The urban battle of the last war in Gaza offers a glimpse of what an Israeli ground offensive would look like.

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli general who served alongside top commanders during the 2014 battle, said this time would be “completely different” because artillery and airstrikes would come first.

A battle that killed dozens of civilians and more than a dozen Israeli soldiers nearly a decade ago offers a glimpse of the type of fighting that could ensue if Israeli forces invade Gaza, as planned, to punish Hamas for its ravages in the south. .

It was July 19, 2014, during Israel’s third war against Hamas. The target was Shijaiyah, a densely populated neighborhood of Gaza City that the army said Hamas had transformed into a “terrorist fortress,” filled with tunnels, rocket launchers and booby traps.

The battle took place on the third day of a ground offensive preceded by a 10-day air campaign. Then as now, Palestinian civilians were ordered to leave the neighborhood. Then as now, many stayed, either because Hamas ordered them to or because they had nowhere else to go.

As Israeli forces advanced toward Shijaiyah, a jumble of squat concrete buildings and narrow alleys, the militants unleashed a devastating barrage of automatic weapons fire, anti-tank missiles and rocket-propelled grenades, the army had said at the time.

Palestinians salvage what few belongings they could from their homes during a 12-hour ceasefire in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, July 26, 2014. Photo: AP

An armored personnel carrier broke down. When two soldiers went out to repair it, a militant fired an anti-tank missile at the vehicle, causing it to explode and killing all seven soldiers inside. In the chaos that followed, Hamas fighters managed to take away the remains of one of the soldiers and still hold them.

Following the panic, soldiers were ordered into their armored vehicles while artillery battalions fired 600 shells and planes attacked from above. The next day, Israeli military planes dropped 100 one-ton bombs on the area, Israeli media later reported.

“The gate to hell opened and shrapnel came through the windows,” a Palestinian resident told the AP at the time.

In 2014, “there was a feeling of madness at the amount of fire being used,” an Israeli soldier told Breaking the Silence, a veterans’ group that criticizes Israeli policies and collects anonymous testimonies from soldiers.

Fifty-five civilians were killed during the two days of fighting, including 19 children and 14 women, according to a UN report, as well as an unknown number of militants. 13 Israeli soldiers died.

Smoke rises after Israeli airstrikes on a building in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, August 7, 2022. Photo: AP

Amir Avivi, a retired Israeli general who served alongside top commanders during the 2014 battle, said this time would be “completely different” because artillery and airstrikes would come first.

“It will be a massive maneuver with lots of air and artillery, a very, very strong entry. “We will try to minimize the losses of our troops as much as possible and, to do that, we need a lot of media coverage.” He added that firepower would be less if used initially and not when soldiers are in danger.

The enormous firepower may have stemmed the army’s losses, but it caused significant damage to civilians and leveled much of the neighborhood. Some 670 buildings were destroyed and nearly 1,200 suffered moderate to severe damage, according to the UN report. Researchers counted 270 craters.

“It’s an incredibly precise operation,” John Kerry, then the US secretary of state, said sarcastically of the battle, in a moment captured by an open microphone.

Israel has ordered an unprecedented evacuation of nearly half of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians from the northern part of the besieged territory to the south. Avivi, the retired general, said the intention was to avoid them. But not everyone can or wants to flee.

“When the artillery starts, those who have not yet been evacuated will do so,” he said.

The UN report found “strong indications” that Operation Shijaiyah involved indiscriminate firing that “may constitute a war crime”. The International Criminal Court is investigating possible war crimes committed by both sides during the 2014 war.

A woman injured in Israeli strikes arrives at a hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, October 16, 2023. Photo: Reuters

Israel, which has long accused U.N. bodies of bias against it, has refused to cooperate with any of the investigations.

The war continued for over a month after Shijaiyah, through equally destructive battles. It ended in an uneasy truce and Hamas is still firmly in control despite the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians – mostly civilians – and widespread destruction. On the Israeli side, 74 people were killed, including six civilians.

In 2021, both sides fought another devastating war, although there was no ground invasion.

And then on Saturday, Hamas, still unfazed, stormed into Gaza and rampaged through southern Israel, killing hundreds and bringing some 200 hostages back to the narrow coastal territory.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also in power in 2014, has pledged to destroy Hamas. The group’s leaders say they are ready to face all scenarios.

Israel has promised a “very extensive” air, land and naval offensive in the near future. He has massed tanks and tens of thousands of troops along the border with Gaza.

If they enter, Shijaiyah will be among their first targets.

Source: Latercera

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