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Fear grows of Israel-Hamas war spreading as Gaza strikes continue, Iran's allies appear to test the water

Gaza desperately awaits humanitarian aid
Gaza desperately awaits humanitarian aid as Israel prepares for ground war 02:15

Israel said its ongoing airstrikes hit more Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip Friday, as it began evacuating a town near its northern border with Lebanon, where almost daily exchanges of fire with the other major Iran-backed group in the region, Hezbollah, have fueled fear of new fronts opening almost two weeks into the war sparked by Hamas' deadly terror attack.

Israel's military has accused Hamas of killing about 1,400 people in that attack and seizing at least 203 hostages during the rampage. The military said Hamas kidnapped Israeli soldiers, but also dozens of civilians, including as many as 20 people over the age of 60 and more than 20 under 18. One Israeli family shared their heartache with CBS News on Friday as they waited desperately for any word on a 10-month-old baby among the captives.

A senior Israeli military leader told soldiers Thursday they would soon "see Gaza from the inside," suggesting a long-expected ground invasion was still looming, but fear the conflict could spread beyond Israel's borders and the decimated Palestinian territory were only growing Friday.

Israeli airstrikes continue pounding Gaza 04:44

Iran's allies and fear of a spreading war

Hezbollah has exchanged deadly fire with Israeli forces for more than a week, but it has so far been relatively limited cross-border shelling. The powerful Iran-backed group is based in Lebanon, and it has a large arsenal of long-range rockets. 

With tension along the northern border soaring, Israel's Ministry of Defense announced Friday that the roughly 20,000 residents of the town of Kiryat Shmona, near that Lebanese border, would be evacuated.

Israel Political Map
A map shows Israel, with Jerusalem and other major cities labeled, along with the Palestinian territories of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Getty/iStockphoto

Another militant force in the region that's considered by the U.S. and Israel to be an Iranian proxy group is the Houthi movement, which has fought Yemen's Western-backed government in a brutal civil war for almost a decade. On Thursday, the Pentagon said a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Red Sea had shot down cruise missiles and drones launched by the Houthis, which may have been aimed at Israel. 

Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said the U.S. was still completing its assessment of where the three intercepted ballistic missiles were headed, but if they were intended for Israel, it would be the first direct U.S. military intervention to protect Israel from its regional foes since Hamas' unprecedented attack.

What to know about Hezbollah as militant group exchanges fire with Israel 07:40

A U.S. defense official confirmed to CBS News, meanwhile, that an American military base near Baghdad, Iraq, was targeted in a new rocket attack. Reports of U.S. bases in Iraq and Syria being targeted by drones have increased since the Israel-Hamas war erupted, and Iran-backed militias in northern Iraq and Syria have long targeted American forces in the region.

President Biden has warned Iran and its regional allies repeatedly and clearly not to get involved in Israel's war with Hamas.

Speaking Friday to journalists at the Iranian Embassy in London, charge d'affaires Mehdi Hosseini Matin said Iran's "first priority is stopping the war, not escalation."

He was dismissive of the level of influence Iran could exert over allied groups in the region, claiming  the Islamic republic was "not in a position to control any group effectively in the Middle East or in border countries with Gaza."

The Iranian regime has said Hamas' brutal terror attack on southern Israel was a justifiable response to "the establishment of an open air prison in Gaza for more than two decades," which Matin said Friday was "absolutely unacceptable according to international law."

Calling the situation in the region "very volatile and dangerous," Matin said any further "escalation is not in the interest of anyone, including the United States."

Anger in the West Bank and Egypt

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, clashes between Israelis and Palestinians had been increasing for a year even before Hamas' terror attack. Palestinian officials in the Israeli-occupied territory, which is not controlled by Hamas like Gaza, say more than 70 people have died in confrontations with Israeli forces and armed Jewish settlers since Oct. 7.

Palestinian officials said a rare Israeli airstrike in the region, reportedly hitting a refugee camp near the West Bank-Israel border, killed 13 people on Friday, and anger was growing over that strike and the ongoing bombing of the Gaza Strip.

"It was horrible for all the Palestinians. Not just for Palestinians but I think for everybody in the world who saw this horror of what's going on in the Gaza Strip," Jamal Joumaa, a Palestinian activist who joined a demonstration in central Ramallah on Friday, told CBS News.

Hundreds protest against Israel's airstrikes in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, in Ramallah, West Bank, Oct. 20, 2023. CBS News/Haley Ott

The protest swelled as Palestinians poured out of mosques following Friday prayers, with many chanting support for Hamas. Palestinian and Hamas flags could be seen in the crowd of a few hundred people.

"Give me a two state solution tomorrow, I will accept it. But this became impossible because of the American policies, because of the American backing of the colonial state," Joumaa told CBS News, referring to Israel. 

"I want the Americans first to know that they are supporting a crime of genocide in Gaza," he said, adding that the leaders of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, based in Ramallah, had failed the people.  

