Israel begins mass evacuation of residents of Kiryat Shmona
The move comes following a barrage of some 30 rockets fired by Hezbollah, as well as Hamas, from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory
Ali Hashisho/Xinhua via Getty Images
Israel evacuated more than 20,000 residents of the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on Friday, following a barrage of some 30 rockets fired by the Iran-backed Shiite terror group Hezbollah, as well as Hamas, from southern Lebanon into Israeli territory on Thursday.
According to an announcement by the National Emergency Authority, a department in the Ministry of Defense, buses were already operating early Friday morning to help the population of the city to leave the area. Those being evacuated will be housed in state-funded hotels and guest houses, the statement said.
Tensions have been rising on Israel’s northern border since Hamas carried out a mass terrorist attack in the country’s south on Oct. 7, with ongoing artillery fire, anti-tank missiles and rockets shot from southern Lebanon into Israel. The army also reported several infiltration attempts, eliminating four members of a terrorist cell earlier in the week.
On Thursday, Hezbollah appeared to be ramping up its attacks, firing an estimated 30 rockets into northern communities across the Upper Galilee region, sending residents of Shlomi, Rosh Pina, Kiryat Shmona, Nahariya, Hanita, Shomra, Even Menachem and Betzet into shelters. Light injuries were reported.
Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a televised statement on Thursday night that some of the rocket fire was also carried out by Hamas terror cells stationed in southern Lebanon, with the support and permission of Hezbollah. He said that Israeli forces had retaliated for the rocket barrage, targeting the site of the fire, as well as several other Hezbollah sites.
In addition to the rocket fire from Lebanon, the Pentagon said in a statement on Thursday that its forces in the northern Red Sea had shot down three land-attack cruise missiles and several drones launched by Houthi forces in Yemen, potentially targeting Israel.
The Pentagon’s press secretary, Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, said in a televised statement that the U.S. response “was a demonstration of the Integrated air and missile defense architecture that we have built in the Middle East and that we are prepared to utilize whenever necessary to protect our partners and our interests in this important region.”
On Thursday, Israel’s Ministry of Defense said that it had received a cargo plane from the United States carrying the initial shipment of armored vehicles. The vehicles will replace those damaged during the war and are part of a large-scale procurement operation aimed at bolstering the army’s existing fleet of vehicles.
Director General of the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. (res.) Eyal Zamir, said in a statement that he had authorized procurement orders in Israel and internationally amounting to more than NIS 400 million.
As Israel gears up for a likely ground operation in Gaza, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited troops in the south, telling soldiers that while this was going to be a “long” and “intensive” war, “the best commanders and soldiers are here.”
Gallant also took responsibility for the failures of Oct. 7, saying, “I am responsible for Israel’s defense establishment. I have been responsible for it over the past two weeks, including during the difficult events we have experienced, and I am tasked with leading us to victory.”
“We will be precise and forceful, and we will keep going until we fulfill our mission,” he said.
As part of the preparation for the ground offensive, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the Southern Command, also toured the various units stationed in the south on Thursday and reportedly approved some of the plans for the ground operation moving forward.
Israel’s Channel 12 News reported on Thursday that Gallant had already established a think tank to prepare for the day after the dissolution of Hamas, including determining who will ultimately control the Palestinian enclave.
Throughout the day on Thursday, IDF aircraft and fighter jets continued to strike military targets belonging to terrorist organizations in the Strip, hitting hundreds of targets belonging to Hamas, including an underground tunnel, weapon warehouses, and dozens of operational command centers. In addition, the army said it had killed two members of Hamas’ elite naval forces, Mabduh Shaalabi and Amjad Majed Muhammad Abu Odeh.
In Gaza, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that the death toll was continuing to rise, with an additional 307 Palestinians killed in 24 hours. Citing figures from the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, the agency put the overall number of dead at 3,785, including at least 1,524 children. Hundreds of additional fatalities are believed to be trapped under the rubble, the agency said.
In addition, OCHA noted that essential humanitarian aid, including food, water, medicines, and fuel, which had been expected to arrive from Egypt via the Rafah Crossing on Thursday had still not made it through. Media reports suggested that the aid was unlikely to reach Gaza on Friday too.
On Thursday night, Hagari shared an update about the fate of those believed being held hostage in Gaza. Some 203 families have been notified by the army that their loved ones were kidnapped, he said, adding that there are still more than 100 people unaccounted for.
There is speculation that while most of the hostages are in Hamas’ hands, other terrorist groups and even some individuals are also holding some of the captives. The army also estimated that of those being held, around 30 are minors and a further 20 are over the age of 60. According to reports, the army assessment is that most of them are still alive.
Also on Thursday, the army shared details of a new intelligence unit established to locate the captives and piece together intelligence about the fate of the missing. Headed by MG (res.) Nitzan Alon, the unit includes intelligence, technology, and security agency personnel, as well as hundreds of reservists and volunteers from Israel’s high-tech industry. New technological systems have been developed dedicated to this effort, the army statement said.
Tensions were also rising in the West Bank on Thursday as the army continued to apprehend dozens of Hamas terrorists and others they believe pose a threat to Israelis and soldiers stationed there. In the area of Tulkarm, Israeli forces clashed with Palestinians in Nur Shams Camp and one Israeli border police officer was killed.