The moves, along with Israel’s formal declaration of war on Sunday, pointed to Israel increasingly shifting to the offensive against Hamas, threatening greater destruction in the densely populated, impoverished Gaza Strip.
“We have only started striking Hamas,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a nationally televised address. “What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations.”
As the Israeli military brought additional forces near the border, a major question is whether it will launch a ground assault into the tiny Mediterranean coastal territory. The last ground assault was in 2014.
Around 900 people, including 73 soldiers, already have been killed in Israel, according to media. In Gaza, more than 680 people have been killed, according to authorities there; Israel says hundreds of Hamas fighters are among them. Thousands have been wounded on both sides.
In response to Israel’s aerial attacks, the spokesman of Hamas’ armed wing, Abu Obeida, said on Monday night that the group will kill one Israeli civilian captive any time Israel targets civilians in their homes in Gaza “without prior warning.”
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen warned Hamas against harming any of the hostages, saying, “This war crime will not be forgiven.” Netanyahu appointed a former military commander to manage the hostage and missing persons crisis.
Israel and Hamas have had repeated conflicts in past years, often sparked by tensions around a Jerusalem holy site. This time, the context has become potentially more explosive. Both sides talk of shattering with violence a years-long Israeli-Palestinian deadlock left by the moribund peace process.
Hamas, in turn, says it is ready for a long battle to end an Israeli occupation it says is no longer tolerable. Desperation has grown among Palestinians, many of whom see nothing to lose under unending Israeli control and increasing settler depredations in the West Bank, the blockade in Gaza and what they see as the world’s apathy.
In the early evening, the sound of explosions echoed over Jerusalem when a volley of rockets fired from Gaza hit two neighbourhoods – a sign of Hamas’ reach. Israeli media said seven were wounded.
Also on Monday evening, Israeli warplanes carried out an intense bombardment of Rimal, a residential and commercial district of central Gaza City, after issuing warnings for residents to evacuate. Amid continuous explosions, the building housing the headquarters of the Palestinian Telecommunications Company was destroyed.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant ordered a “complete siege” on Gaza, saying authorities would cut electricity and block the entry of food and fuel.
Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council aid group, warned that Israel’s siege would spell “utter disaster” for Gazans.
“There is no doubt that collective punishment is in violation of international law,” he said. “If and when it would lead to wounded children dying in hospitals because lack of energy, electricity, and supplies, it could amount to war crimes.”
The Israeli siege will leave Gaza almost entirely dependent on its crossing into neighbouring Egypt at Rafah, where cargo capacities are lower than other crossings into Israel.
An Egyptian military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press, said more than two tons of medical supplies from the Egyptian Red Crescent were sent to Gaza and efforts were under way to organise food and other deliveries.
In the southern Gaza city of Rafah, an Israeli air strike early on Monday killed 19 people, including women and children, said Talat Barhoum, a doctor at the local Al-Najjar Hospital.
Hundreds of Hamas militants were buried under rubble of buildings destroyed by Israel in the past 48 hours, according to Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. His claims could not be confirmed.
New exchanges on Israel’s northern border on Monday raised worries that the war could spread to a new front.
While the Israeli military said it had control of its border communities in southern Israel about 48 hours after the incursion, Hamas spokesman Abdel-Latif al-Qanoua said the group’s fighters continued to battle outside Gaza and had captured more Israelis as recently as Monday morning.
He said the group aims to free all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, which in the past has agreed to lopsided exchange deals in which it released large numbers of prisoners for individual captives or even the remains of soldiers.
Among the captives are soldiers and civilians, including women, children and older adults, mostly Israelis but also some people of other nationalities.
Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram newspaper said on Monday that Egyptian officials are trying to mediate a release of Palestinian women in Israel’s prisons in exchange for Israeli women captured by militants.
Hamas has ruled Gaza since driving out forces loyal to the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority in 2007 and its rule has gone unchallenged through the blockade and four previous wars with Israel.
On Sunday, the US dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean to be ready to help Israel, and said it would send additional military aid.