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Israel expected to invade Gaza ‘within days’

Israel declared the territory around Gaza a closed military zone on Wednesday as army chiefs prepared to submit invasion plans to the government.

Merkava tanks were deployed to the northern border with Lebanon as fighting continued on two fronts – and spread to a third in Syria.

Israel claimed to have fully regained control of the “Gaza envelope” around the enclave after days of gun battles with Hamas militants.

Israel’s military has conducted its largest mobilisation of reservists since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, with up to 360,000 troops called up and awaiting deployment.

“The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) is now fully mobilised with four divisions in the South and more forces sent to the Lebanese border for operational readiness,” said Yaakov Lappin, a military analyst at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv.

“The call-up of hundreds of thousands of reserves is designed to enable the IDF to both respond to an order to launch a ground invasion of Gaza, maintain security in the West Bank, and to repel a potential Hezbollah raid from Lebanon.”

An Israeli army soldier walks past a Merkava battle tank as a column of tanks is amassed in the upper Galilee in northern Israel near the border with Lebanon on October 11, 2023. (Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP) (Photo by JALAA MAREY/AFP via Getty Images)
A column of Israeli Merkava battle tanks massed near the border with Lebanon (Photo: AFP/Getty)

The IDF declared a swathe of territory around the Gaza Strip a closed military zone, extending more than 10 miles in places, as preparations continued. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly briefed the White House to expect an invasion.

“The IDF asks the public to be alert, and not to enter the prohibited area in order to allow security forces… to carry out their missions,” the military said.

Israel’s security cabinet will meet on Wednesday night to review plans for the invasion drawn up by army chiefs.

“It will take a few days, Israel is in no hurry,” said Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran analyst of Israel’s security affairs. “It is not clear what the government will approve.”

Asked if Israeli troops would be inside Gaza within a week, he said: “it is possible.”

Israel’s plans are influenced by the imperative to limit casualties, a challenge in the dense urban environment of Gaza where Hamas maintains a network of underground tunnels and has already shown the ability to surprise Israel with its capabilities.

Exclusion zone around Gaza declared by the IDF on Wednesday (Photo: IDF)

Some analysts believe Mr Netanyahu will try to avoid sending troops into cities and refugee camps in Gaza where they would face greater danger.

“The security cabinet will need to select which version of the ground offensive it will order,” said Mr Lappin. “Then commanders with troops who are at staging areas in the south will need to review operational plans and receive intelligence updates on threats in their sectors.

“Mass infantry, armour, artillery, and engineering units will all be required for such an operation.”

In the meantime, Israel continued to hammer Gaza with jets, artillery, and gunboats. The death toll in the enclave passed 950, including more than 200 children, with around 200,000 people displaced.

The Gaza Energy Authority warned that fuel had run out on Wednesday after Israel shut off electricity and water supplies, as aid groups warn of a new humanitarian crisis engulfing the strip.

Fighting also escalated on Israel’s northern border, where the IDF deployed tanks and struck targets in southern Lebanon after militant faction Hezbollah fired rockets at Israeli command posts. Hezbollah-affiliated media outlet Al Mayadeen confirmed the reports.

Israel confirmed three soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire with Palestinian and Lebanese militants on Monday.

A new front also threatened to emerge on Israel’s eastern border with Syria. The IDF claimed that it had detected incoming fire from across the border and responded with artillery and mortar shells.

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