Israeli forces have announced they are “expanding” their ground activities in northern Gaza, as the besieged enclave faces the biggest Israeli bombardment since the start of the war.
Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, vowed to respond to the attacks with “full force” in response to ground operations overnight, with the Israeli military saying its soldiers were still on the ground as of Saturday morning.
Israeli troops, backed by tanks, launched brief nighttime incursions into Gaza on Wednesday and Thursday evening, but this third and largest offensive marks an escalation of their ground maneuvers. The bombings completely destroyed hundreds of buildings and homes overnight, Gaza Civil Defense said.
“We attacked above ground and underground, we attacked terrorists of all ranks, everywhere,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a video statement on Saturday. “The instructions for the forces are clear: the operation will continue until further notice.”
The ground raids come amid intense aerial bombardment and Israel cutting communications in Gaza to create a near information blackout, largely cutting off the besieged population of 2.3 million from contact. with the outside world.
UN officials, NGOs and media outlets, including Al Jazeera, have struggled to reach their teams on the ground.
On Saturday morning, Al Jazeera’s Hani Mahmoud managed to report live from Khan Younis in southern Gaza.
He described what Palestinians experienced as “the most difficult and bloodiest night since the start of this war.”
Palestinian health authorities say more than 7,703 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, when Israel began its aerial bombardments of the Gaza Strip. This, after Hamas launched an attack in Israel that killed at least 1,405 people.
Describing the events that took place overnight, Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud said: “It all started when the Israeli army spokesperson handed out a card claiming that al-Shifa hospital is the headquarters of the leadership of Hamas… Hamas then denied having rooms under the hospital. An hour later, Gaza experienced a complete blackout.
“Around 7 p.m. local time, a major sea and land attack took place, focused on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, near al-Shifa hospital,” he said.
It is difficult to get an exact number of casualties at this stage, but “we have heard reports that hundreds of people were killed in these areas and emergency services were unable to reach them in time to help them,” said Mahmoud. adding that families in southern Gaza were also unable to join their loved ones in the north.
“The issue of cutting off Gaza from the outside world has given people the feeling that this could be a genocide in the making without them knowing what happened to their loved ones,” he said.
On Friday evening, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said ground forces were “expanding their activity” in Gaza and “acting with great force… to achieve the objectives of the war.” Israel has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border ahead of an expected wider ground offensive.
Israel also claimed to have killed the man in charge of Hamas’s air operations, describing him as one of the organizers of the October 7 attacks, but this has not been independently verified.
On Saturday night, military planes struck 150 underground tunnels and bunkers in northern Gaza, the army said. Hamas’ vast underground facilities, many of which are located beneath the northern Gaza City, are seen as key targets of the offensive.
On Saturday, Hagari said the army was “progressing through the stages” of the war in Gaza.
He said: “Infantry, armored, engineer and artillery forces are participating in the (military) activity, accompanied by heavy (air) fire. »
He then reiterated a call for Palestinians to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip. “For your immediate safety, we urge all residents of northern Gaza and Gaza City to temporarily move south… The imminent (Israeli military) operation is expected to neutralize the Hamas threat with precision and intensity,” he said. he declared.
Meanwhile, Hamas fired rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israeli border towns on Saturday. Sirens also sounded in the cities of Tel Aviv and Bat Yam, Israeli media reported, but no damage or casualties were reported.
On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Hamas.
The head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the power outage “made it impossible” for ambulances to reach injured people in Gaza.
“Evacuation of patients is not possible in such circumstances, nor is the search for safe shelter,” he said in a statement. job on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said WHO was unable to contact its health staff and facilities.
On Saturday, Hagari said Israel would allow aid trucks carrying food, water and medicine to enter the Gaza Strip during the day.