Jerusalem: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Saturday alleged that the Hamas militant group was using civilians in Gaza as “human shields” in order to stop their evacuation from the northern parts of the besieged enclave.
On Friday, the Israeli military has ordered approximately 1 million civilians in and around Gaza City to move to the southern areas of Gaza, reports CNN.
On Saturday morning, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said it was “worrying” that Hamas “has stopped” and “tried to stop Palestinian civilians from evacuating” using messages, checkpoints and stops on the ground.
Conricus told CNN that the IDF would “assess the situation on the ground” when queried about a possible ground offensive on Gaza.
“(We need to) see how many civilians are left in the area. And understand how many of them have been blocked by Hamas from actually evacuating,” he said.
“And we’ve seen active efforts by Hamas to block these people from leaving, which I think is appalling at a whole new level. And once we see that the situation will be permissible for significant combat operations, then they will commence.”
He added that civilians should leave the area for their own security “and return only when we tell them that it is safe to do so”.
The IDF had seen “significant movement of Palestinian civilians toward the south”, he said, adding that Gaza residents were “doing the clever thing, moving out of a dangerous area”.
In a separate statement, the spokesman clarified that “Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not our enemies and we do not target them as such”, the BBC reported.
“We are trying to do the right thing, we are trying to evacuate civilians in order to minimise the risk for them. It is extremely sad and regrettable that so many media outlets are focusing on our actions instead of putting the responsibility on the entity that governs the Gaza strip, and that is Hamas.
“All of this is Hamas’ doing – we are responding to the situation. We are trying not to strike civilians or their infrastructure,” Conricus added.
The spokesman also announced that Israeli reserve soldiers were in formation all around the Gaza Strip getting ready for the next stage of operations.
“Our aim is very clear, the end stage of this war is that we will dismantle Hamas and its military capabilities, and fundamentally change the situation so that Hamas never again has the ability to inflict any damage on Israeli civilians or soldiers,” the BBC quoted the spokesman as saying.
“Hezbollah fighters fired an anti-tank missile towards Israeli troops (near the Lebanon border), there was short battle and the situation eventually calmed down. Afterwards Hezbollah sent drones into Israel and also fired surface-to-air missiles against Israeli aircraft.”
He says those two attempts were successfully intercepted but the situation on the northern border “remains very tense”.