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Netanyahu says Israel 'preparing' Gaza ground war

JERUSALEM, Unidentified — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Israel is readying a ground war in Gaza, pressing ahead with plans that have troubled allies and threaten to worsen an already cascading humanitarian crisis. 

Facing ever-louder international calls to temper Israel's ferocious 19-day bombing campaign in the Hamas-controlled territory, Netanyahu delivered a nationally televised address. 

He told fellow Israelis still grieving and angry after Hamas's bloody attacks: "We are in the midst of a campaign for our existence", while insisting Israel will decide how the war is prosecuted.

On October 7, throngs of Hamas gunmen poured from Gaza into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping 222 more, according to official tallies.

US President Joe Biden is among the foreign leaders stepping up public calls for Israel to "protect innocent civilians" and to follow the "laws of war" as it pursues Hamas targets.

Thousands of Gazans are already believed to have died in Israel's aerial assault, with the toll expected to rise substantially if tens of thousands of Israeli troops massed around Gaza move in. 

Biden on Wednesday said he had privately suggested Israel should get hostages out if possible before any ground invasion. 

"It's their decision, but I did not demand it", Biden said, as he called on Congress to allocate more money for Israeli defence.

Speaking in Cairo, French President Emmanuel Macron warned: "A massive intervention that would put civilian lives at risk would be an error."

But boasting of "raining down hellfire on Hamas" and killing "thousands of terrorists", Netanyahu said his war cabinet and the military would determine the timing of a "ground offensive" to "eliminate Hamas" and "bring our captives home."

"I will not detail when, how or how many," he said.

Gaza's Hamas-controlled health ministry puts the number of Palestinian deaths at 6,500, including many children and 700 people killed in a single 24-hour window this week. 

AFP could not independently verify the ministry's claims, and US President Biden has stated he has "no confidence" in the Hamas ministry figures.

While the exact toll from the war in Gaza