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17 June, 2024
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Biden sends fleet to Mediterranean as Israeli-Gaza conflict intensifies

Israel prepares for Gaza invasion

By Petros Papaconstantinou and Vassilis Nedos

For the second consecutive day, Israeli forces found themselves engaged in intense street fighting with Hamas gunmen in southern Israel as they prepared for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Hamas maintained control over some of the 22 strategic sites they had seized in a daring operation by land, sea, and air, inflicting heavy casualties on the Israeli forces. Meanwhile, convoys of Israeli tanks advanced toward the Gaza border, accompanied by fighter jets continuing their bombardment of the Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned his nation to brace for a "long and challenging war" and vowed that Hamas would face an "unprecedented price." The upcoming ground operation appears aimed at the complete dismantling of Hamas and the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad's military infrastructure, along with the isolation of their leadership in the Palestinian Territories. This operation unfolds in one of the world's most densely populated regions, heightening concerns of a soaring death toll on both sides. As of now, over 700 Israelis, including 44 soldiers, have lost their lives, surpassing the Israeli death toll during the Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Simultaneously, Palestinian authorities report over 400 casualties due to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

Hamas has successfully captured approximately 130 Israeli soldiers and civilians, currently held in Gaza. A similar situation unfolded in 2011 when Netanyahu, then-Prime Minister of Israel, released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for a single Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Amidst this half-century's most severe regional conflict, both sides are attempting to bridge internal divides. Netanyahu has called for a national unity government, appealing to opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz. In Ramallah, 88-year-old Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas voiced support for the Palestinians' right to resist "the terror of the occupying forces" by any means necessary.

Furthermore, concerns loom over a potential extension of the conflict, particularly in the West Bank. While Fatah, the governing authority, has not directly participated in military operations, independent paramilitary groups have engaged in clashes with the Israeli army for months. In the past 24 hours, seven Palestinians lost their lives in such confrontations, both in Hebron and on the outskirts of Ramallah. A third front emerges as a threat along the Lebanese border, as Hezbollah, a Shi'ite, pro-Iranian group in Lebanon, launched artillery fire on three Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms region, expressing solidarity with the Palestinians.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran played a role in planning Hamas' surprise attacks on Israel. Senior Hamas and Hezbollah officials claim that Iran approved the attack during a meeting in Beirut the previous week. However, Hezbollah's limited involvement is seen more as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians, as full-scale engagement could lead to significant backlash within Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, to the region. The Souda base is fully prepared to support the carrier and its accompanying task force as they sail from the Adriatic to the Eastern Mediterranean, positioning them within striking distance of the Israeli coast. The USS Gerald Ford, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, is the largest and most advanced in the U.S. fleet, carrying a formidable complement of aircraft. Its mission in the Eastern Mediterranean began in May and has involved joint exercises with elements of the Greek Armed Forces.

The situation in the region remains highly volatile, with multiple fronts and complex geopolitical dynamics at play.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

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