DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel cut internet and communications in the Gaza Strip during an intensified bombardment Friday evening, largely cutting off its 2.3 million residents from contact with each other and with the outside world and creating a virtual information blackout, with the army claiming that it was “expanding” its ground operations on the territory.
The army’s announcement indicates it is moving closer to an all-out invasion of Gaza, where it has vowed to crush the ruling Hamas militant group after its bloody incursion into southern Israel three weeks ago .
Explosions caused by continued airstrikes lit up the sky over Gaza City for hours after dark. Palestinian telecommunications provider Paltel said the bombing caused a “complete disruption” of internet, cellular and landline services. The cut meant casualties from the strikes and details of ground incursions could not be immediately known. Some satellite phones continued to work.
Already plunged into darkness after electricity was cut weeks ago, Palestinians have been thrown into isolation, crammed into homes and shelters, with food and water supplies running low.
Relatives outside Gaza panicked after their messaging conversations with families inside suddenly stopped and calls stopped going through.
“I was so afraid this would happen,” said Wafaa Abdul Rahman, director of a feminist organization based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. She said she had not heard from her family in central Gaza for hours.
“We saw these horrible things and massacres live on television, so now what happens if there is a total blackout? » she said, referring to scenes of families crushed in their homes by airstrikes in recent weeks.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said ground forces were “expanding their activity” Friday evening in Gaza and “acting with great force…to achieve the objectives of the war.” Israel says its strikes target Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that militants operate among civilians, putting them at risk.
The Hamas press center reported violent nighttime clashes with Israeli forces in several locations, including what it called an Israeli incursion east of Bureij. Asked about this report, the Israeli army reiterated on Saturday morning that it had carried out targeted raids and expanded strikes in order to “prepare the ground for future stages of the operation”.
Israel has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border in preparation for an expected ground offensive. Earlier on Friday, the army said ground forces had carried out their second hour-long incursion inside Gaza in as many days, striking dozens of militant targets in the past 24 hours.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has exceeded 7,300, more than 60% of them minors and women, according to the territory’s health ministry. The blockade of Gaza has led to dwindling supplies, and the UN has warned that its aid operation helping hundreds of thousands of people is “collapsing” amid almost exhausted fuel.
More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, according to the Israeli government, and at least 229 hostages were taken to Gaza. Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel, including one that hit a residential building in Tel Aviv on Friday, injuring four people.
The total death toll far exceeds the combined death toll from the four previous wars between Israel and Hamas, estimated at around 4,000.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told foreign journalists that Israel soon expects a long and difficult ground offensive on Gaza. It “will take a long time” to dismantle Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, he said, adding that he expects a long phase of lower-intensity fighting while Israel destroys “pockets of resistance.” “.
His comments pointed to a new phase of the potentially exhausting and endless war, after three weeks of relentless bombardment. Israel has said it aims to crush Hamas’ power in Gaza and its ability to threaten Israel. But how Hamas’ defeat will be measured and the endgame of an invasion remains unclear. Israel says it does not intend to govern this small territory, but not who it hopes to govern – although Gallant has suggested a long-term insurgency could ensue.
The conflict threatens to spark a wider war in the region. Arab countries — including U.S. allies and those that have reached peace deals or normalized relations with Israel — have expressed growing concern over a potential ground invasion, which could cause even more casualties in the context. urban battles.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned on X that “the result will be a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years to come.”
Without electricity, communications and water, many of those stuck in Gaza have had no choice but to wait at home or seek the relative safety of schools and hospitals as Israel has stepped up its bombardment early Saturday.
Throughout the night, explosions sent bursts of orange flame to the horizon above Gaza City, briefly illuminating clouds of white smoke hanging in the air from earlier airstrikes. Some explosions occurred in tight groups, apparently hitting the same location, with balls of fire followed seconds later by an explosion of loud bangs.
Lynn Hastings, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the occupied territories, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that without phone lines and internet, hospitals and humanitarian operations would not be able to function. The Red Crescent said it could not contact medical teams and residents could no longer call ambulances, meaning rescuers would have to chase the sound of explosions to find the injured. International aid groups said they had been able to reach only a small number of staff using satellite phones.
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern, saying the world is “losing a window into the reality” of the conflict. He warned that the information vacuum “can be filled with deadly propaganda, misinformation and disinformation.”
The loss of internet and phones is another blow to a medical and humanitarian system that emergency workers say was already on the verge of collapse, overwhelmed by the wounded and short of supplies under Israeli seal for years. weeks. More than 1.4 million people have fled their homes, almost half gathered in schools and UN shelters. Aid workers say the trickle of aid Israel allowed in from Egypt last week is a tiny fraction of what is needed.
Gaza’s hospitals are searching for fuel to run emergency generators that power incubators and other vital equipment.
Gallant said Israel believed Hamas would confiscate any incoming fuel. He explained that Hamas uses generators to pump air into its hundreds of kilometers of tunnels, which originate in civilian areas. He showed reporters aerial footage of what he said was a tunnel built right next to a hospital.
“For air, they need oil. For oil, they need us,” he said.
On Friday evening, the army released photos showing what it says are Hamas facilities in and around Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza. Israel has made such claims before, but has refused to say how it obtained the photos.
Little is known about Hamas’s tunnels and other infrastructure. The military’s and Gallant’s claims could not be verified.
Speaking at Shifa Hospital, Hamas media chief Salama Maroof called Israel’s claims “lies” and said they were “a precursor to hitting this facility.”
“I am sounding the alarm. There is imminent danger hovering over the medical facility” and those within it, Maroof said. The hospital was overwhelmed by thousands of patients and wounded, and around 40,000 displaced residents gathered in and around its compound for shelter, according to the UN.
When asked if the army was considering targeting Shifa, Hagari replied: “We will not be able to allow terrorist activities against Israel from hospitals, and we will have to, along with the rest of the world, face this signal ‘alarm. He said Hamas uses “its own population as a human shield.”
Hundreds of thousands of people remain in northern Gaza, unable or unwilling to evacuate south as Israel has ordered. Israeli leaflets dropped in Gaza indicate that those who remain could be considered “accomplices” of Hamas.
Federman reported from Tel Aviv and Mroue from Beirut. Najib Jobain in Rafah, Gaza, Jack Jeffery in Cairo, Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Hamas spokesperson Salama Maroof.
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