Tel Aviv, Oct 15 : Israel has been preparing for a major offensive in northern Gaza intending to crush Hamas and free the hostages as a huge convoy of tanks started lining up across the borders and civilians started fleeing the strip, the media reported.
As the Israel-Hamas war entered eighth day on Sunday, the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) warned of a widespread offensive in northern Gaza, after asking roughly a million civilians to flee the area a day before.
As panic set in, civilians are scrambling for cover of packing bags to run, according to media reports. Those who would could started seeking shelter in hospitals crowded to the brim with no medical supplies.
The Hamas ruled territory in Gaza was in turmoil on Saturday amid the sweeping evacuation order covering half of the strip's population.
Two million civilians live in the impoverished city of Gaza as they have been cut off from essentials such as water, food, electricity and hospitals run out of medical supplies with continuous aerial bombardments, reports said.
Palestinians were struggling to evacuate northern Gaza by foot, car and donkey carts, USA Today reported.
As an offensive more powerful than Israel's aerial strikes of Gaza appeared imminent, humanitarian organisations engaged in relief work said the evacuees had nowhere to go.
The only exit from Gaza, into Egypt, seemed sealed as well as confusion reigned over the neighbouring country's ability to accommodate the fleeing evacuees and its reluctance to allow anyone to exit Gaza.
"We are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon," Israel's chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said in a nationally broadcast address, without specifying a timeline for the attack.
Over 2 million people live in the Gaza.
The northern part of territory includes Gaza City, the 63rd-most densely inhabited urban region in the world.
Israel sealed Gaza, halting supplies of food saying the blockade would continue until Hamas freed dozens of hostages taken last weekend, USA Today said.
Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas official, said that "all the massacres" will not break the back of the Palestinian people.
The Gaza Health Ministry said Friday that roughly 1,800 people have been killed in the territory.
The Israeli military said more than 1,300 people, including 222 soldiers, have been killed in Israel.
The number of US citizens who lost their lives amid the conflict is now estimated to be 29, according to the US State Department. Some 15 US citizens still remained unaccounted for on Saturday, the statement says.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday condemned Israel's evacuation orders for 22 hospitals in northern Gaza, where over 2,000 patients are being treated. Forcing the sick and injured patients to move out is "tantamount to a death sentence".
Israel is "preparing to implement a wide range of offensive operative plans" in the Gaza strip involving air, ground and naval forces, its military said on Saturday.
The US reiterated its commitment to protect Israel from not just Hamas but also possible new entrants in the middle theatre of war such as Iran, Syria, Lebanon with the militant outfit Hezbollah waiting with finger on the trigger and already launched missiles into Gaza.
US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the deployment of the second US aircraft carrier USS Dwight Eisenhower group to the region to support the first USS Ford group already stationed there.
The US armed forces are planning to move a third aircraft carrier group USS Bataan into the eastern mediterranean seas shortly to warn new entrants from getting in to support Hamas.
It has no plans to put its ground forces "boots to the ground" in the battlefield, says US Secretary of state Anthony Blinken.
Meanwhile, Iran's foreign minister warned Israel to stop Gaza attacks with the warning that the war could expand to other parts of the Middle East if Hezbollah also joined forces with Hamas. Israel would then suffer a huge earthquake, Iran's foreign minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told reporters in Beirut.
He met Friday with Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, a leader of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group that Iran funds and Israel considers as its most serious threat.
The Israeli-Palestinian crisis in the meantime has fuelled disputes at US colleges.
College campuses across the US have played host to rallies and counter-protests, resulting in tensions and some violence leading to concerns about student safety.