Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Israeli soldiers walk in Kibbutz Be’eri, close to the border with Gaza Strip, on Oct. 11.GORAN TOMASEVIC/The Globe and Mail

Israel’s government, bolstered by the creation of an emergency cabinet with opposition membership, is pushing ahead with military preparations for a possible ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The new decision-making body, described by the government as a “war management cabinet,” includes Benny Gantz, a former defence minister who now leads an Israeli centrist opposition party. He agreed on Wednesday to join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in supervising Israel’s response to the weekend’s devastating attacks by Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls Gaza.

The death toll from those attacks, which began on Saturday in the country’s south, has now risen to more than 1,200, with more than 2,700 wounded. Israel’s retaliatory bombing strikes on the Gaza Strip have killed more than 1,200 people and wounded 5,600, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. In addition, Israel’s army says it has killed at least 1,000 Palestinian gunmen who participated in the attacks.

In Kibbutz Be’eri, where at least 120 residents were killed by Hamas, Israeli officers survey aftermath of attack

Israel-Hamas war live updates

The Israeli military continued to mass its forces around Gaza on Wednesday. Large numbers of troops and tanks were visible near the kibbutzim of Be’eri and Re’im – both within sight of Gaza – where Hamas fighters carried out massacres of Israeli civilians on Saturday.

Israeli jets roared overhead throughout the day, and there were frequent booms of artillery directed at Gaza, a narrow strip that is home to 2.3 million Palestinians. In reply, at least two salvos of rockets were seen streaking north from Gaza toward the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Tel Aviv.

Standing in the shattered Kibbutz Be’eri, Major-General Itai Veruv said his troops were outraged by what they had seen there. More than 120 of the just over 1,000 residents of the kibbutz were killed in the attacks on Saturday, with an unknown number of others taken hostage, including Canadian citizen Vivian Silver.

There are “many difficult questions to be asking ourselves,” Gen. Veruv said, about why Israel’s vaunted military and intelligence services had failed to protect the country’s citizens last weekend. But, he added, the first order of business is retribution. “I am sure we will go to them and we will hit them. When you see what happened in the kibbutz, you will see that we do not have any choice.”

Israel’s new emergency cabinet will tilt heavily toward politicians with extensive military experience. In addition to Mr. Gantz, it will include Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, and it will give observer status to Gadi Eisenkot, a veteran military strategist and opposition lawmaker. Both Mr. Gantz and Mr. Eisenkot are former Israeli army chiefs.

“Our partnership is not political; it is a shared fate,” Mr. Gantz said in a televised statement. “At this time, we are all the soldiers of Israel … This is not the time for difficult questions, it is the time for crushing responses on the battlefield.”

In an effort to transform the cabinet into a broader tool of national unity, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz said they were reserving a seat in the emergency body for Yair Lapid, the country’s main opposition leader. But so far he has not agreed to join.

The emergency cabinet is also an attempt to move past a national political crisis over Mr. Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, which have sparked months of protests and demonstrations in Israeli streets.

In a joint statement, Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz said they had agreed that no pieces of legislation or government decisions will be pursued during the war period except those that concern the conduct of the war. This would seem to set aside temporarily the political issues that have recently divided the country.

Israel has mobilized 360,000 reservists in the days since the Hamas attacks. But it is still unclear whether Israel will launch a ground offensive to reoccupy Gaza, which could require highly dangerous house-to-house urban warfare. Such an offensive could be complicated by the fact that Hamas is holding dozens of Israeli hostages in Gaza.

Israel has blockaded Gaza since the Hamas attacks, preventing supplies of food, fuel, water and medicine from entering the territory. Convoys of humanitarian supplies from Egypt have been organized, but they have been blocked by Israeli air strikes on the Egyptian border crossing.

The air strikes in Gaza have reportedly destroyed more than 500 residential buildings, leaving an estimated 250,000 people homeless. Many have sought shelter in United Nations schools, while others are on the streets.

Gaza’s only power station shut down on Wednesday after it ran out of fuel. Hospitals are relying on backup generators, but these are at risk of running out of fuel in the next several days.

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) said its medical activities in Gaza’s overcrowded hospitals are being severely hampered by a lack of transportation and a shortage of drugs and other supplies.

“Ambulances can’t be used right now because they’re being hit by air strikes,” Darwin Diaz, medical co-ordinator for MSF in Gaza, said in a statement this week.

Meanwhile, violence was spreading on other fronts. At least 27 Palestinians have been killed since Saturday by Israeli security forces during protests and clashes in the occupied West Bank.

Near the border of Israel and Lebanon, violence has continued for four days, with Israeli shelling of southern Lebanon and rocket attacks on Israel by Hezbollah, another militant group.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden told a round table of Jewish community leaders in the White House that the weekend attack was the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust. He called it “a campaign of pure cruelty.”

Mr. Biden also noted the American deployment of naval vessels and military aircraft to the region in response to Hamas’s attack, adding that his commitment to Israel is “unshakable.”

His administration has previously said it cannot confirm that Iran knew about the militant group’s plans for the attack. On Wednesday, the President made his first public warning to Iran.

“We’re sending more fighter jets in that region. We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful,” he said.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe