US ‘always by your side’, Blinken tells Israel in war with Hamas

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - TEL AVIV, Oct 13 — Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed unwavering US support for Israel in its war on Hamas during a visit Thursday but said the Palestinians also have “legitimate aspirations” not represented by the Islamists.

Hamas gunmen killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 150 hostages in their surprise onslaught launched from Gaza on Saturday. Israel has retaliated by raining air and artillery strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza for six days, claiming more than 1,400 lives.

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Israel has prepared for a possible ground invasion of the Palestinian territory after what has been labelled Israel’s 9/11.

“You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself,” Blinken said at a joint press conference in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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“But as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to. We will always be there by your side.”

Israeli fighter jets and drones flew above Gaza in the relentless bombardment that has levelled entire blocks and destroyed thousands of buildings, while Hamas had now fired more than 5,000 rockets at Israel from Gaza, the army said.

Jamal al-Masry said his children were wounded when an Israeli strike hit his home in Gaza City.

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“When I turned to look at my family’s house, it was in ruins, filled with martyrs and people injured,” he said, adding he would “remain steadfast” despite the destruction of “entire neighbourhoods”.

US President Joe Biden has vowed unwavering support for Israel and not called for restraint against Hamas.

But Blinken hinted at the need for an eventual peace settlement — an idea that has long met resistance from the right-wing Netanyahu.

“Anyone who wants peace and justice must condemn Hamas’ reign of terror,” Blinken said.

“We know Hamas doesn’t represent the Palestinian people, or their legitimate aspirations to live with equal measures of security, freedom, justice, opportunity and dignity.”

Netanyahu voiced appreciation for US support, which includes military aid, and said Hamas, which rules the blockaded Gaza Strip, should be treated like the Islamic State group.

“Just as ISIS was crushed, so too will Hamas be crushed. And Hamas should be treated exactly the way ISIS was treated,” Netanyahu said.

The Israeli leader’s account on X, formerly Twitter, said he showed Blinken “photos of babies murdered and burned by the Hamas monsters”.

Blinken, who heads to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar and Jordan to put pressure on Hamas and secure the release of hostages, told reporters later the images were “new evidence of depravity and the inhumanity of Hamas”.

But Hamas denied its fighters killed infants during the assault on Saturday.

Political bureau member Ezzat al-Rishaq called it a “fake and false Israeli narrative”.

“Such allegations have never been proven; no evidence has been submitted to support such false claims,” he added.

‘Cycle of violence and horror’

Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht said the military was readying for a potential order to launch a ground invasion in the war with Hamas.

“This has not been decided yet... but we are preparing for a ground manoeuvre if it is decided,” he said.

“Right now we are focused on taking out their senior leadership.”

In his first public remarks since Hamas attacked Israel, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas called for an “immediate end to comprehensive aggression against the Palestinian people”.

Fears have grown for Gaza’s 2.4 million people now enduring the fifth war in 15 years in the coastal enclave, which has also seen Israel cut off water, food and power supplies.

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz vowed the siege would remain in force until the hostages are freed.

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electric switch will be turned on, no water tap will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home,” he said.

The International Committee of the Red Cross Middle East chief Fabrizio Carboni said Gaza’s hospitals “risk turning into morgues”.

At the biggest, al-Shifa Hospital, there were chaotic scenes of an uninterrupted stream of ambulances, relatives asking for news and wails of anguish from relatives of the dead.

An AFP team saw dozens of bodies wrapped in white shrouds in cold storage units and covering the floor of the mortuary.

UN chief Antonio Guterres voiced concern about the “supercharged cycle of violence and horror”, and urged the release of all hostages and the lifting of the siege.

“We’re already in an untenable situation,” added his spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Blinken said he spoke to Netanyahu about the “humanitarian needs” of Gaza while defending the right to retaliate for Hamas attacks.

Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, however, urged Gazans to “stay steadfast and remain on their land”, as Cairo faced calls to allow safe passage for civilians via the Rafah border crossing.

‘All I do is cry’

Israel has called up 300,000 reservists and rushed forces, tanks and heavy armour to the southern desert areas around Gaza from where Hamas fighters launched their unprecedented attack on October 7.

Israeli soldiers have since then swept the southern towns and kibbutz communities and killed 1,500 of the militants, while making ever more shocking discoveries of large numbers of dead civilians.

“It looks like... an atomic bomb just landed here,” Doron Spielman, an Israeli army spokesman, said at one gated community where more than 100 residents were killed.

Israeli outrage has been further fuelled by Hamas’s capture of at least 150 hostages — mostly Israelis but also foreign and dual nationals — now being held in Gaza.

“I know he’s out there somewhere,” one of the affected Israelis, Ausa Meir, said of her brother Michael, who is among the captives.

“It’s very, very painful.”

Hamas has threatened to kill hostages if Israel bombs Gaza civilian targets without advance warning — deepening the anger and fear in shell-shocked Israel.

‘We must win’

Israel’s war now flaring in the south is further complicated by a threat from the north, the Iran-backed Hezbollah group based in Lebanon.

The army has massed tanks on the border after repeated clashes with Hezbollah in recent days, including cross-border rockets and shelling.

As Israel seeks to boost its military forces, flag carrier El Al said it would operate special flights to bring back reserve soldiers from overseas on the weekly Jewish day of rest.

“It’s really sad what happened. We don’t believe what Hamas did... we are going to fight back,” said one of them, Ido Malka, who flew in from Los Angeles.

In a show of “solidarity with the victims of the Hamas terrorist attacks”, European Commission and Parliament presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Roberta Metsola said they would visit Israel Friday.

The United States has sent munitions to Israel and deployed an aircraft carrier battle group to the eastern Mediterranean in a show of support, while warning Israel’s other enemies not to enter the conflict.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said Washington has “not placed any conditions” on the way Israel can use the weapons it has provided to its ally.

In London, the UK said it was sending two Royal Navy ships and surveillance aircraft to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel, as well as “ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation”.

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari warned: “Our enemies should know we are ready on all fronts.”

Israel’s arch foe Iran has long financially and militarily backed Hamas and praised its attack, but insists it was not involved.

Iran’s ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi called on Islamic and Arab countries to confront Israel and support the “oppressed Palestinian nation”, in a phone call with his Syrian ally Bashar al-Assad.

The Washington Post reported that US and Qatari officials had agreed to prevent Iran from using a US$6 billion humanitarian assistance fund.

Israel also struck Syria’s two main airports, in Damascus and Aleppo, in “simultaneous” attacks on landing strips that put them out of service”, state media said, citing an unidentified military source. — AFP

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