Israel said troops sent in on Friday night were still in the field whereas previously it had made only brief sorties during three weeks of bombing to destroy Hamas whom it said killed 1,400 Israelis in an Oct. 7 assault.
“We attacked above the ground and under ground, we attacked terror operatives of all ranks, everywhere,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said.
Though there is no indication as yet of a ground invasion en masse, Israel is telling Gaza’s 2.3 million people to move away from the north where it says Hamas is hiding under civilian buildings. Palestinians say nowhere is safe, with bombs also smashing homes in the south of the densely populated territory.
Gaza’s phone and internet services have been almost completely cut since Friday evening, which the Palestinian Red Crescent blamed on Israel. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Aid agencies say a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding for Gazans who are under a total Israeli blockade. Health authorities in the territory said 7,650 Palestinians have been killed since Israel’s bombardment began.
The head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the blackout was blocking ambulances and evacuations of patients and denying people safe shelter.
He and other aid agencies said they could not contact their staff, but a representative from the International Committees of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Gaza got an audio message out.
William Schomburg said medics were working around the clock while also dealing with personal tragedies. “I spoke to one doctor who had lost his brother and cousin the night before,” he told the BBC broadcaster in a clip the ICRC posted on X.
The few journalists who made contact with the outside world depicted a hellish situation.
“If you are dying, you can’t ring up the ambulance service. If you are struck, whatever happens, you can’t communicate with anyone,” Plestia Alaqad said in a video on social media with drones and planes buzzing in the background.
“There is no internet, no network, no service, no fuel to move around by car, no electricity, nothing.”
Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk offered help from his Starlink satellite network to support communications in Gaza for internationally recognised aid organisations.
Explosions and ruins
Video from the Israeli side of the heavily fortified fence showed explosions in Gaza sending up clouds of smoke among a line of ruined buildings.
Al Jazeera, which broadcast live satellite TV footage overnight showing frequent blasts, said air strikes had hit areas around the enclave’s main hospital Al Shifa.
Israel had accused Hamas of using the hospital as a shield for tunnels and operational centres, which the group denied.
Reuters could not verify reports of strikes by the hospital.
An Al Jazeera correspondent said Palestinians were taking the dead and injured to hospital in their cars.
In Israel, some relatives of hostages taken during the Oct. 7 Hamas assault demanded a 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.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said he would meet family representatives of the hostages on Sunday.
Israel said rockets were still being fired at it from Gaza and released footage of its forces, including a column of tanks, inside the territory.
Jets killed the head of Hamas’ aerial wing, Asem Abu Rakaba, a key figure in the Oct. 7 attack, it said.
Regional ‘time bomb’
Jets also struck 150 underground targets in north Gaza, including Hamas tunnels, underground combat spaces and other underground infrastructure, killing others from the group.
The armed wing of Hamas, the al-Qassam brigades, said its fighters were fighting 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 urged it to hold off on a ground offensive for fear of high casualties among Palestinians and a widening conflict.
Hamas is backed by Iran, which also supports militias in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. U.S. troops have come under fire from Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria. Washington has been moving more military assets to the region.
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The Israeli military reported a new exchange of fire on the border with Lebanon on Saturday, 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.
“The region will becoming a ticking time bomb that impacts us all,” warned Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The crisis brought hundreds of thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators out in cities around Europe, the Middle East and Asia on Saturday.
“This is not about Hamas. This is about protecting Palestinian lives,” said marcher Camille Revuelta in London.