Bomb blitzes in baking heat…The Sun sees airstrikes at Gaza border after Israel raid ‘prepares battlefield’ for invasion

Bomb blitzes in baking heat…The Sun sees airstrikes at Gaza border after Israel raid ‘prepares battlefield’ for invasion

AS THE temperature increased yesterday, so did the frequency of the blasts across northern Gaza.

With the mercury heading towards 100F in the deserted Israeli border town of Sderot, the blasts in the besieged enclave less than a mile away were coming every couple of minutes.

Ian WhittakerThe Sun’s Robin Perrie in Sderot[/caption]

AFPBlack smoke billows over the northern Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot[/caption]

Footage showed a column of Israeli tanks going over the border into GazaRex

AlamyThe IDF carried out a ‘targeted raid’ on Wednesday night in northern Gaza using tanks[/caption]

Ian WhittakerThe only people left in Sderot are the press with cameras trained on the Gaza strip[/caption]

At one stage an air strike clearly caused a major fire in the northern Gazan city of Beit Hanoun when a huge plume of black smoke rose into the sky.

Around 30,000 people normally live there, but it’s impossible to know how many remain and were trying to shelter from yesterday’s relentless bombardment.

Israel has told them to flee south to stay safe, but Hamas is accused of preventing them from doing so.

The terror group is said to be planning to use them as human shields in a bid to deter the inevitable ground assault.

That is both desperate – and futile.

As me and photographer Ian Whittaker witnessed yesterday near the Gaza border, the Israelis have no intention of pausing their offensive.

Grainy, night-vision footage released by the Israel Defence Forces showed a column of armoured bulldozers and tanks entering the terrorist’s lair.

Accompanied by infantry units, the tanks blasted a series of Hamas locations including anti-tank missile launch posts before retreating from the strip.

A number of terrorists were killed in the mission, according to Israeli military chiefs.

It came just hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that the “ground incursion” was coming – and described Hamas fighters as “dead men walking”.

The air strike continued alongside the targeted raid yesterday with 250 targets hit – and there was no sign of a let up as dawn broke.

The Sun watched as the intensive Israeli bombardment carried on through the day with air strikes hitting the northern Gazan city of Beit Hanoun.

A huge pall of black smoke rose from the city streets and spread over the northern stretch of the narrow strip of land.

The smoke cleared to reveal an entire neighbourhood had been left devastated with dozens of buildings destroyed or on the verge of collapse.

Beyond the wreckage, minarets at two mosques were still standing.

The city – with a population of 32,000 before Israel urged Palestinians to flee to avoid airstrikes – lies less than a mile from the southern Israeli city of Sderot.

It is not known how many obeyed the order after Hamas urged residents to stay in their homes.

There were also fears that the terror group is using innocent Palestinians as human shields after a recording was released by Israel revealing Hamas fighters were blocking roads.

Repeated booms could be heard across the scrubland which is all that separates the two cities – along with the 20ft-high security fence.

Sderot itself has been turned into a ghost town after 30,000 residents were evacuated following the Hamas terror attack on October 7.

The only people left there now are the world’s press with cameras permanently trained on the densely populated Gaza strip in the distance ready for the ground assault to begin.

PM Netanyahu made it clear in his television address on Wednesday that it was a case of when not if the invasion takes place.

But ahead of the full-scale assault, a limited incursion was staged a short time after he addressed the nation.

Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers, nicknamed “Doobi”, Hebrew for teddy bear, led the thrust, clearing a way through sandbank defences for tanks.

A column of Merkava tanks, armed with a 120mm cannon, two remote-controlled roof mounted machine guns and a mortar, followed them through the security fences.

They then moved into nearby residential areas where Hamas terrorists have tried to blend in with the local population in the biggest incursion into the besieged enclave since the war began

The raid – which lasted several hours – was designed to soften up the enemy as well as gathering intelligence on Hamas locations and battle capabilities ahead of the ground assault.

Thousands of battle-ready Israeli troops are massed on the Gaza border waiting for the call to attack which could come within days.

An IDF spokesman said later: “In preparation for the next stages of combat, the IDF operated in northern Gaza.

“IDF tanks and infantry struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts.

“The soldiers have since exited the area and returned to Israeli territory.”

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari gave more details and said the mission took “several hours”, and nobody from the IDF was injured.

He added: “Through the raid we eliminated terrorists, we neutralised threats, dismantled explosives, neutralised ambushes.”

Millions of innocent Palestinians remain trapped in the Strip as Israel prepares for the next stage of its battle to wipe out Hamas.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry more than 7,000 Gazans have been killed since the terror group attacked Israel and more than 17,000 have been wounded.

On the Israel side, the IDF said the families of 1,117 soldiers and civilians have now been told that their loved ones have died.

That means around 300 are still to be identified – and 224 remain as hostages inside Gaza, with around half holding foreign passports from 25 countries.

Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel continued yesterday. A building in Petah Tikva, near Tel Aviv, was set on fire after it was hit and sirens sounded across the country. No-one was injured in Petah Tikva.

Mr Netanyahu warned on Wednesday that “all Hamas militants are doomed” and said the country was “getting prepared” for the full-scale invasion.

Meanwhile, Erez Kalderon celebrated his 12th birthday on Thursday – from a hostage hell-hole in Gaza.

The lad was taken by Hamas monsters during their brutal attack on Israel on October 7.

His sister, father, grandmother and cousin are also being held hostage in Gaza after they were snatched in Kibbutz Nir Oz .

Erez’s mother Hadas Kalderon is clinging to the hope that there will be more hostages released after Hamas earlier let four go.

She said: “It gives us hope. It means they are still alive. It is terrifying what Hamas did.

“The hostages are alive and Hamas has an opportunity to show the world they are human, they still have a heart, by releasing all the hostages.”

Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Please join us in wishing Erez a Happy Birthday with the hope that somehow this message reaches him in Gaza.

“Happy Birthday Erez. We are waiting for you at home.”

AFPBeit Hanoun, Gaza before Israeli air strikes[/caption]

AFPThe city was reduced to rubble amid the ongoing conflict[/caption]

Ian WhittakerBlack smoke from explosions in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, as seen from Sederot[/caption]

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