Sat. Mar 2nd, 2024

AN Israeli ground invasion into Gaza could spark the bloodiest war for more than 100 years, a former British commander warned. 

Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said “nothing is off the table” for ruthless Hamas terrorists – who are “sworn to fight to the death”.

AFPSmoke plumes billow into the sky during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City[/caption]

AP:Associated PressIsraeli soldiers wear their gas masks and chemical suits during training[/caption]

AFPA Palestinian man carries an injured a girl following an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis, Gaza[/caption]

ReutersHamas has turned Gaza City into a 311-mile maze of tunnels[/caption]

APStreets filled with rubble in Jabalia in Gaza – where thousands have been killed by Israeli airstrikes[/caption]

Dubbed a “devil’s playground”, Hamas has turned the tiny enclave of Gaza City into a 311-mile maze of tunnels that can be used to sustain a long war.

The network of tunnels has been expanding since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 – and thousands of terrorists are thought to have fled there after its Israel massacre on October 7.

Israel‘s military retaliated with a barrage of airstrikes – and hundreds of thousands of troops are massing on the Gaza border readying for an invasion.

And tonight, Israel announced they are “expanding ground operations” – sparking fears the long-awaited full scale is could occur in just hours.

Hamas, now deeply entrenched, has had years to prepare for a war – and experts are warning that Israeli troops will face fierce street-to-street battles.

With Hamas fighters positioned on rooftops, ammunition-packed tunnels, and the threat of ambushes in a labyrinth of dense streets, Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said Israel’s battle to save hostages and neutralise the terrorists will be “horrific”. 

The chemical weapons expert believes the ground offensive would be akin to the Battle of Mosul – where hundreds of military vehicles, backed by air power, rolled towards ISIS positions.

Hamas could even unleash chemical weapons in their spider web of tunnels where hundreds of hostages are currently being held, the former commander warned.

“This could be the heaviest and most challenging fighting we have seen since the First World War,” he told The Sun.

“This is almost clearing trench by trench in the most horrific fashion. If the Israelis can avoid doing this, they will do at all costs.” 

Israeli special forces are currently carrying out operations to wipe out key Hamas commanders – and prepare the ground for an invasion to rescue hostages.

And Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said the underground battles in the tunnels will be the “most challenging” part of the offensive.

The series of intricate tunnels – some big enough to fit a lorry inside – means Israeli forces could face “sophisticated ambushes” from Hamas, military experts said.

The terror group began building its defensive tunnels – dubbed “Gaza Metro” – almost two decades ago.

Hidden up to 100ft below the surface, the entrances are enclosed under the floors of homes, mosques and schools – allowing fighters to move unseen between homes and alleyways within Gaza.

“A fair assumption is most of the hostages are underground in the tunnels,” Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said.

“It is the most unbelievably difficult environment to fight in. That battle in the tunnels is going to be horrific. 

“Although some of the tunnels are big enough to take lorries, a lot of them are big enough for someone to crawl along. 

“One can imagine fighting in the dark with the booby-traps that will be there.

“Despite the fact Israelis have a lot of highly trained underground tunnel forces, that is going to be horrific.”

When it comes to the battle on the ground, Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said one of the main challenges will be 30,000 fighters mixing among the civilian population.  

It means Israeli troops will be forced to fight “hand-to-hand” with Hamas fighters – and there’s a high risk of civilian casualties.

“The assault into Mosul is probably a good analogy because they had very tight built-up areas, lots of ISIS fighters high up dropping things down,” he said.

“It will be incredibly difficult, exactly as we saw with Mosul.

“Precision strikes are one thing, but ultimately Israeli infantry have almost got to fight hand-to-hand with the Hamas fighters, who are not going to surrender. That’s pretty clear. 

“Unless Hamas suddenly give up the hostages and surrender, that will be the outcome – very difficult fighting.”

But Israel’s advance could be slow and methodical, experts said.

Hamas fighters carrying rockets through one of the underground rat-runs

AFPAn injured man holds a wounded after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza[/caption]

Armed fighters in one of the underground tunnels in Shujaya neighborhood of Gaza CityGetty

Brigadier Ben Barry told The Sun: “The most likely course of a ground attack, is very intense fighting with Israeli troops operating highly advanced armoured vehicles, but still having to leave them to clear buildings and tunnels.

“This will be slow and methodical work, although raids by fast moving columns of Israeli armoured vehicles cannot be ruled out.

“If it comes to a full ground attack, both sides will be seeking to surprise each other, including by using new weapons and tactics.”

He believes Hamas “will have planned and trained to inflict as many Israeli casualties as it can using a mixture of anti-tank missiles rockets, land mines IEDS and small arms”.

In order to wipe out the terror group, Israel will need to “cover every blade of grass” and clear out a huge swathe of buildings, Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said.

“These fighters will be on the rooftops, left and right, underground,” the former commander said.

“You’ve got to make sure you’ve wiped up everything because if somebody is left behind you, that’s the worst position to be in – if they start attacking you from behind. It will be very deliberate. 

“What is happening at the moment is preparing the battlefield – all these special forces raids trying to take out key people, key locations and rescue hostages.

“Ultimately, because we don’t think Hamas are going to capitulate, it’s going to be horrendous.”

And Colonel de Bretton-Gordon warned the world should prepare for “unlimited terror” from Hamas – and expects the ruthless militants to continue using civilians as “human shields”. 

“Hamas have had two years to prepare for this and now three weeks to get ready,” he said.

“When we know Hamas are prepared to chop the heads off babies, nothing is off the table.

“Part of our defence would be do dig a trench, the Hamas defence is to put a bunch of civilians in front of them. 

“There will be booby-traps, ambushes, and chemical weapons could be possible. I’ve seen how effective chemical weapons were in Syria in fighting in built-up areas. 

“If one accepts Hamas has no limits, then chemical weapons could be very effective… it could add another horrific dimension to this.

“Imagine if Hamas starts chucking them around the tunnels in Gaza – it would be even more horrific. 

“The only caveat is that, however abhorrent chemical weapons might be, even if the First World War, they killed relatively few people.

“It’s the psychological impact. That’s what terror groups want. It’s another weapon in their arsenal. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that.”

He added: “I think the public should be prepared for unlimited terror from these people. 

“Hamas terrorists are sworn to fight to the death. That’s what they will do. There’s no suggestion these people are going to surrender.

“They might give up a few hostages – but they won’t trade 200 hostages for anything. It’s going to be horrendous.”

Colonel de Bretton-Gordon said Israeli forces are “ready to go” with the ground invasion, adding: “I don’t think it’s far away.”

Israel has already been accused of killing nearly 6,000 civilians in a relentless barrage of airstrikes – including thousands of children.

Tel Aviv has urged people in Gaza City to move south to safer areas – but many say they can’t afford to leave or are following instructions from Hamas to stay.

Israel has insisted it is not targeting civilians – but battles in densely populated cities comes with deadly risks.

Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Arnold warned the battlefield will “be ugly”.

He told the New York Times: “Cities are the devil’s playground – they make everything infinitely more difficult.”

The US Army strategist added: “While Israel is biding its time – setting the conditions, dropping buildings, getting its troops ready – the other side is almost certainly getting ready as well.”

Freddie Blish, a retired US Marine lieutenant colonel, said Hamas fighters “know the streets, they know the tunnels”.

“It’s going to be a tough slog,” he warned.

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