President Joe Biden will make a historic journey to Israel on Wednesday, pledging “ironclad” support as Washington attempts to prevent the intensifying violence in Gaza from expanding into regional conflict.
The trip comes only days after Gaza-based Hamas fighters broke through Israel’s strongly defended border, killing over 1,400 people, the most of whom were civilians, by shooting, stabbing, and burning.
Shell-shocked Israel has responded with lethal air assaults on Hamas-controlled Gaza, as well as the deployment of tens of thousands of troops to the border in preparation for a full-fledged land offensive.
Biden’s visit, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, will be a message of “solidarity with Israel” and a “ironclad commitment to its security.”
The United States has already dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean “to deter hostile actions against Israel.”
Iran warned of a possible “pre-emptive action” against Israel “in the coming hours” on Monday, and has previously warned of a foot invasion of Gaza.
“The resistance leaders” will not allow Israel “to do whatever it wants in Gaza” said Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
On Tuesday, Israel said its troops had killed four militants attempting to infiltrate from Lebanon and launched strikes on Hezbollah “terrorist” targets in the country.
While expressing support, Biden will also try to influence Israel’s military response quietly, as criticism builds about the war’s catastrophic impact on Palestinian civilians.
According to the military, Israeli air strikes have killed numerous senior Hamas figures and targeted the organization’s headquarters.
However, at least 2,750 Palestinians, largely civilians, have been killed, entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, and survivors are running out of food, water, and gasoline.
Israel has ordered inhabitants of northern Gaza to flee to the south in order to clear the region of civilians in preparation for a dangerous urban ground assault.
According to an Israeli military spokesman, it is unclear how Biden’s arrival will affect the timetable of that operation.
According to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, almost one million Palestinians have fled their homes since the fighting began 10 days ago.
According to World Health Organization regional director Ahmed Al-Mandhari, Gaza is on the verge of a “real catastrophe.”
“There are 24 hours of water, electricity and fuel left,” he said.
Speaking after marathon talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Blinken signalled there was no firm agreement yet on humanitarian relief.
But there was a “commitment” to work on a plan ahead of and during Biden’s visit, he said.
“At our request, the United States and Israel have agreed to develop a plan that will enable humanitarian aid from donor nations and multilateral organisations to reach civilians in Gaza,” Blinken said.
He stated that the two sides were talking about the “possibility of creating areas to help keep civilians out of harm’s way.”
Blinken added that the president of the United States wants to “hear from Israel how it will conduct its operations in a way that minimises civilian casualties and enables humanitarian assistance to flow to civilians in Gaza in a way that does not benefit Hamas.”
Shortly after Blinken’s remarks, Egyptian officials announced that rescue convoys that had been waiting for days were on their way to the Rafah border crossing.
Still, the scale of the crisis is only slowly coming into view.
Since Israel’s evacuation order in north Gaza, entire families, young children and the elderly have gathered belongings and fled to southern Gaza, bedding down in any available space, indoors and out.
In the city of Khan Yunis in southern Gaza the normal population of 400,000 has roughly doubled.
Thousands more Palestinians have gathered at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in an effort to flee.
“The situation is catastrophic beyond what I could have imagined,” said Jamil Abdullah, a Palestinian-Swede who is hoping to leave after being forced to sleep on the street.
“There are corpses in the streets. Buildings are crashing down on their inhabitants. Blood is everywhere. The smell of the dead is everywhere.”
Mortuaries were overflowing, according to AFP correspondents in Gaza, and remains wrapped in white body bags were even being stored in an ice cream truck.
Gazans, on the other hand, are effectively stuck, with neighboring Arab countries terrified that if Palestinians leave the Strip, they will be permanently banished.
According to the IDF, around 500,000 Israelis have been displaced or evacuated from areas near the Gaza Strip and along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
Israelis are still reeling after the bloodiest attack in the country’s 75-year history, which devastated trust in the country’s administration and much-vaunted security agencies.
Merav Leshem Gonen is among those who are still waiting for word on loved ones.
Her daughter was kidnapped on October 7 at a music event near the Gaza border, one of at least 199 captives taken by Hamas or other groups, according to Israel.
“We don’t know anything else. She’s missing. That’s all we know, and we want her back alive. We want her to come back healthy,” she said.
According to Hamas’ military wing, the group is keeping 200 people, with another 50 held by other “resistance factions and in other places.”
A video posted on Hamas’ official Telegram channel purported to show “one of the prisoners in Gaza” – a young woman speaking Hebrew and being treated for an arm injury.
She was kidnapped on October 7th, according to the caption. AFP has not confirmed the footage.