The Israeli army continues to urge civilians in Gaza to evacuate south because the north will be "a combat zone"

Israel continues to prepare for the next stages of the war

AFP/ JACK GUEZ  - Soldados israelíes están posicionados fuera del kibutz Beeri, cerca de la frontera con la Franja de Gaza
AFP/ JACK GUEZ - Israeli soldiers near the border with Gaza Strip

Israel Defence Forces (IDF) spokesperson Roni Kaplan talks to Atalayar about the current situation on the Gaza border, the latest air strikes against Hamas targets as well as the situation in the north and the possible involvement of Iran through Hezbollah.  

What is the current situation on the southern border with Gaza? 

We still have threats of terrorist attacks from the Gaza Strip. For example, today we intercepted two drones coming from the Gaza Strip; yesterday an Israeli soldier was killed while working on repairing the security fence on the Israeli side near Kissufim. There are also threats against soldiers who are entering inside the strip with the aim of gathering intelligence as to the whereabouts of the abductees.  

On the other hand, we continue to reach Hamas leaders. Today we reached 13 battalion commanders, as well as dozens of operatives. On Monday we hit the head of the anti-tank brigade in the northern Gaza Strip, five commanders and an air unit. We also continued to target tunnel entrances, command and control centres, as well as all types of military assets such as dozens of mortar launch sites and anti-tank missile launch sites. 

In this regard, there remains a threat from the Gaza Strip with respect to missiles launched by Hamas and other terrorist groups. Here it is important to stress the issue of intent in the damage and not just the fact that the missile is intercepted. We are talking about more than 7000 rockets launched in the last 17 days. Of those, 550 landed inside the Gaza Strip, such as the one that hit the hospital.  

And finally, another central element for us is that we continue to call on civilians in the Gaza Strip to move to the southern area, because the north is going to be a combat zone, it's a dangerous area. We have also sent, in coordination with the international community, humanitarian aid, food, water, medicine, but not fuel. Twenty trucks were sent on Saturday, 14 on Sunday and another 20 on Monday.  

Hamas, for its part, continues to ask its population, through the spokesman of the Ministry of the Interior, not to move from the area where we are asking them to evacuate. So far 70,000 people have been evacuated, but 350,000 remain. 

Hamas has been accused on many occasions of using civilians in Gaza as human shields. It is important to stress that this war is against Hamas and not against the Palestinian population. 

Hamas, over 16 years in the Gaza Strip, has spread and distributed its military assets throughout the enclave, mimicking and almost embedding itself, I would say, in the civilian population. They commit a double war crime. On the one hand, they use their civilians as human shields by targeting schools, businesses, mosques. In fact, the other day we hit a position, a Hamas rocket depot that was 34 metres from a school that was left intact.  

In addition to using their civilians as human shields, they indiscriminately launch attacks on Israeli civilians, whereas Israel is defending the civilian population. We too try to minimise harm to civilians who are in no way our target, we are committed to international law.  

Is the ground incursion into Gaza still on the table? 

We continue to prepare for the next stages of the war and we will probably operate on the ground at the time, in the place and in the manner that suits us from the point of view of operational interests.  

In addition to Hamas, Hezbollah is launching attacks from southern Lebanon. What is the situation in the north? 

Hezbollah is attacking continuously. For example on Monday a terrorist cell attempting to launch rockets was intercepted by an Israeli drone. Yesterday a Hezbollah drone entered the Mediterranean Sea in the area north of Haifa. On the other hand, we also intercept different types of threats. Our policy is to respond to each attack by reaching the position of the Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure that committed that attack. In this way we are trying to contain an escalation of violence, the opening of a second front, while Hamas is hoping that both Hezbollah and Iran will enter this war with the aim of dragging us into a regional war.  

In the face of this, we are sending a very clear message to the Republic of Lebanon and to the citizens of Lebanon: do you want to risk your future as a society, as a citizenry, as a country, in order for Hezbollah to help Hamas? Because if Hezbollah comes in, we will do everything to win on both fronts. We are prepared for any contingency. We are 360,000 reservists at the moment. 

But it is important to keep in mind that we prefer to focus on dismantling Hamas' military and governmental capabilities in the Gaza Strip in order to eliminate the danger or imminent threat to the Israeli population.  

Since the war began, Iran has been threatening to intervene directly. Its Houthi militias in Yemen launched three missiles at Israel last week. Is there a chance that Iran will intervene directly, and would Israel be prepared for it? 

It is a probability that it will enter. Probably first through Hezbollah and perhaps later directly. We have no interest in escalating violence and opening other fronts, but if they keep provoking us, if they keep looking for us, they will end up finding us.  

Hamas released two more hostages yesterday and there is also talk of the possibility of the release of some 50. What measures are being taken with regard to the hostages in Gaza? 

Yes indeed, yesterday they released Nurit Yitzhak, 79, and Yochved Lifshitz, 85, two elderly ladies from Kibbutz Nir Oz, their husbands are still being held hostage. We are grateful for the role played by Egypt and the International Red Cross in this regard. Freeing the hostages is our top national priority. We want them to return to their families, we want them to be reunited with their loved ones. To this end, we have set up 1/4 command and control to concentrate and manage all available and emerging information on the whereabouts of the hostages. 

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