- Israel says the images back up claims Hamas are using civilians as human shields
- Presence of rocket launch sites at the locations provided could not be verified
Israel’s Defence Forces have published what they claim is proof of Hamas rocket launch sites nestled among mosques, schools and nurseries in Gaza.
A series of satellite images, shared on the IDF’s official website and social media accounts, shows what they claim are launch pits dug into the ground right next to the civilian structures – something Israel says backs up their claims that Hamas is using the Palestinian people as human shields.
Two alleged launch sites were located a stone’s throw away from each other, one in the garden of a mosque, and another mere feet away from a kindergarten.
A third was seen across the road from a UN building in Gaza and a fourth was located opposite the Manfaluti Secondary School for Boys.
Geolocation of the images provided by the IDF confirmed the locations given were correct, and analysts pointed out that previous satellite images taken in September did not show any launch sites – suggesting that they would have been recently constructed.
‘Since the beginning of the war, the Hamas terrorist organization has been exploiting civilians and civilian sites such as kindergartens, schools, and mosques for the purpose of firing rockets at Israel. Hamas deliberately fires its rockets at Israeli civilians,’ IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said.
The presence of rocket launch sites at the locations provided could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile Israel is accused of conducting indiscriminate airstrikes on Gaza’s civilian population, as the two-week-old war with Hamas threatened to spiral into a broader conflict.
Israeli warplanes continued to strike targets in Gaza throughout the weekend and into Monday morning, as well as two airports in Syria and a mosque in the occupied West Bank allegedly used by militants.
Israel has traded fire with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group on a near-daily basis since the war began. Tensions are soaring in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where its forces have battled militants in refugee camps and carried out two air strikes in recent days.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told troops in northern Israel that if Hezbollah launches a war against Israel, ‘it will make the mistake of its life. We will cripple it with a force it cannot even imagine and the consequences for it and the Lebanese state will be devastating’.
For days, Israel has seemed to be on the verge of launching a ground offensive in Gaza as part of its response to the deadly October 7 rampage. Tanks and tens of thousands of troops have massed at the border, and Israeli leaders have spoken of an undefined next stage in operations.
But the military acknowledges there are still hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians in northern Gaza despite a sweeping evacuation order, which would complicate any ground attack. And the risk of triggering a broader war with Hamas’ allies in Lebanon and Syria might also give them pause.
On Saturday, 20 trucks of aid were allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the first time anything has gone into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege two weeks ago.
On Sunday, another convoy of 17 trucks bringing aid to besieged Palestinians crossed into Gaza, Egypt’s state-run media reported.
But aid workers said it is far too little to address the spiralling humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where half the territory’s 2.3 million people have fled their homes.
Hospitals packed with patients and displaced people are running low on medical supplies and fuel for generators, forcing doctors to perform surgeries with sewing needles, using kitchen vinegar as disinfectant, and without anaesthesia.
Palestinians sheltering in UN-run schools and tent camps are running low on food and drinking dirty water.
The territory’s sole power plant shut down more than a week ago, causing a territory-wide blackout and crippling water and sanitation systems.
The UN humanitarian agency said cases of chicken pox, scabies and diarrhoea are increasing because of the lack of clean water.
Gaza’s Hamas-run interior ministry reported heavy Israeli air strikes across the territory overnight into Sunday, including southern areas where Israel had told Palestinians to seek refuge.
The ministry said that among the sites hit were homes and a cafe in the south where dozens of residents had sought shelter.
Israel’s military has said it is striking Hamas members and installations, but does not target civilians.
Palestinian militants have continued daily rocket attacks, with Hamas saying it targeted Tel Aviv early on Sunday.
Netanyahu convened his cabinet late on Saturday to discuss the expected ground invasion, Israeli media reported.
Military spokesman Hagari said Israel plans to step up air strikes, starting from Saturday, as preparation for the ‘next stages of the war’.
Israel has vowed to crush Hamas but has given few details about what it envisions for Gaza if it succeeds.
Yifat Shasha-Biton, a Cabinet minister, told Channel 13 TV there is broad consensus in the government that there will have to be a ‘buffer zone’ in Gaza to keep Palestinians away from the border.
An Israeli ground assault is likely to lead to a dramatic escalation in casualties on both sides.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have so far died in the war – mostly civilians killed during the initial Hamas attack.
At least 210 people were captured and dragged back to Gaza, including children and older adults. Two Americans were released on Friday in what Hamas said was a humanitarian gesture.
More than 4,300 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. That includes the disputed toll from a hospital explosion.
Syrian state media meanwhile reported that Israeli air strikes have targeted the international airports in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo. It said the strikes killed one person and damaged the runways, putting them out of service. Israel has carried out several strikes in Syria, including on the airports, since the war began.
Israel rarely acknowledges individual strikes, but says it acts to prevent Hezbollah and other militant groups from bringing in arms from their patron, Iran, which also supports Hamas.
In the occupied West Bank, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli troops, arrest raids and attacks by Jewish settlers. Israeli forces have closed crossings into the territory and checkpoints between cities, measures they say are aimed at preventing attacks.
The internationally recognised Palestinian Authority administers parts of the West Bank and co-operates with Israel on security, but it is deeply unpopular and has been the target of violent Palestinian protests.
Israeli forces killed at least five people in the West Bank early on Sunday, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
Two were killed in an air strike on a mosque in the town of Jenin, which has seen heavy gun battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops over the past year.
The Israeli military said the mosque compound belonged to Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants who had carried out several attacks in recent months and were planning another one.
Sunday’s fatalities take the death toll in the West Bank to 90 Palestinians since the war broke out on October 7, according to the health ministry. Most appear to have been killed during fighting with Israeli forces or violent protests.
Thirteen Palestinians, including five minors, and a member of Israel’s paramilitary border police were killed last week in a battle in a refugee camp in the West Bank town of Tulkarem, in which Israel also launched an air strike.
In Gaza, the Israeli military said the humanitarian situation is ‘under control’ as aid workers called for the opening of a round-the-clock aid corridor.
The UN humanitarian agency, known as OCHA, said the convey that entered on Saturday carried about 4 per cent of an average day’s imports before the war and ‘a fraction of what is needed after 13 days of complete siege’. It is calling for 100 trucks a day to enter.
Huge quantities of aid have been gathered near the Egyptian side of the crossing, but there has been no word on when more might enter.
President Joe Biden said the US, which has worked with other mediators to reach an agreement on Rafah, ‘remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas’.
In a statement, he said the US will work to keep Rafah open and let US citizens leave Gaza. But hundreds of foreign passport holders who had gathered at the crossing on Saturday were unable to depart after the aid convoy entered.