The Israeli Prime Minister describes the campaign against Hamas as a “second war of independence”.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country’s war against Hamas had entered its “second phase” as Israeli troops and armored vehicles moved into Gaza in an expansion of ground operations.
At a news conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening, Netanyahu asked Israelis to prepare for a “long and hard” offensive, calling the campaign the country’s “second war of independence” since 1948.
“This is the second stage of the war whose objectives are clear: destroy Hamas’ government and military capabilities and bring the hostages home,” Netanyahu told reporters.
” We’re only just starting. We will destroy the enemy above and below ground.
Netanyahu’s comments came as Gaza continued to be subjected to a near-total communications blackout overnight, amid intense Israeli bombardment meant to clear the way for troops to enter the enclave.
Palestinian media reported on Sunday that telephone and internet communications were gradually being restored in the enclave.
Tareq Abu Azzoum, reporting from Khan Younis in Gaza, said Friday that Israeli bombardment of the enclave had intensified in the eastern and northern areas of the strip.
“These types of attacks clearly give permission for Israeli ground troops to continue to move deeper into the territory,” Abu Azzoum said.
Israeli military officials confirmed that troops and armored vehicles had been operating in northern Gaza since Friday, but stopped short of calling the escalation of ground operations an “invasion.”
The Israeli army had until now limited its ground operations to brief incursions by its forces into the enclave.
Yet the latest escalation does not indicate a full-scale invasion after weeks of speculation that Israel would mount an overwhelming show of force after amassing more than 300,000 troops along the border.
US President Joe Biden’s administration has urged Israel to delay the launch of a major ground offensive due to concerns over civilian casualties, regional escalation and the safety of captives held by Hamas.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said Israel had signaled that the ground war in Gaza was now underway.
“They’re fighting out there,” he said. “They are carrying out operations. It’s not like the other night when they sent them back and sent them back. They are here now.
The intensifying campaign in Gaza comes amid growing fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in the enclave due to shortages of food, water and medicine.
Humanitarian organizations have also raised concerns that the lack of communications in the enclave could serve as a cover for war crimes and other human rights violations.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet on Monday to discuss the crisis.
“A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday.
The Israeli bombardment of Gaza, launched in response to Hamas’s unprecedented attacks on Israeli communities on October 7, has displaced more than 1.4 million people, according to the UN.
Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 7,703 Palestinians, including more than 3,500 children, according to authorities in the Hamas-ruled enclave.
Hamas’ multi-pronged attack on Israel has killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.