Australians fly to Israel to join war as Palestinians urged to flee to southern Gaza

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Australians with specialist skills are flying to Israel to join the nation’s war against Hamas as around one million Palestine citizens were instructed to flee to the south of Gaza ahead of an expected Israeli ground invasion in the coming days that is expected to see casualties soar.

With the Australian government arranging charter flights to help Australian citizens escape Israel, Israeli ambassador to Australia Amir Maimon said his nation was committed to striking a fatal blow against the Hamas militant group that has ruled Gaza since 2007.

Israeli tanks head towards the Gaza Strip border in southern Israel on Thursday. Last weekend’s attack by Hamas prompted a declaration of war by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: AP

“This is a war we did not ask for or start, but we are determined to win it,” said Maimon, who was visiting Israel when Hamas launched a brutal series of killings on Israeli civilians across the Gaza border last Saturday.

A senior Israeli official confirmed that some Australian residents with specialised skills and training were among the 360,000 reservists who have been called up to fight since Israel declared war against the terrorist group.

Some reservists made their way from Australia to Israel on commercial flights in the past week, while others linked up with a repatriation flight from Bangkok organised by the Israeli government.

The official would not confirm how many reservists had left Australia to return and fight for Israel.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) issued a statement on Friday afternoon, Australian time, calling for all citizens of Gaza City to move to the area south of the Wadi Gaza, a river that divides the enclave’s north and south.

“The Hamas terrorist organisation waged a war against the State of Israel and Gaza City is an area where military operations take place,” the statement said.

“This evacuation is for your own safety.

“You will be able to return to Gaza City only when another announcement permitting it is made….Hamas terrorists are hiding in Gaza City inside tunnels underneath houses and inside buildings populated with innocent Gazan civilians.

“Civilians of Gaza City, evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields.”

The United Nations said it received an evacuation order from the IDF saying everyone in northern Gaza – around half the enclave’s population of two million people – should leave within the next 24 hours and head south.

In a press conference late Friday evening (AEDT), Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant would not comment on how long Palestinians had to make their way to the south of Gaza before heavy fighting began.

Asked directly about the widely reported 24-hour timeline, Gallant said only that the military was “asking all the civilians in Gaza City to go south of Gaza… those who want to save their lives, please go.”

Residents in Gaza City, which has been pummelled by Israeli air strikes in recent days, have been instructed to flee south. Credit: Getty

Gallant said the objective of the coming Israeli offensive was to destroy Hamas infrastructure, headquarters and military establishment.

A spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that the area included 1.1 million people and that the task would be “impossible without devastating humanitarian consequences”.

“The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded, avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation,” the spokesman said, adding that it applied to Gazans sheltering in UN facilities, and to UN staff.

Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the IDF would operate with “significant force” in Gaza City in the coming days because it was a key site for Hamas militants.

“Out of an understanding that there are civilians here who are not our enemy, and we do not want to target them, we are asking them to evacuate so that we will be able to continue to strike military targets belonging to Hamas in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, who is in Tel Aviv as a show of support, told a press conference munitions, air defence capabilities, and interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome system were flowing rapidly into the country, promising to deploy further assets if required.

Austin said the US would share with Israel lessons learned in its fight against the Islamic State terrorist group, including how to operate effectively in dense urban terrain and creating safe humanitarian corridors.

A ground invasion of Gaza – Israel’s first since 2014 – could lead to door-to-door combat and heavy casualties of troops and civilians. The mission is also complicated by Israel’s attempts to retrieve around 150 hostages who were smuggled over the border by Hamas.

Hamas said Israel’s bombardment has killed 13 of the hostages, including foreigners. It did not give the nationality of the foreigners, saying they were killed over the last 24 hours. An Israeli military spokesperson said authorities would comment once they had reliable information.

Hamas, meanwhile, instructed Gazans to remain in their homes and not to submit to a “psychological war waged by the occupation”.

The Israeli military said it struck 750 military targets in northern Gaza overnight, including what it said were Hamas tunnels, military compounds, residences of senior operatives and weapons storage warehouses.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said fuel powering emergency generators at hospitals in Gaza could run out within hours as the United Nations World Food Programme warned that food and fresh water were running dangerously low.

Smoke rises from Israeli raids on Friday.Credit: Getty

“The human misery caused by this escalation is abhorrent, and I implore the sides to reduce the suffering of civilians,” Red Cross regional director Fabrizio Carboni said.

An estimated 1300 people died in Israel, including 247 soldiers, during Hamas’s unprecedented weekend assaults while more than 1500 people have now died in Gaza as a result of the retaliatory attacks.

Israeli officials said roughly 1,500 Hamas militants had been killed inside Israel, and that hundreds of the dead in Gaza were Hamas members.

The Palestinian delegation in Australia said Israel was “implementing a vicious campaign of collective punishment against the civilian population it has held captive in Gaza for 16 years, now using starvation as a method of warfare and cutting off water, medicine, fuel, and other basic necessities”.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Transport Minister Catherine King announced on Friday that two government-supported charter flights were being organised from Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv to Dubai.

Those flights come on top of the two already announced Qantas flights from Ben Gurion airport to London that will operate on Friday and Sunday.

“In addition, Qantas has agreed to support Australians arriving in London on assisted-departure flights from Tel Aviv by offering an A380 flight from London to Sydney via Singapore free of charge,” Wong and King said in a statement.

“The Australian government will continue to work on options for onward travel from Dubai and to support those who cannot reach Tel Aviv.”

As for the estimated 19 Australians in Gaza, the ministers said: “Departures from Gaza are challenging due to the dangerous security situation.

“Australians there should contact the consular emergency centre as soon as possible.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been visiting Israel, described gruesome photos of Israeli victims shown to him by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“A baby, an infant, riddled with bullets; soldiers beheaded,” he said. “Young people burned alive. I could go on, but it’s simply depravity in the worst imaginable way.”

“So images are worth a thousand words,” Blinken said. “These images may be worth a million.”

Blinken said he had been in talks to try to identify a safe passage for Palestinians in Gaza, but said the issue was complicated by the fact that Hamas uses citizens as “human shields”.

“Something that’s not new, something that they’ve always done: intentionally putting civilians in harm’s way to protect themselves,” he said. “So that’s one of the basic facts that Israel has to deal with.”

with Reuters, AP

More coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

  • Surprise attack: Hamas terrorists fired up to 5000 rockets from Gaza into Israel on October 7, triggering a declaration of war. Read our guide to the militant group and why it’s at war with Israel.
  • The Iron Dome explained: How did Hamas breach Israel’s sophisticated anti-ballistic missile system? And why didn’t Israel’s intelligence services see these attacks coming?
  • Tragedy in Israel: A 66-year-old Sydney woman has been killed and is the first known Australian casualty. Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong says the woman’s family in Israel and Australia is receiving consular assistance.
  • What’s next: International editor Peter Hartcher joins the Please Explain podcast to analyse the escalating conflict in the Gaza Strip – and explain why a much bigger conflict is afoot.

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