The Israeli military said it struck 150 underground Hamas targets in Gaza overnight, in the most intense aerial bombardment of the Gaza war so far, as Palestinian residents of the territory reported clashes with vehicles Israeli armor and infantry during the night.
According to the Israeli military, around 100 Israeli aircraft were involved in the strikes which began in earnest after dusk on Friday.
Video footage released by the IDF on Saturday morning showed columns of tanks crossing a flat, open sandy area of Gaza, firing into built-up areas in the distance.
With internet and mobile services almost entirely cut off in Gaza since Friday evening, information on the situation in the Hamas-ruled coastal strip of 2.3 million people was scarce. Images taken by media cameras just outside Gaza, in Israel and Egypt, showed a night of endless airstrikes and artillery coloring the night sky orange.
On Saturday morning, Gaza was shrouded in thick fog and detonations could be heard intermittently across the territory.
An IDF spokesperson said the airstrikes involving 100 Israeli aircraft hit combat tunnels, underground combat zones and underground terrorist infrastructure.
The few reports emerging from Gaza describe a chaotic situation, with paramedic teams struggling to coordinate the recovery of the dead and injured due to a lack of communications.
Hamas’ military wing said Friday evening that its fighters were confronting Israeli troops in the northeastern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun and the central area of Bureij.
“(Benjamin) Netanyahu and his defeated army will not be able to achieve any military victory,” Hamas said in a statement on Saturday, referring to the Israeli prime minister.
The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly called Friday evening for an immediate and lasting humanitarian truce in Gaza. The non-binding vote passed with 120 votes in favor, while 45 abstained and 14 – including Israel and the United States – voted against.
Earlier on Friday, the UN said basic services in Gaza had collapsed, leaving people exposed to major outbreaks as streets overflowed with sewage and food, water and medicine were missing.
According to reports from Gaza residents, the most violent clashes appear to have taken place in the northern area of Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun, while clashes were also reported east of the Bureij refugee camp, in central Gaza, and east of the southern city of Khan Younis. , although we do not know on what scale. All areas have been used in the past as avenues of approach for Israeli incursions.
The strikes on Hamas’ vast tunnel system, known colloquially to Israeli military planners as the “Metro,” come after freed hostage Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, said she and other captives had taken deep into the tunnels during his captivity.
Explosions caused by continued airstrikes lit up the sky over Gaza City for hours after dark on Friday.
Palestinian telecommunications provider Paltel said the bombing caused a “complete disruption” of internet, cellular and landline services. This meant that 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 a few weeks ago, Palestinians found themselves even more isolated, crammed into homes and shelters, with food and water supplies running low. Attempts to reach Gaza residents by telephone were largely unsuccessful Saturday morning.
Relatives outside Gaza panicked after their messaging conversations with families inside suddenly stopped and phone calls stopped going through.
Wafaa Abdul Rahman, director of a feminist organization based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, 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 asked, referring to scenes of families crushed in their homes by airstrikes in recent weeks.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said Friday evening that ground forces were “expanding their activity” 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 the Bureij refugee camp.
Asked about this report, the Israeli army reiterated on Saturday 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. Since mid-week, the military has reported hours-long nighttime raids by ground forces in Gaza, saying troops struck Hamas targets in an effort to prepare the battlefield.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel plans to launch a long and difficult ground offensive on Gaza soon. It “will take a long time” to dismantle Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, he said, adding that he expected a long phase of lower-intensity fighting while Israel destroyed “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. How Hamas’ defeat will be measured and what the endgame of an invasion will look like remains unclear. Israel says it does not intend to rule the territory but does not say who it expects to do so.
In Washington, the Pentagon said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Gallant on Friday and “stressed the importance of protecting civilians during IDF operations and focusing on “urgent delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.” The Pentagon said Austin also spoke of “the need for Hamas to release all hostages.”
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 the potential ground invasion of Gaza, which is likely to increase the numbers of victims in the context of urban fighting.