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Israel regaining control of towns near Gaza as it works to secure border

Israeli soldiers take up position in Kfar Aza, in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.
THOMAS COEX
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AFP via Getty Images
Israeli soldiers take up position in Kfar Aza, in the south of Israel, bordering Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Updated October 11, 2023 at 3:42 AM ET

The Israeli military said Tuesday it had largely regained control of areas in the south that had been attacked by militants from Hamas. The announcement came on the fourth day of war with Hamas and amid an Israeli siege and heavy bombing of The Gaza Strip.

The military said it had found "hundreds and hundreds" of bodies of Hamas militants who died fighting inside Israel – an indication of the size of their attack. It said there were no longer infiltrators coming over the Gaza border – something in question still Monday. There could still be some holdouts on Israeli territory.

The death toll on both sides continued to climb. The Israeli military says more than 1,200 Israelis were killed by Hamas attackers and rocket fire. Palestinian health officials say more than 900 people in Gaza have been killed by Israeli strikes. Thousands more on both sides have been wounded.

Meanwhile, in his first televised comments since the war started, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei denied that Iran was involved in the attack but said, "We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime."

In Washington, President Joe Biden called Hamas' attack on Israel "pure unadulterated evil" and promised to "make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of itself."

Biden said that 14 Americans had been killed in Israel and more than 20 were missing. In an interview on NPR's All Things Considered, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said there are some Americans among dozens held hostage by Hamas but called it "a very small number of Americans that we know of."

"There's also a larger number of Americans that are just unaccounted for. Now, some of them could turn up to be in the hostage pool. We just don't know. So we're, we're trying to get as much information as we can," Kirby said.

The U.N. said nearly 190,000 people have been displaced from their homes in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, with most seeking shelter in U.N.-run schools. The U.N. agency for Palestine refugees said on X that 14 distribution centers had to be closed because of the Israeli airstrikes. The closures have cut off food aid to half a million people, the agency said.

The U.N. World Food Program called for emergency humanitarian corridors to open into Gaza after Israel shut off food, fuel, water and electricity from entering.

The Palestinian Health Ministry says generators used to power hospitals face fuel shortages and also called for for safe corridors to allow medical teams and medical aid to reach Gaza and so that people with extreme injuries can seek treatment outside the besieged territory.

Doctors Without Borders says the situation in Gaza is catastrophic with ambulances hit and hospitals damaged.

Palestinians walk through debris amid massive destruction from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City's al-Rimal district, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.
MAHMUD HAMS / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Palestinians walk through debris amid massive destruction from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City's al-Rimal district, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Gaza residents woke up Tuesday to scenes of destruction of multi-story residential buildings. The hospitals have treated thousands of wounded.

Meanwhile, several hundred thousand Israeli reservists are at Israel's border with Gaza in what appears to be preparation for a ground invasion.

Israel has put Gaza's 2.3 million residents under complete siege, cutting off water, food, fuel and energy to the territory. Egypt has also closed its borders with Gaza.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country's offensive against the militant group Hamas was only just beginning, as he vowed to lay total siege to the Gaza Strip in the wake of anunprecedented assault on Israel's territory and citizens.

The bloodshed began on the Jewish Simchat Torah holiday, and a day after the 50th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War, when Israel came under attack by Arab countries.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007, launched a massive surprise attack along Israel's southern border on Saturday. Militants infiltrated Israel's border using paragliders, motorbikes, and boats.

The group also fired an estimated 3,000 rockets throughout the day toward Israel, according to Israel Defense Forces.

"We have only started striking Hamas," Netanyahu said in an address late Monday. "What we will do to our enemies in the coming days will reverberate with them for generations."

As Netanyahu spoke, Israel continued its retaliatory missile strikes on the Gaza Strip to bombard Hamas targets. Israeli forces were also amassing troops for a possible land invasion after its military called up reservist soldiers.

"The atrocities committed by Hamas have not been seen since ISIS atrocities. Bound children executed along with their families," Netanyahu described late Monday. "Young men and women shot in the back, executed. Other horrors I won't describe here."

