After Israel’s military expanded its air and ground attacks on the Palestinian enclave, implying on Saturday that a long-promised ground offensive had begun, Hamas pledged to respond with “full force.”
Israel confirmed on Saturday morning that its troops, which were brought in on Friday night, were still in the field, but did not elaborate. Previously, the country had only launched brief incursions into Gaza during three weeks of bombardment to hunt down Hamas militants who it claimed had killed 1,400 Israelis, largely civilians, on Oct. 7.
“The forces are still in the field and continuing the war,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a news briefing on Saturday morning.
Gaza was under an almost complete blackout, with internet and phone services cut for more than 12 hours by Saturday morning. Telecoms firms and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said it was the result of Israeli bombardments.
Hagari said Israel would allow trucks carrying food, water and medicine to enter Gaza on Saturday, indicating that bombing might pause, at least in the area of its border with Egypt where small amounts of aid have been arriving.
Aid agencies have said a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza, whose 2.3 million people are under a total Israeli blockade. Health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said on Friday that 7,326 Palestinians had been killed since Israel’s bombardment began.
The head of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the blackout was “making it impossible” for ambulances to reach the injured in Gaza.
“Evacuation of patients is not possible under such circumstances, nor to find safe shelter,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter. He said also the WHO was not able to contact its staff and health facilities.
Relatives of people captured in Israel during the Oct. 7 Hamas assault demanded an urgent meeting with the Israeli government after what they called “the most terrible of all nights”.
“None of the war cabinet bothered to meet with the families of the hostages to explain one thing – whether the ground operation endangers the well-being of the 229 hostages in Gaza,” the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum headquarters said.
The government has said it is doing everything it can to rescue the hostages.
The Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza said its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in areas near the border with Israel.
Hagari had said on Friday evening its ground forces were widening their operations along with extensive air strikes on tunnels dug by Hamas and other infrastructure.
“In addition to the attacks carried out in the last few days, ground forces are expanding their operations tonight,” he said.
“Overnight, IDF fighter jets struck 150 underground targets in the northern Gaza Strip, including terror tunnels, underground combat spaces and additional underground infrastructure. Furthermore, several Hamas terrorists were killed,” the military said.
The armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam brigades, said early on Saturday its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and in the central area of Al-Bureij.
“Al-Qassam Brigades and all Palestinian resistance forces are fully prepared to confront the aggression with full force and thwart the incursions,” it said.
The United States and other Western countries have offered strong support to Israel but had urged it to hold off on a ground offensive for fear that high casualties among Palestinians would fuel wider conflict.
Hamas is backed by Iran, which also supports militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Israeli military said it had stopped a missile fired from Lebanon at one of its drones and was striking the launch site, the latest in what have been the most serious clashes on the border since 2006.
Israel’s neighbour Egypt said drones fell on the country on Friday and warned against any expansion of the conflict.