Sat. Jun 22nd, 2024

THE huge column of tanks stretched as far as the eye could see at a dusty staging post off a highway in southern Israel yesterday.

Scores of 64-ton battle tanks, personnel carriers, armoured bulldozers, artillery, tankers and trucks all gathered in formation.

Doug SeeburgMilitary build up at undisclosed location near the Israel Gaza border[/caption]

EPABattle tanks, personnel carriers, armoured bulldozers, artillery, tankers and trucks are all preparing for imminent invasion[/caption]

And every big gun pointed towards Gaza, as the world held its breath for Israel’s imminent invasion of its Hamas enemy’s stronghold.

The Sun’s team has been monitoring the exclusion zone set up by the Israeli military for days but this was by far the biggest concentration of firepower we have yet seen.

Israeli authorities have asked reporting teams not to disclose the location of their forces — but we can say this huge battle group is now within striking distance of Gaza.

The countdown to bloody all-out war is ticking down.

And gazing over the huge column of armour yesterday, it appeared Israel Defence Force commanders are prepared to go in hard.

Caterpillar D9 armoured bulldozers nicknamed “Doobi”, Hebrew for teddy bear, will lead the thrust.

Hi-tech armoured plates and toughened glass protect the operator from bombs, machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and landmines.

Merkava tanks, armed with a 120mm cannon, two remote-controlled roof mounted machine guns and a mortar, will then move in.

But the toughest test will be the warren of congested streets in Gaza City and its sprawling refugee camps, one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

Hamas will be lying in wait in a warren of tunnels.

Special forces have already conducted a series of lightning raids into Gaza.

More than 200 troops were yesterday reported to have stormed into the Nur Shams refugee camp.

Unverified sources in Gaza claimed 13 people were killed in the raid, with seven children among the dead.

Israel said it is targeting military positions.

Fears for Gaza’s civilian population — and around 200 hostages being used as human shields — have spiralled.

At least 4,134 people have died in Israel’s revenge blitz on Gaza since Hamas terrorists invaded two weeks ago, with more than 13,000 wounded.

But the tragic toll of innocents will soar when the ground offensive begins, risking an escalation which could consume the entire Middle East.

EPAIsraeli soldiers prepare for the scenario of ground maneuvers at an undisclosed location near the border with Gaza[/caption]

There are signs of a catastrophic regional war, which could escalate into a global conflict as superpowers are sucked in.

A US navy warship fired what are believed to be America’s first shots in defence of Israel late on Thursday, downing missiles from Iran-backed forces in Yemen.

The USS Carney, a destroyer in the northern Red Sea, intercepted three cruise missiles and drones launched by Houthi forces.

Dozens of rockets were fired into northern Israel overnight from Hezbollah in Lebanon, forcing the evacuation of several border towns.

And more rockets blasted towards military bases hosting American troops in Iraq and Syria after US President Joe Biden voiced rock-solid support for Israel.

A ground invasion appears almost certain after an Israeli defence minister rallied his soldiers with a call to “annihilate” Hamas.

Yoav Gallant said: “Whoever sees Gaza from afar will soon see it from the inside. The command will come, I promise you. There is no forgiveness for this thing. Only total annihilation of Hamas organisation, terror infrastructures, everything that has to do with terrorists and whoever sent them. It will take a week, it will take a month, two months, until we eliminate them. We trust you and count on you.”

Shortly after Gallant’s statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a video of himself with troops near the border promising victory.

He told the soldiers: “We are going to win with all our might.

“All of Israel is behind you, and we are going to heavily strike our enemies so that we can achieve victory.”

PM Rishi Sunak has called on world leaders to “intensify dialogue” over the Gaza crisis. He issued the rallying call for peace and stability while in Egypt on the final leg of his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East.

Mr Sunak said getting food, water and medicine into Gaza was an “immediate priority”.

He also held talks with the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, where they both condemned Hamas terrorism.

The PM and the Amir of Qatar also said world leaders must do “everything possible to prevent” the Middle East conflict escalating.

Qatar is seen as a major player in the region, using its links with Hamas to push for the release of hostages.

They met in Saudi Arabia yesterday morning before Mr Sunak flew to Egypt.

He also met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer denied he backed Israel withholding humanitarian aid.

He said: “I was saying Israel has the right to self-defence. I was not saying Israel had the right to cut off water, food, fuel or medicines.”

Gaza descended further into hell yesterday as the enclave’s health ministry warned hospital services along the 25-mile coastal strip were nearing collapse.

Water and food supplies are also exhausted amid power cuts.

Gaza was yesterday still waiting for a 20-strong aid convoy of trucks to enter the strip through the Rafah border crossing from Egypt after Israel agreed safe passage provided no supplies reached Hamas.

And up to 100 more trucks will be allowed to reach the blockaded and blitzed north.

Dr Ahmed Al-Mandhari, regional director of the World Health Organisation, said yesterday: “We are hearing news that these projects will move soon today.

“It will be supplies, including medical supplies, food and water.”

US mum daughter released

AN American mother and her daughter were last night released from Gaza by Hamas for “humanitarian reasons”, the terror group said.

Judith Raanan and Natalie, 18, who were among 203 kidnap victims, were in the hands of Red Cross officials after being freed from the besieged enclave, it was reported.

Qatar, which has diplomatic lines open to the terrorist butchers who slaughtered 1,400 innocents, brokered the deal.

Hamas spokesman Abu Ubaida said the release would “prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by (President Joe) Biden and his fascist administration are false”.

The fate of those still held — including 20 kids as young as nine months old — remained unclear as Israel’s major invasion force prepared to storm in.

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