'We will die here': Resilient Gazans prepare for possible Israeli ground invasion

Israel sent tanks and armoured bulldozers into Gaza Strip overnight then withdrew its forces

Israeli soldiers patrol the border with southern Gaza. Many Palestinians stayed put in the northern Gaza Strip, despite Israel's warning to head south. EPA
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"Even if they hit us with nuclear weapons, we will die in our land," Mohammad Al Sikk, 33, told The National as Gazans were on Thursday preparing for a possible Israeli ground invasion.

Israel sent tanks, troops and armoured bulldozers into the Gaza Strip in a "targeted raid" overnight that destroyed numerous sites before withdrawing from the Hamas-run territory, the army said in a statement.

Black smoke filled the sky after a blast, shown in grainy night-vision footage the Israeli military released hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared preparations for a ground war were under way.

"We didn't wait for them to invade us, we breached their lands. So we will be resilient, this is the beginning of the war of death," Mr Al Sikk said, referring to the October 7 attack in Israel that killed about 1,400 people, mostly civilians. Most of the more than 7,000 people killed in Gaza in retaliatory Israeli strikes were also civilians.

Mr Al Sikk said Palestinian liberation "starts now".

With hundreds of thousands of troops massed on Israel's border with Gaza, Israeli officials have refused to say when the invasion will begin.

Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, when it ousted rival Palestinian group Fatah after several weeks of clashes following a contested election, is believed to be holding more than 200 hostages following its raid on October 7.

Standing on the pavement queuing for bread, Hamza Mohammad told The National Gazans will stay put "until our last breath".

"What God has written for us we will experience, we will resist the occupation with all of our power as civilians," Mr Mohammad said, as his wife and four children were sitting on the street.

"We don't know where to go, I'm trying to feed my kids but I can't find food," he added.

The scale of human suffering has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the international community, with shock growing at images and video footage from inside the besieged territory where Israel has cut off most water, food, fuel and other basic supplies.

Israel warned civilians to move to the south and has vowed to wipe out Hamas fighters across the entire strip.

About 350,000 Palestinians are still in northern Gaza, according to Israeli estimates, and one million are said to be displaced, the UN says.

However, air strikes have targeted the southern strip where people took refuge in schools, hospitals and churches.

Nara Al Mazeoun, 32, a pregnant mother of four, said her family has no option but to remain in the north.

“We don’t have any other choice, I am pregnant and I already have four kids. I can't go anywhere, where can I go?" she told The National as she also queued for bread.

Ms Al Mazeoun said schools and shelters in the south were overcrowded, adding there were "no words to describe what is happening".

She has not had a shower in more than 10 days and has walked on foot for two hours at a time to find food for her family.

Another Gazan resident told The National that if Israeli troops enter the enclave, it will lead to a "huge catastrophe" for civilians.

"We are staying put either way, many people haven’t been able to go to the north despite the threats and the air strikes," said the resident, who wanted to remain anonymous.

"We don’t know where to go – our companies and homes are demolished – even the hospitals have been struck.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – amid the growing calls to temper the bombing campaign – said Israel had been "raining down hellfire on Hamas" and killing "thousands of terrorists".

He said his war cabinet, established recently, and the military would determine the timing of a "ground offensive", with the goal to "eliminate Hamas" and "bring our captives home".

But Resilient Gazans said "these threats by Israel mean nothing".

Updated: October 26, 2023, 6:24 PM