The death toll in Israel has reached at least 600 people, according to government numbers, with more than 100 believed to be kidnapped and more than 2,000 people injured after the Hamas militant group attacked the country by air, land and sea.
Officials in Gaza say at least 370 people have died in the territory as well.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Sunday afternoon that he has directed the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group to move to the eastern Mediterranean “to bolster regional deterrence efforts” as fears grow of a broader spread of violence.
The Associated Press reported on Sunday morning that soldiers were battling with Hamas fighters in the streets and buildings in Gaza were levelled by retaliation strikes by the Israelis. But the south was not the only place where fighting was seen, with reporting noting a brief exchange with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group also erupting in the north, raising fears the conflict could grow.
German Chancellor OIaf Scholz stressed the need to avoid a wider “conflagration” in the Middle East.
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the security cabinet had approved the state of war that he had vowed a day earlier. The security cabinet also said in a statement it has approved cutting off the supply of electricity, goods and fuel into Gaza.
Netanyahu said the country is now embarking on “a long and difficult war.”
Included in the U.S. strike group moving into the eastern Mediterranean is the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the guided missile cruiser USS Normandy, and guided missile destroyers USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney and USS Roosevelt.
“The U.S. maintains ready forces globally to further reinforce this deterrence posture if required,” he said.
Last week it was conducting naval exercises with Italy in the Ionian Sea. It’s the United States newest and most advanced aircraft carrier and this is its first full deployment.
Austin said it would also be providing Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with additional equipment and resources, including munitions, with the first assistance set to move on Sunday with it arriving in the coming days.
He said the military is also augmenting its multiple fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.
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As Israel faces the biggest and deadliest incursion into the country in 50 years, the response to the onslaught has raised questions among security experts.
Cliff Kupchan with the Eurasia Group told Global News in an interview on Saturday that Israel may have been caught off guard due to two national preoccupations: Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reforms and the resulting protests, and a focus by the Israel Defence Forces on the West Bank.
“It may be the case that we learn soon that they’ve taken their eyes off the south and that vulnerability has been exploited,” he said.
Number of captured unknown
Hamas has also claimed it has taken several Israelis captive, including senior Israeli military officers. In a video released shortly after midnight, it also said that the number captured was “several times greater” than dozens and that the abductions were spread throughout all areas of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli military has confirmed a “substantial” number of Israelis were abducted, but has yet to give an exact figure.
An Egyptian official told the Associated Press that Israel has reached out to Cairo for help in ensuring the safety of those abducted, with Egypt’s intelligence chief having contacted both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad militant group for information.
The official said Palestinian leaders don’t yet have a “full picture” of the hostages, but those brought to Gaza were taken to “secure locations.”
The official added that talks of a potential ceasefire had also been raised with both sides, but Israel was not open to a truce “at this stage.”
Kupchan also said Saturday it would be difficult for Netanyahu not to do something others have avoided for 20 years: a land war in the Gaza Strip to dismantle Hamas’s operational capability.
He added that wasn’t necessarily the next step but it would mark a “major escalation that we’re on the cusp of as we speak.”
As the conflict continues, the United Nations agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) said more than 20,000 people were sheltering in 44 of its schools around Gaza by Saturday evening.
“The number (of displaced) is rapidly increasing,” Inas Hamdan, the acting public information officer in Gaza, said.
Hamdan said three of its schools suffered “collateral” damage from Israeli airstrikes and nine of its water wells around the Gaza Strip were also stopped. Its food distribution centres, which provide for more than 540,000 residents have been closed since Saturday.
As Palestinians in the area seek shelter, Germany’s development minister said Sunday it would be reviewing its aid for Palestinian areas following the attack.
Germany currently does not finance the Palestinian Authority directly, but about $362 million, or 250 million Euros, is pledged in aid with half going to the UNRWA.
“These attacks on Israel are a terrible watershed, so we will review our whole commitment to the Palestinian areas,” Development Minister Svenja Schulze said, adding it took care that its aid “serves peace and not the terrorists.”
Her comments came as Scholz said he would talk with the leaders of the U.S., France and U.K. to evaluate the situation.
“It is clear that we condemn the actions of Hamas in the strongest terms, but above all we are doing everything so that this attack doesn’t turn into a conflagration with incalculable consequences for the whole region — and we warn everyone in this situation against fuelling terrorism,” he said.
‘Terrorism and war bring no solutions’
In the hours since the first strike, numerous world leaders have condemned the violence, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden.
On Sunday, Trudeau spoke with Netanyahu, according to a readout from Canada’s Prime Minister’s Office.
It said Trudeau had “unequivocally condemned” the attacks by Hamas militants and expressed his deep condolences for those killed. He also told Netanyahu that Canada was “gravely concerned about the atrocities that have been committed” and is monitoring the situation closely and supported Israel’s right to defend itself.
Pope Francis, in his Sunday address, called for an end to violence and the attacks.
“Let the attacks and weapons cease, please, because it must be understood that terrorism and war bring no solutions, but only to the death and suffering of many innocent lives,” he said.
Global Affairs Canada has said there are no signs of any Canadian nationals being killed or injured during the attacks. However, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday that they were working to verify reports of missing or dead Americans overseas.
Blinken also said they were looking at additional requests for assistance that the Israelis have made, and more developments could come later on Sunday.
U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Rep. Michael McCaul said in an interview with CNN that there were plans to bring forward a bipartisan resolution that condemns Hamas “for what they have done to Israel.”
The resolution would likely be the first items to be considered once the House elects a new Speaker, though McCaul said they want to get it on the floor whether a Speaker is in place or not.
Also in New York, the UN Security Council held an emergency meeting behind closed doors with the U.S. demanding all 15 members strongly condemn “these heinous terrorist attacks committed by Hamas.”
Israel’s ambassador to the UN told reporters before heading into the meeting that the conflict was “Israel’s 9/11.” He said the country’s one demand as the Security Council meets is that the “unimaginable atrocity must be condemned” and that Israel be given support to defend itself.
“Israel must be given steadfast support to defend ourselves, to defend the free world,” Gilad Erdan said.
The Palestinian permanent observer also spoke to reporters, with Riyad Mansour saying Israel’s policies were “an assault on our humanity.”
“Israel expects and demands political and military support while advancing goals that are fundamentally at odds with international legitimacy and consensus,” he said. “A different path is possible, but it cannot ignore the lives and rights of the Palestinian people. It must guarantee them equal measures of freedom and security.
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said staff in the embassy in Tel Aviv are all accounted for and that officials are working to support Canadians in Israel.
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As the fighting continues, several major airlines in Canada and the U.S. have cancelled flights to Ben Gurion International Airport in Israel.
United Airlines, Delta and American Airlines have all announced a temporary suspension of services to and from the international airport near Tel Aviv.
Air Canada said its flights from Toronto and Montreal were both suspended and those scheduled to travel to Tel Aviv should contact their airline for more information.
–with files from The Associated Press and Reuters