Another protester, 18-year-old Abeer Iyad Hassan al-Bezzary, told CBS News she was angry, "but what can we do here? We just pray for them [Gazans] to be safe."

"We feel President Biden is taking one side… the ones who have force, the power. They [Israelis] have the weapons, they have everything," Ahmad abu Dukhan told CBS News at the protest.

In Egypt, the only country to share a border with Gaza apart from Israel, the authoritarian government has made protests of any kind illegal, but there was a significant one Friday in the very heart of Cairo, in Tahrir Square. Elsewhere in the city, the government has not only allowed pro-Palestinian protests, it's encouraging them, journalist and opposition activist Khaled Dawoud told CBS News on Friday. 

"The anger is like, so widespread," he said. "You can't control it... We see the pictures, we see the Palestinian children, we identify with them... So, we get angry, and we go in the street and demonstrate and protest."

People march from Tahrir Square to the downtown district of Cairo, Oct. 20, 2023, during a protest supporting the Palestinian people following Friday Noon prayers. KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty

Asked if he believed the Egyptian government, by allowing the protests, was trying to send a warning that the Hamas-Israel could spread, Dawoud acknowledged that the demonstrations could help leaders in Cairo, who worry an escalation could send thousands of Palestinian refugees pouring over the Gaza border.

But, he stressed that he and the other protesters were "not acting by remote control. These feelings are genuine."

Gaza airstrikes and the Rafah border crossing

The Israeli military said Friday that it had struck more than 100 Hamas targets in Gaza overnight, including command centers, warehouses full of weapons and an underground tunnel. 

Palestinians in Gaza reported airstrikes in the south, where many civilians have relocated after being told by Israel's military that the northern part of the small, densely populated enclave would not be safe. The United Nations has said more than one million people have been displaced within Gaza since Israel started striking the region in the wake of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack.

Nobody has been able to flee Gaza, however, and there are as many as 600 U.S. nationals among the roughly 2.3 million people trapped there under a complete Israeli blockade of the strip. 

That blockade has cut off supplies of food, energy and medicine to the decimated Palestinian territory, fueling an already monumental humanitarian crisis amid the shelling and drawing warnings from experts that Israel could be answering Hamas' war crimes with war crimes of its own.

How laws of war apply to fighting between Israel and Hamas 11:06

Israeli leaders have consistently dismissed such warnings, insisting the country is only targeting Hamas militants and blaming the group itself — which has long been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., Israel and most European nations — for all deaths in the Palestinian territory that it controls and that it used as a launch pad for its brutal attack.

President Biden, during his visit earlier in the week, got Israel to commit to halting its strikes near the only border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, at Rafah, to enable aid to get in, but it remained unclear Friday when the gates might actually open. Crews were working to repair the Rafah crossing, with about 20 trucks full of humanitarian aid waiting on the Egyptian side.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres visited the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing Friday and, surrounded by food and medical supplies waiting to be shipped out, he urged all sides to open humanitarian routes into Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres (center) inspects aid materials waiting to be moved across the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, Oct. 20, 2023.  Handout/UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

"On this side, we have seen so many trucks loaded with water, with fuel, with medicines, with food. They are a lifeline. They are the difference between life and death for so many people in Gaza," Guterres said. "What we need is to make them move, to make them move to the other side of this wall, to make them move as quickly as possible and as many as possible."

The Egyptian Sinai for Human Rights group posted video of what it said were aid workers lined up Friday with vehicles on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, saying in a tweet that they were, "awaiting the opening of the crossing in the coming hours to bring humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip for the first time since the beginning of the war."

What is Israel's plan in Gaza?

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of his country's legislature, the Knesset, on Friday that the war Hamas started with its Oct. 7 terror attack would end with group's destruction.

"We are at war, we have been left no choice. October 7th will be remembered as the day that started the destruction of Hamas," Gallant told the lawmakers, laying out for the first time a vague outline of Israel's planned military operation — which leaders have said could take months or even years. 

He said the objectives of Israel's three-phase operation included the elimination of Hamas as a power in Gaza, with both its military and governing capabilities destroyed, followed eventually by the establishment of a new "security reality" in the Palestinian territory.

Reflecting on historic week amid Israel-Hamas war 02:43

Gallant said Israel was still in the first of the three stages: "A military campaign that currently includes strikes, and will later include maneuvering, with the objective of neutralizing terrorists and destroying Hamas infrastructure," which he said would be followed by a second phase focused on "eliminating pockets of resistance" in Gaza.

"The third phase," Gallant said, "will require the removal of Israel's responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip, and the establishment of a new security reality for the citizens of Israel."

In an interview with 60 Minutes last week, President Biden said "Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas," but the U.S. leader warned that an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be "a big mistake."  

NOTE: The original version of this article incorrectly described Hezbollah is a Palestinian group. It has been updated to reflect that it is a Shiite Muslim group based in Lebanon.   

CBS News' Pamela Falk at the United Nations and Emmet Lyons in London contributed to this report.

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