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Israel incursion into Gaza targeted Hamas leaders to prepare for 'next stages of war'

Smoke and fire rise from buildings as people gather in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on Thursday.
Omar El-Qattaa
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AFP via Getty Images
Smoke and fire rise from buildings as people gather in the aftermath of an Israeli strike on Gaza City on Thursday.

Updated October 26, 2023 at 5:45 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israel said it carried out a "targeted raid" in northern Gaza Wednesday overnight into Thursday, the most extensive use of Israeli tanks in Gaza since it launched its war with the Palestinian militant group Hamas after the Oct. 7 attacks.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesperson said the raid involved a number of tanks and troops and "eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure." The tanks have since exited Gaza, and there were no Israeli casualties, the IDF said.

The Israeli military said its forces killed Shadi Barud, the deputy head of Hamas intelligence, one of the targets of the raid. IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said Barud had teamed up with other militants to plan "numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians."

The IDF said airstrikes killed three other senior Hamas operatives "who played a significant role in the invasion and murderous attack against Israel" on Oct. 7.

The IDF said the incursion was made "in preparation for the next stages of war." While Hecht said planning for a full-scale invasion of Gaza continues, he would not offer a timeline on when that might begin.

He did say that the 200-some hostages Hamas is believed to be holding makes any operation into Gaza far more complicated.

Israel has increased the intensity of its attacks on the Hamas-run territory over the last few days, with hundreds of airstrikes each night, as Gaza's lack of fuel reaches a crisis point.

A screenshot from a social media post by Israel's military appears to show Israeli tanks during a raid into northern Gaza.
/ Israel Defense Forces
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Israel Defense Forces
A screenshot from a social media post by Israel's military appears to show Israeli tanks during a raid into northern Gaza.

Sixty-two aid trucks have entered Gaza since last weekend, carrying much-needed food, water and medical supplies. But none has delivered fuel, which Israel has blocked over concerns it could be stolen and used by Hamas.

As a result, aid groups have escalated their warnings. UNRWA, the United Nations agency that provides relief to Palestinians, says it could run out of fuel within a day.

"The situation is terrible and it gets worse by the hour — not even by the day — every hour, things get worse and worse for people in Gaza," Juliette Touma, an UNRWA spokesperson, told NPR.

Aid groups poised to assist with food, fuel shortages

The streets of Gaza are empty of cars. Many of its bakeries are shuttered; meat suppliershave no refrigeration. Doctors perform operationsby flashlight.

Fuel is needed for U.N. vehicles to collect aid from the border and distribute it across Gaza, Touma said. Fuel is also used to power hospitals, where doctors have warned that people will die if life-saving medical equipment is forced to go out of operation.

The lack of fuel has also disabled water pumps and restricted an already limited food supply in Gaza, the U.N. warns.

A Palestinian girl holds a container as she waits to collect portable water, in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on Oct. 26, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.
Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
A Palestinian girl holds a container as she waits to collect potable water in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Thursday, as battles continue between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.

The World Health Organization has said it has trucks on standby across the border in Egypt with medical supplies: "WHO calls for immediate and uninterrupted access into and across Gaza, so that its ailing health system can be urgently revived."

Gaza's bakeries have shut down, including many of those that contract with the World Food Programme. (At least 10 bakeries have been struck and destroyed over the last week, according to the U.N.)

For those that remain intact and operational, long lines form daily, exposing people to airstrikes. The lack of electricity or fuel for generators has also started to affect meat suppliers, who cannot refrigerate their products, according to the U.N.

In response to an UNRWA appeal for fuel on the social media site X, the Israel Defense Forces responded with a satellite image of what it described as fuel tanks located in Gaza.

"Ask Hamas if you can have some," the agency wrote.

The Hamas supply contains "enough for many days for hospitals and water pumps to run," Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an IDF spokesperson, said Thursday.

The UNRWA said Thursday that 53 members of its staff have been killed in Gaza since Israel's offensive began.

"They were all teachers, they were all nurses, doctors, most of them have been killed while they were in their home or in shelter, they were with their families," Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of the UNRWA, told NPR.

