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Israelis and Gazans Flee Amid Warnings of Wider Regional War

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As Israeli forces massed along the border with Gaza on Sunday ahead of an expected ground invasion, escalating clashes on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, as well as strikes in Syria and in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, intensified fears of a widening regional conflict.

Leaders from nearly every party involved ratcheted up their warnings, and many urged civilians to move out of the way. Israel dropped leaflets telling Palestinians to leave northern Gaza, and relocated Israelis living along the border with Lebanon. The United States ordered some diplomatic personnel to leave Iraq. Lebanese civilians have also fled their villages, fearing Israeli shelling and the possibility of a new war.

Israel’s military said on Sunday that increasing attacks from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia that controls southern Lebanon, had resulted in civilian and military casualties. Israel said it was moving residents from an additional 14 villages near the border with Lebanon to safer areas, an expansion of its evacuation plan.

While visiting Israeli troops on the border with Lebanon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that if Hezbollah decided to join the war, it would result in “devastating consequences to Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon.”

“We’ll hit it with a force it can’t even imagine,” he said.

A Hezbollah lawmaker, Hassan Fadlallah, claimed in a news conference that the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, was directly overseeing the clashes on Lebanon’s border with Israel, adding that ​​when “the battle requires his appearance, he will do so.”

The escalating violence in the region came just over two weeks after hundreds of Hamas gunmen in Gaza surged across the border into Israel, killing more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians. Israel on Sunday updated the number of hostages that Hamas is holding in Gaza to 212 from 210. Hamas released an Israeli-American mother and daughter on Friday.

The Biden administration has advised Israel to delay a ground invasion of Gaza, hoping to allow more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in the sealed-off enclave and to buy time for more negotiations to release more than 200 other hostages, officials said.

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