Israel-Hamas war rages as death toll climbs; U.S. plans evacuation flights for Americans

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The U.S. State Department announced Thursday it is arranging evacuation flights to help Americans leave Israel – as the war with Hamas escalates and the death toll in the conflict climbs. Israel is devastating Gaza with strikes and preparing a ground invasion of the Palestinian territory in response to Hamas’ brutal weekend attack on Israeli soldiers and civilians.

While the death toll in Israel from Hamas’ bloody rampage crept up, with victims still being identified, images from inside the densely packed, completely blockaded Palestinian territory showed many neighborhoods flattened.

The scale of Israel’s counterattack led a group of independent experts at the United Nations to warn – while condemning the “horrific” war crimes committed by Hamas – that “indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza” amounted to “collective punishment.” 

“This is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime,” they added.

Their condemnation came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel, vowing support for the country and saying Hamas’ brutal acts harken “back to ISIS.” He met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while Israel’s military said it was “preparing” for a Gaza ground offensive. Tens of thousands of Israeli forces have massed along the border with the Palestinian territory and with Lebanon, to Israel’s north, amid fears that another battlefront could open if Hezbollah is drawn into the conflict. The group is backed in Iran, like Hamas, and is based in Lebanon.

As of Thursday afternoon, Israel’s military said Hamas’ attack killed more than 1,200 people, including at least 27 Americans, and left some 2,800 people wounded. At least 1,537 people, including 447 children, have been killed in Gaza by Israel’s retaliatory strikes, the Gaza Ministry of Health said, adding that more than 6,000 others were wounded.

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