There are drones flying over Gaza to aid in Hostage Recovery

The Defense Forces of Gaza City after the Oct. 7 Attack: Joint Operation of Hamas and the U.S. Air Forces

The U.S. military has been providing military aid, including bombs and artillery rounds, to Israel, and has deployed two aircraft carriers and hundreds of troops to the Middle East since the Oct. 7 attack. Several dozen American commandos have been dispatched to Israel to help advise on hostage recovery efforts. The Pentagon is taking a more active role in the mission to rescue hostages that were detected in the flights.

The aircraft are MQ-9 Reapers operated by U.S. Special Operations forces and were first spotted on Saturday on Flightradar24, a publicly accessible flight-tracking website, though Pentagon officials said that the aircraft have been active in the area since the days after the Oct. 7 surprise attack on Israel by Hamas.

The flights are in a crucial point in time. Hamas holds more than two dozen people, including 10 Americans, in Gaza, and Israel says it is in the early stages of a ground invasion.

An image from Planet taken Oct. 30 shows dozens of Israeli tanks and armored vehicles arrayed in staging areas along the northern edge of Gaza City. Israeli military released film and pictures of forces in the same area.

Sean MacFarland, a retired three-star general in the US Army who conducted operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, said that based on the satellite imagery, the Israelis had a brigade consisting of several thousand troops operating in the northwest part of the city.

He says that they’re pushing in to establish a presence on the outskirts to begin operations deeper into the city. Iraqi forces tried to wrest control of the city of Ramadi after being defeated by the Islamic State in 2015.

If you wanted to physically control Gaza City, with the population size, all the roads, all the angles and everything else, it would require multiple divisions to do that,” Gentile says. There are multiple brigades in a division.

“What they may choose to do instead is control the city from the outskirts and conduct operations inside,” he says. Such raids might allow them to destroy tunnels and other key parts of Hamas infrastructure without committing to a full occupation.

NPR examined available satellite images, as well as social media posts from both bystanders and the Israel Defense Forces. Based on those images and conversations with military experts, here’s what can be gleaned about the operation so far.

High-resolution satellite imagery taken by the company Planet on Oct. 31 shows roughly two-dozen Israeli armored vehicles stationed near the road, presumably to control access.

Despite these worries, Israel appears to be using a great deal of heavy weaponry in its fight, some of which appears to be older, non-precision bombs, Garlasco says. Unguided bombs and artillery run the risk of incurring greater civilian casualties in a densely populated area like Gaza City.

Israeli fighter jets carried out a huge air raid on the section of the refugee camp north of Gaza City. According to the Israel Defense Force, the strike was carried out with the help of Shin Bet.

Israeli and Hamas forces are already involved in pitched fighting in different parts of the city. Israeli officials say that 19 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting in Gaza since the ground invasion began last week.

The incident underscores a dangerous new phase in operations, says Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon intelligence officer who now works for Pax, a Dutch nonprofit working to protect civilians against acts of war. In the opening weeks of the war Israel conducted strikes on predetermined targets. Now they’re striking quickly at “dynamic targets” with little warning or no warning for civilians in the area.

Alex said that Israel tried to warn civilians to leave northern Gaza. “They’ve attempted to clear the battlefield; they’ve asked people to leave,” he says.

He says Israel has a right to defend itself but it’s not unlimited. He said that they have to target military objects and not civilians, and that they have to operate according to the principle of proportionality. The military gain can’t be offset by the civilian harm, he says.

The United Nations’ human rights office appeared to echo those concerns in a statement saying that strikes on the camp could amount to war crimes.

Urban warfare in Iraq: Israel and Hamas need to address the humanitarian Achilles heel of the operation,” Spokesman Irinaev told AFP

Gentile was involved in urban warfare in Iraq in 2006 and says the numbers will grow. That’s in part because both Israel and Hamas view this as an existential battle.

“They were treating burns with saline and iodine only. There’s no post-wound care, no antibiotics, hospitals were performing surgery without anesthesia because they had no choice,” he says.

It is difficult to imagine that Israel will be able to maintain wider international support if it doesn’t demonstrate that it is trying to help civilians and minimize casualties.

“I think the humanitarian conditions on the ground are an Achilles heel for the operation,” he says. “That needs to be addressed very, very quickly.”

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