Over the weekend, Netanyahu said anyone in areas where Hamas operates in the Gaza Strip should leave. Gaza has been under a blockade by Israel and Egypt for 16 years.

The military wing of Hamas, known as Ezzedin Al-Qassam Brigades, has said that every time an Israeli strike without warning kills civilians, the group would "execute a civilian hostage" and said it would release audio and images. Hamas has reportedly taken about 150 people — men, women, children, and soldiers — hostage following Saturday's incursion into Israel.

The weekend's violencecame after recent weeks of Israeli military clashes with Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Israel and militants in Gaza have fought multiple wars in the last decade and a half.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is illuminated on Oct. 9 with the Star of David and the colors of the national flag of Israel, in tribute to the victims of the recent Hamas attacks.
JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
The Eiffel Tower in Paris is illuminated on Oct. 9 with the Star of David and the colors of the national flag of Israel, in tribute to the victims of the recent Hamas attacks.

Leaders around the globe pledge support to Israel

Leaders of the U.S., the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy released a joint statement on Monday condemning Hamas and "its appalling acts of terrorism."

"We make clear that the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned. There is never any justification for terrorism," the statement read.

The leaders went on to add they "recognize the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and support equal measures of justice and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians alike."

"But make no mistake," the group underscored. "Hamas does not represent those aspirations, and it offers nothing for the Palestinian people other than more terror and bloodshed."

Citizens from around the globe have been caught up in the ongoing violence.

Smoke rises after an Israeli bombardment on October 9 in Gaza City, Gaza.
Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Smoke rises after an Israeli bombardment on Oct. 9 in Gaza City, Gaza.

Biden said Monday that commercial flights remain available for those wanting to leave, but urged Americans fleeing the region to take "sensible precautions in the days ahead and follow the guidance of local authorities."

A number of Latin American countries have also reported citizens missing in the conflict or have staged efforts to get them to safety.

Argentina's Minister of Foreign Affairs said 250 Argentinians had signed up for an evacuation registry that the country's consulate was preparing in Tel Aviv, while Peru reported two of its citizens missing. Officials in Colombia said its consulate in Tel Aviv was assisting 180 Colombian tourists — mostly in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Nazareth.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials tell NPR they are offering Israel air defense and munitions and are pressing to get munitions to the country as quickly as possible.

Department of Defense officials offered no timetable on the USS Gerald Ford Strike Group — which includes an aircraft carrier, a guided missile cruiser, and guided missile destroyers — making its way to the Mediterranean.

Gaza from the eyes of a doctor on the ground

Listen to Dr. Medhat Abbas, Gaza's Health Ministry director general

Dr. Medhat Abbas, director general of Gaza's Health Ministry, says with resources cut off and borders with Gaza closed, Israel's offensive is putting strains on an already hampered healthcare system.

He told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly the situation has become dire.

"This is applying too much pressure on our health professionals in the hospitals," Abbas said. "Unless these borders are opened at once — for the fuel to run the generators and for medications, medical supplies to come at once together — there will be a collapse of the health system."

Abbas says several ambulances in Gaza have also been struck. He said at least five colleagues have been killed, including one ambulance driver.

"They said, 'We have not started yet. We have not started yet,'" Abbas said, referring to Netanyahu's comments that the Israeli offensive was just beginning. "If after all of that they have not started, what will happen when they really — I don't know. Are they planning for a big massacre in Gaza?"

NPR's Daniel Estrin, Aya Batrawy, Peter Kenyon and Kevin Drew contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Dave Mistich
Originally from Washington, W.Va., Dave Mistich joined NPR part-time as an associate producer for the Newcast unit in September 2019 — after nearly a decade of filing stories for the network as a Member station reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting. In July 2021, he also joined the Newsdesk as a part-time reporter.
Larry Kaplow
Larry Kaplow edits the work of NPR's correspondents in the Middle East and helps direct coverage about the region. That has included NPR's work on the Syrian civil war, the Trump administration's reduction in refugee admissions, the Iran nuclear deal, the US-backed fight against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.