The death toll in Gaza rises

The reported death toll in Gaza has now surpassed 7,000, the territory's health officials say. In Israel, more than 1,400 people died after the Oct. 7 surprise Hamas attack, according to Israeli officials.

Asked Wednesday about the reported death toll in Gaza, President Biden responded that he had "no notion that the Palestinians are telling the truth about how many people are killed."

"The Israelis should be incredibly careful to be sure that they're focusing on going after the folks that are propagating this war against Israel," he said, adding that "it's against their interest when that doesn't happen."

People watch as smoke and dust ascend following Israeli bombardment, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Thursday.
Mahmud Hams / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
People watch as smoke and dust ascend following Israeli bombardment, in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on Thursday.

The Palestinian agency that produces the death tolls, the Ministry of Health, is nominally operated by the Palestinian Authority, which provides funding and supplies and maintains close contact with hospitals in Gaza. Hamas governs Gaza and likely has close oversight over information Gaza health officials put out. The daily casualty counts are broadly considered to be accurate by humanitarian groups and have been cited by the State Department.

Gaza's borders are effectively closed, limiting the ability of aid groups and journalists to access the territory in order to independently verify the numbers.

Humanitarian groups warn that the death toll could dramatically increase if Israel follows through with its threats of a ground invasion.

More than 200 hostages remain in Hamas captivity

As the conflict nears the end of its third week, more than 200 hostages still remain in Hamas captivity after the Oct. 7 attack. U.S. officials and hostages' families have urged Israeli forces to delay the invasion in order to leave more time for negotiations over their release.

And hundreds of U.S. citizens are still stranded in Gaza. Massachusetts resident Abood Okal, along with his wife and their 1-year-old son, have been sharing a house in southern Rafah with dozens of others, he told NPR.

They sleep on the floor, without running water and only a couple hours a day of electricity from the home's solar panels. On Wednesday, they ran out of milk for his son, he said.

"We feel fortunate every morning that we wake up and we have lived for another day," Okal said. "But it's becoming increasingly harder and harder to find hope with everything else going around us."

More than 1 million Palestinians have fled their homes due to Israeli bombing and the expected ground invasion.

Israelis living near Gaza and Lebanon evacuate

Israeli officials say a quarter-million Israelis have now evacuated their homes due to the ongoing threat of rocket attacks. Those Israelis have been told it's unlikely they'll return home until sometime next year.

Israeli authorities say they've supervised the formal evacuation of 125,000 citizens in communities closest to the southern border with Gaza and the northern border with Lebanon.

Hamas is still firing rockets from Gaza, and the Lebanese militant and political group Hezbollah is shooting sporadically from southern Lebanon.

In addition, another 125,000 Israelis have evacuated on their own from areas slightly further from the borders.

The quarter-million displaced Israelis are staying in "hotels, hostels, anyplace that can provide a meal and a bed," an IDF official said.

Iran warns U.S. over a widening war

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, speaking before the U.N. General Assembly on Thursday, warned the U.S. that it would be held responsible if Israel's attacks against Hamas in Gaza doesn't cease.

"I say frankly to the American statesmen, who are now managing the genocide in Palestine, that we do not welcome expansion of the war in the region," he said. "But if the genocide in Gaza continues, they will not be spared from this fire."

Amir-Abdollahian told NPR on Thursday that militants in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region have their "finger on the trigger" to launch more strikes against Israel if it goes forward with a ground invasion of Gaza.

"What I gathered from what I heard from them and the plans that they have – they have their finger on the trigger. You know, much more powerful and deeper than what you've witnessed," he said. "Therefore I believe that if this situation continues and women and children and civilians are still killed in Gaza and the West Bank anything will be possible."

Iran has a long history of funding, arming and training proxy militia groups in the region, including Hamas, but denies playing any role in the Oct. 7 attack.

NPR's Peter Kenyon contributed reporting from Jerusalem. NPR's Greg Myre contributed reporting from Tel Aviv. contributed to this story

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.