Saturday marked two weeks since the Hamas rampage that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and triggered Israel’s declaration of war. Two of the more than 200 hostages believed to have been seized by Hamas during the terror attack, Judith Raanan and her teenage daughter, Natalie, were released Friday. Negotiations are continuing among several countries and Hamas representatives in Qatar about the other hostages, but there is no indication of when they might be released or how they are faring in captivity.
The exact number of hostages and their fates remain uncertain. “The majority of the hostages are alive,” the Israeli military said Friday in a statement that provided cold comfort to the families. The military said that more than 20 of the hostages are under 18 and at least 10 are over 60.
With tanks, armored personnel carriers and militarized bulldozers massed near the northern Gaza border in preparation for what Israel has said will be a ground invasion to wipe out the top leadership of Hamas, residents of the enclave waited anxiously on Saturday for full-scale war. The Israeli military has outlined plans of an invasion of Gaza that would include tens of thousands of soldiers ordered to capture Gaza City, in the northern part of the territory.
Israel’s military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Saturday that the country planned to step up its airstrikes as preparation for the next stage of the war, presumably referring to a ground invasion.
“We will deepen our attacks to minimize the dangers to our forces in the next stages of the war,” Hagari said, according to The Associated Press.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said Saturday that the death toll from hundreds of Israeli airstrikes over the past two weeks is at least 4,385 people, many of them women and children.
Fears persisted over the weekend that the war in Gaza could spread to a second front or more.
Israel and armed groups in Lebanon continued to exchange fire on Saturday. The Israeli military said militants had launched missiles and rockets at Israel and that its forces had responded by striking targets in Lebanon, including some affiliated with the politically powerful Hezbollah.
The Israeli authorities have ordered an evacuation of at least 29 communities close to the Lebanese border, including the city of Kiryat Shmona. As of Saturday, about 10,000 of its 23,000 residents remained, according to Yoram Maman, a city council member. Authorities hoped to begin wrapping up the operation by Sunday, he said.
Middle East Airlines, Lebanon’s national airline, has begun to cancel and reschedule some flights in and out of Beirut as tensions rise with Israel. On Friday, the carrier said that more than half of its airplanes would not be operating in the coming week. Foreign embassies in Lebanon have in recent days urged their citizens to leave that country while commercial flights remain available.
Leaders, foreign ministers and diplomats from dozens of Arab, European, African and other countries gathered in Cairo on Saturday for a “peace summit” aimed at de-escalating the violence in Gaza. But after hours of speeches, they had little to show for the trip other than a gaping divide, as Arab leaders castigated Western countries for not speaking out about the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
“The message the Arab world is hearing is loud and clear,” King Abdullah II of Jordan said in his remarks. “Palestinian lives matter less than Israeli ones. Our lives matter less than other lives. The application of international law is optional, and human rights have boundaries — they stop at borders, they stop at races and they stop at religions.”