Hamas claims ‘almost fifty’ hostages killed in Israeli strikes

The terror group bragged about the deaths of captives as Israel’s military presence was bolstered on the border ahead of a full-scale assault.

A statement by Hamas’ armed wing said: “Al-Qassam Brigades estimates the number of Zionist prisoners who were killed in the Gaza Strip as a result of Zionist strikes and massacres has reached almost 50.”

The chilling post came after Israel launched the first wave of ground attacks in Gaza.

The number of Britons killed either during or since the October 7 attack on Israel stands at 12. The whereabouts of five remain unknown.

Israeli intelligence suggests at least 224 hostages from 25 countries – including Britain – were being held as human shields in underground ­tunnels in Gaza.

Meanwhile ­desperate relatives mount rallies calling for their release.

In the days after Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, the group’s ­military wing said it would kill an Israeli hostage every time Israel launched an attack on Gaza.

Abu Obeida, a spokesperson for the al-Qassam Brigades, added that these executions would be broadcast “in audio and video.”

On Wednesday, in an escalation of the conflict, Israeli forces – including tank divisions – carried out a “relatively large” operation targeting enemy positions in the north.

It warned the assault would “soon ramp up”. Retired general Benny Gantz, now a member of the state’s emergency war cabinet, warned a ­full-scale ground offensive would be “one stage in a long-term process that includes security, political and social aspects that will take years.”

READ MORE: Israel unveils new weapon to blow up Hamas maze of terror tunnels

He said: “The campaign will soon ramp up with greater force.”

But Hamas promised a wider regional escalation should Israeli Defence Forces begin a full assault.

Saleh al-Arouri, the terror cell’s second-in-command, threatened: “Hamas and other Islamist groups will turn your ­tragedies into joy in the event of a ground invasion.” He said Hamas, the Sunni Islamist political and military organisation governing the Gaza Strip, was preparing for war, telling Hezbollah-controlled al-Manar TV “battles have not begun yet”.

It all but confirmed Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group, is preparing for an imminent Israeli invasion. Al-Arouri said: “Our battle is also Hezbollah’s battle. If the enemy enters by land, it will be an unprecedented defeat for Israel.” Israel vowed to turn Hamas into “rubble and dust” after the rampage three weeks ago. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said Wednesday’s operation – when tanks crossed into northern Gaza in the biggest ­incursion since it declared war – lasted a few hours and no casualties were reported.

Pictures showed Israeli tanks pummelling Hamas targets in what was described as a “limited “raid”.

The IDF said the incursion was carried out “in preparation for the next stages of combat” as defence forces prepared to mount a large-scale invasion that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to carry out.

He said the battle against Hamas whose masked fighters slaughtered 1,400 Israeli civilians was necessary to “save our country”.

In an address to Israelis he said airstrikes were only “the beginning”. He added: “We have set over this war two main goals: to do away with Hamas by destroying its ­military and governmental capabilities, and to do everything within our power to return our hostages.”

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Colonel Richard Kemp, the former British Army commander and Afghanistan veteran, said: “The IDF is well prepared for the fight.

“I have seen soldiers close to the Gaza border carrying out intensive training and rehearsals before they go in. They have the latest ­equipment, networked to give ­commanders and troops on the ground a picture of the terrain, the enemy and their own force ­dispositions that would have been beyond any soldier’s wildest dreams just a few years ago.

“But ultimately hunting down and killing Hamas terrorists will come down not to hi-tech equipment but to the raw courage of the infantryman on the ground with his guns, bullets and grenades.”

An invasion has been delayed to allow the US to rush missile defences to the region and comes amid ­mounting international ­pressure. Despite global appeals for a ceasefire the Israeli military ­continues to make “necessary preparations” for the offensive.

Air strikes have forced the ­closure of medical facilities in Gaza because of bomb damage and power outages as the humanitarian disaster grows by the day. Palestinians continue to search for casualties at the sites of Israeli strikes on houses with aid agencies fearing more than 1,500 – ­including hundreds of children – remain buried under the rubble of ­obliterated buildings.

Jason Lee, director of British charity Save the Children, said: “It is unconscionable that there are hundreds of children trapped under the rubble, with rescue teams struggling to reach them.

“They will undoubtedly be in extreme pain, terrified, alone and waiting for help.

“If there is not a ceasefire, if the siege is not lifted, this help will not come for many.”

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Tor Wennesland, special ­coordinator for the Middle East peace process, warned: “Any ­miscalculation could have immeasurable consequences.”

The Ministry of Health in Gaza, run by Hamas, said 7,028 Palestinians have been killed since October 7. Among the dead were 2,913 children, it claimed. Hamas called on Muslims and Arabs across the world to “escalate the mass movement” calling for an end to the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and to permanently open the Rafah crossing with Egypt to allow humanitarian aid to cross.

In a statement it said it wanted supporters to “participate actively and intensively”. Pro-Palestinian rallies have taken place across the world, including London where there have been violent clashes with Jews.

Yesterday more aid entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing carrying water, food, and medicine.

The number of trucks to have reached the enclave since October 7 now totals 74.

Israel ordered a complete ­blockade of Gaza in the wake of the Hamas attacks and has vowed to continue to do so until Hamas releases hostages.

The border with Egypt remains the only way in and out of Gaza, but has not been opened to the 2.3 million trapped civilians.

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