Tel Aviv, Oct 14: The US government under President Joe Biden would be launching diplomatic initiatives to evacuate US citizens from Gaza on Saturday with the help of Israel which said it could give Palestinians safe passage southward for a few hours from the northern part of the strip.
Americans could leave Gaza until 5 p.m. local time under an agreement struck between U.S., Egyptian and Israeli officials, according to a senior State Department official and an Arab official, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The risk factor remained as it was unclear if Hamas, controlling Gaza, would allow the movement of US citizens or other foreigners to the Egyptian border crossing at Rafah, the Journal quoted multiple agency reports from Gaza to say.
Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in comments carried by state-run news agency IRNA, said that "all resistance groups' hands are on the trigger".
"Israel's crimes against civilians should be stopped immediately before it is too late," he added. There have been deadly, but so far sporadic, clashes between the Israeli military and Iran-backed militants near the Lebanon border.
Spokesmen for Hamas, the Egyptian foreign ministry and Israel’s prime minister’s office, all of them declined any comment on the push to evacuate Americans and foreign nationals across from north Gaza into Egypt.
Israel's military, however said Gazans could safely travel along two major routes south for six hours before 4 p.m. local time, as its forces prepare for an expected ground invasion aimed at crushing the Hamas. Hamas militants are reportedly holed up in tunnels under houses and civilian buildings in Gaza City even as its warplanes were conducting strikes across the Palestinian enclave.
The IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) claimed that it dealt two deathly blows with air strikes -- it killed the head of Hamas' aerial-systems unit responsible for coordinating last Saturday's assaults and in the second hit it killed a commander who led the attack.
"If you care about yourself and your loved ones, go south as instructed," the Israeli military's Arabic spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, said on 'X', setting the deadline at 4 p.m. local time.
Richard Hecht, another spokesperson for Israel’s military, said the 4 p.m. deadline did not necessarily mean Israel would launch an operation then, as it will "take time" for Gazans to get south. Palestinian media and widely shared video testimony from paramedics show airstrikes hit a convoy of Gazans moving south Friday, killing civilians and leaving their bodies scattered on the road. People in Gaza said strikes continued in the south of the strip, where residents are expected to flee.
Israel claimed it is not targeting civilians, and the military said it had no indication it was behind the bombing. In the past, militants in Gaza have fired rockets that have landed within the enclave, killing civilians, the WSJ said quoting reports it received from the war zone.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is using "unprecedented force" in Gaza, with a warning by officials to Palestinians of a long drwn plan to crush the Hamas 15 years oppressive rule in Gaza.
Israel has not identified this as an endgame for Hamas governance in Gaza beyond taking out Hamas.
Hecht said Israel plans to kill Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, the man responsible for planning last weekend's attack. The Israeli military is also targetting Mohammed Deif, head of Hamas' military wing.
"The face of evil in the end is Yahya Sinwar. He's the mastermind behind all this," said Hecht. "He's a dead man walking."
The Israeli air force claims it dropped at least 6,000 bombs on Gaza since Hamas killed some 1,300 people, mostly civilians, in Israel last weekend in surprise attacks on more than 21 residential communities and army bases, and fired thousands of rockets at Israeli towns and cities.