death toll in Israel to surpass 1,400 people, with a further 3,500 people injured, some critically. In a televised statement on Saturday, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said that the families of some 289 soldiers had been notified of their deaths in the Oct. 7 attack. On Monday, Hagari said that the army had been in contact with more than 199 families informing them that their relatives were likely being held hostage in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally met with representatives of the families on Sunday and promised that returning those being held in Gaza was among the top priorities of the war and did not contradict Israel’s military goals.
In a briefing with journalists over the weekend, Israel’s point person for hostages and missing people, Lt.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch, said that he had started building a team to handle the massive job ahead and that, “We are working around the clock to identify all the bodies and to bring the difficult, terrible news to the families.”
However, Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi, during a press conference a day earlier, said that there were no active negotiation efforts taking place because it was impossible to negotiate with a terrorist organization. There have been some unofficial reports of a back channel.
In Gaza, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that some 2670 people had been killed in Israel’s continuing airstrikes, 455 in the past 24 hours.
Following pressure on Israel and Egypt to provide some humanitarian relief to citizens in the Palestinian enclave, Israel agreed to allow water into the Strip on Saturday but only for those now in the southern region of the territory, as it continued to warn residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City to leave their homes ahead of an almost certain IDF ground operation.
Speaking from Egypt on Sunday, Secretary of State Tony Blinken, who has been in the region last week, said that the U.S. was “determined to do everything we can to address the needs of people in Gaza.”
“We are now very actively engaged with countries in the region, with the United Nations, with Israel, to make sure, to the best of our ability, that people can get out of harm’s way and that the assistance they need – the food, water, medicine – can get in,” he said.
On Sunday, Biden appointed Ambassador David Satterfield to lead humanitarian efforts, and there were unconfirmed reports that Egypt was considering opening the Rafah border crossing with Gaza to allow Gazans with foreign citizenship to escape the fighting.
Also over the weekend, the IDF shared photographs of the cache of paperwork, phones, and weapons it captured over the past week from the thousands of terrorists who infiltrated Israel last weekend.
Among the materials, the IDF reported recovering an operational handbook with detailed maps and plans for attacking and capturing dozens of communities near the Gaza border in southern Israel. The army said it was in the process of assembling a task force “to investigate, analyze, and examine the wide array of items collected from the terrorists.”
In northern Israel, despite the president’s clear warnings, Islamist Shiite militia Hezbollah continued to threaten stability by firing several rounds of anti-tank missiles across the border, prompting Israel’s military to respond with airstrikes on targets in southern Lebanon and Syria. On Saturday, Reuters reported that one of its photojournalists working in the area had been killed in an Israeli strike. IDF spokesman for the international media, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, said the army was still investigating the incident.
In accordance with the rising tension in the north, the Israeli army said on Sunday that an area of “up to four kilometers from the northern border with Lebanon has been closed” to civilians.
In other parts of Israel, further from the southern and northern borders, Israel’s Education Ministry said it was preparing to reopen schools that have been closed since Oct. 7, even as an estimated 50,000 people have been evacuated from the area around Gaza. Estimates are that as many 13,000 people have been displaced permanently from the immediate area along the border, with mass destruction of homes and communities by the terrorists.