Signs on the ground in Gaza on Saturday morning indicated the commencement of a long-anticipated Israeli ground operation following hours of heavy air attacks.
Some said Gaza looked like hell on earth, with huge flames resembling volcanic eruptions Friday night into Saturday morning.
Israel said on Saturday morning its troops, sent in on Friday night, were still in the field, without elaborating. The country had earlier made only brief sorties into Gaza during three weeks of bombardment to root out Hamas militants, who killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, in a terror raid on October 7.
Israelis say their air force is striking tunnels dug by Hamas and Islamic Jihad to store rockets, weapons and use as springboards for attacks.
Early Saturday, a few hours after Israel confirmed the expansion of its military operation in Gaza, Hamas announced it is ready to fight the Israelis with “full force.”
“Netanyahu and his defeated army will not be able to achieve any military victory,” read Hamas’ statement.
On Friday night, the armed wing of Hamas reported confrontations between its fighters and Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and the central region 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,” Hamas said.
As Israel’s bombardment of Gaza intensifies, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned that “many more will die” from shortages.
“People in Gaza are dying… not only from bombs and strikes, soon many more will die from the consequences of [the] siege,” Philippe Lazzarini, the UNRWA chief, said.
There’s been unconfirmed reports of explosions near Gaza’s main hospital. Israelis claim Hamas uses the hospital as a shield for its underground command center –an allegation the Palestinian side has flatly rejected.
Hamas is backed by Iran, which also supports proxy 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.
As humanitarian concerns increase, international institutions are calling for de-escalation and a halt on attacks to allow them to help civilians trapped in the densely populated enclave.
The UN’s general assembly passed a resolution to that effect Friday evening. The initiative by Arab states passed with 120 votes in favor, 45 abstains and 14 against, including Israel and the US.
Israeli officials say there would be no let off in military operations or the siege on Gaza strip until they ‘root out’ Hamas.
The Biden administration has maintained all along that Israel has a right to self defense and should be supported not stopped in its relentless attack on Gaza.
Israeli airstrikes have killed at least 7,000 in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials, who have published a long list of all casualties with their personal details for verification.
Getting information from Gaza has become all but impossible, since Israel cut internet and phone networks coinciding with its expanded operation.
International organizations say they can no longer function or even reach staff in Gaza. Lynn Hastings, an official from the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said that UN hospitals and humanitarian operations “can’t continue without communications”.
Gaza has been in darkness for more than two weeks. The Israeli government cut off electricity after Hamas militants attacked Israel (October 7), killing more than 1,400 and taking more 200 hostages.
Now the blackout seems to have extended to communications.