The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invaded the Palestinian territory of Gaza in the last days of October, closing in on Gaza City, which lies in the northeast, from multiple directions as of press time.
Weeks of airstrikes preceded the operation, for which the IDF has mobilized hundreds of thousands of soldiers since Oct. 7, when terrorist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, took advantage of the Yom Kippur holiday to launch a series of raids on Israeli border communities, killing 1,400 people and abducting hundreds of others to hold as hostages.
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Complicating the invasion is the urban environment of Gaza and the more than 2 million people who live in the Philadelphia-sized (about 140 sq. mi.) strip of land wedged between Israel and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Israeli airstrikes aimed at softening Hamas resistance have already resulted in at least 8,800 deaths, according to the Hamas-run Gazan health ministry.
In addition, more than 100 people have been killed in various violent incidents in the West Bank, the larger Palestinian territory that lies east of Jerusalem.
Israeli advances and challenges
Israeli troops advanced into northwestern Gaza along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the direction of the Al-Shati refugee camp; in the northeast, they approached Gaza City via its suburbs, taking a smaller amount of territory near the town of Beit-Hanoun.
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To the south of Gaza City, the IDF is cutting across the territory width-wise in a move that could see a link-up with its troops advancing along the Mediterranean coast.
Military YouTuber Weeb Union (WU) in a Nov. 1 video noted that the Israelis “have hardly advanced in the northeastern parts compared with the northwestern and central parts” of the Gaza Strip.
The reason for this can be explained by the relatively open ground outside Gaza City where the Palestinian forces are at a tactical disadvantage. When the IDF “drive through these fields they hardly face anything, only direct fire from the urban areas,” WU said.
The YouTuber noted that in the northwestern axis of advance, the IDF troops were able to take sections of cityscape by virtue of its being along the coast, but this has opened them up to ambushes and attacks from underground by the Palestinians.
Gaza City itself is about 18 square miles, and heavily fortified by tens of thousands of Hamas personnel who are embedded among the 1 million civilians living in the city prior to the invasion.
Israeli authorities have called for Gazans to leave the city for the south, or beyond the strip’s borders into Egypt, which, together with neighboring Jordan to the east, is largely not accepting Palestinian refugees, though Egypt is taking in small numbers of wounded persons of dual nationality.
The Israeli forces have, in addition to their invasion, also cut off all supplies and aid to Gaza.
Mounting further attacks into Gaza City could become increasingly challenging for the IDF. “”The deeper they go in the longer they fight, the harder it becomes,” WU said, noting that the amount of territory the Israelis took daily halved by the day in the final days of October.
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“There are more ambush points, there are more soldiers,” WU said of the resistance encountered by the Israelis as they advance further.
The last time Israeli troops invaded Gaza was in 2014, but that operation took place on a much smaller scale.
Now, the IDF operation involves 500,000 soldiers and aims at the complete destruction of Hamas, a group founded in 1988 that calls for the eradication of Israel and genocide of the Jews.
Members of Hamas and other terrorist groups have frequently launched rockets into Israeli communities, including a massive barrage in the Oct. 7 attacks that in some areas overwhelmed Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defenses.
Hamas took power in Gaza following a 2006 election, which was then backed up by their victory in a civil war against the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) the next year. The PLO, which governs the West Bank, supports coexistence with Israel, having negotiated the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.
Perennial wars have scoured the Near East since the rise of the Zionist movement in the mid-20th century, which accelerated greatly following the mass migration of Jews from around the world to Palestine in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust.
A U.N.-brokered two-state solution fell apart as Palestinian and allied Arab forces tried — and failed — to vanquish the Jewish state, which was founded in 1948 as a successor to the Biblical kingdom of Israel.
As Israel’s territory grew with each war, millions of Palestinians were forced into increasingly smaller portions of land. Apart from Hamas’ actions, a point of tension in recent years has been the continued Jewish settlement of favorable areas in the West Bank, often at the expense of Palestinian residents.
The Biden administration has confirmed military and financial support for Israel in the latest war. As of press time, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is scheduled to visit Israel and Jordan on Nov. 3 (Friday).
Blinken “will meet with [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and other leaders of the Israeli government to receive an update on their military objectives,” U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller announced during a press briefing on Wednesday.