Israel’s Defense Forces were ambushed by Hamas fighters emerging from a tunnel near the Gaza Strip border today – as the IDF deployed more troops, tanks and armoured vehicles into the enclave following weeks of heavy shelling. Dramatic bodycam footage released by the IDF shows tanks and bulldozers storming across northern Gaza, with military command saying the ground forces killed several terrorists during intense clashes.
‘IDF fighters operating near the Erez crossing identified a number of terrorists who came out of a tunnel shaft in the Gaza Strip. After the identification, the fighters engaged in a battle against them, killing several terrorists and injuring others. At the same time, several other battles took place in which terrorists were eliminated,’ Israeli forces said in a post on X. Hamas’s armed wing defiantly declared shortly after: ‘Our fighters are currently engaged in heavy fighting with machine-guns and anti-tank weapons with the invading occupation (Israeli) forces in northwest Gaza.’
The IDF triumphantly added that aerial bombardments directed by IDF fighters attacked two Hamas operation centres, successfully taking out a number of terrorists. On Friday evening, Israeli armoured forces and infantry began operating inside Gaza in what Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called ‘a new phase’ of the war on Hamas, triggered by deadly attacks on Israel on October 7.
Israeli forces had made several smaller-scale ground incursions inside Gaza before, but the current one has been their longest presence in the territory since the latest violence erupted. The unfolding ground offensive comes as the US has warned Israel that it must protect innocent Gaza residents by distinguishing between Hamas terrorist fighters and civilians in the Palestinian territory. The White House has urged caution ahead of a call between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The IDF have been instructed to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza, where health officials in the Hamas-run territory say more than 8,000 people – half of them children – have already died in three weeks of air strikes conducted in retaliation for the deadly Hamas attacks into Israel on October 7. ‘The IDF, the Israeli government, should be taking every possible means available to them to distinguish between Hamas – terrorists, who are legitimate military targets – and civilians, who are not,’
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on CNN talk show ‘State of the Union.’ Sullivan said Biden would deliver the message to Netanyahu. ‘The president will speak again with the prime minister in a few hours’ time today, and he will continue to reiterate the United States’ position on this issue,’ he said. ‘We do believe that thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed in this bombardment, and every single one of those deaths is a tragedy,’ as those in Israel are, Sullivan said.
Speaking on ABC’s ‘This Week’ as he made a round of Sunday talk shows, Sullivan said Hamas, a ‘brutal terrorist organisation,’ is ‘hiding behind the civilian population.’ Hamas has been using civilians as ‘human shields’ and putting rockets and other ‘terrorist infrastructure’ in civilian areas, he said. ‘But it doesn’t lessen their (Israel’s) responsibility under international humanitarian law and the laws of war to do all in their power to protect the civilian population.’ The national security advisor also said that US officials are working to help secure the release of more than 220 Israeli hostages being held in Gaza by Hamas, as well as to help the hundreds of Palestinian Americans stuck in Gaza. ‘Many of them are still there, still waiting to get out, and we are working actively to try to make that happen,’ Sullivan told CBS show ‘Face the Nation.’ But, he said that while neighbouring Egypt and Israel are prepared to let Americans and other foreign nationals leave Gaza, ‘Hamas is preventing their departure.’
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke to families of the hostages and missing Israelis about the IDF’s aims in the Gaza offensive. ‘The ground move is intertwined with the effort to return the kidnapped and is intended, among other things, to increase the chance of returning our people. If there is no military pressure on Hamas, nothing will progress,’ Gallant said at a meeting in the military headquarters in Tel Aviv.
‘I have two goals: to return the abductees and win the war, the return of the abductees and locating the missing is a task of utmost importance,’ he added. Gazans have been issued yet another urgent warning to move south as Israel’s forces further intensified their blitz of the besieged strip – with warplanes hitting some 450 Hamas targets in the past 24 hours ahead of an anticipated full-scale invasion. Airstrikes have been carried out close to the enclave’s biggest hospital in Gaza City in the north, which Israel says Hamas terrorists use as a command centre but is packed with patients and civilians seeking shelter.
Hamas says the death toll has now surpassed 8,000 and is reporting that a ‘large number’ of people were killed in strikes on two refugee camps, as pictures show fireballs rising over Gaza City and devastation in areas of central and southern Gaza. The relentless bombing is expected to wreak more havoc today, with the Palestinian Red Crescent (PRCS) revealing this morning that they received ‘strong threats’ from Israel to ‘immediately evacuate the Al-Quds Hospital because it will be bombed’.
Israel’s Defense Forces say Hamas is using people there and elsewhere as ‘human shields’, and has reiterated its ongoing call to civilians to move to the south of the besieged Strip ahead of the ‘impending IDF operation’. The ‘second stage of the war’, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last night, ‘will be long and difficult and we are prepared for it,’ as the army said more ground forces entered the Gaza Strip overnight. ‘Overnight we increased the entry of IDF forces into the Strip, and they joined the forces already fighting there,’ Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing.
He said the military is ‘making progress at this stage of the war according to plan and expanding our ground operations,’ while adding that at least 331 Israeli soldiers have been killed and 32 taken captive since fighting erupted on October 7. Netanyahu has vowed to ‘eradicate’ Hamas ‘for the sake of our existence’ after meeting families of some 230 hostages held in Gaza since Hamas terrorists’ bloody invasion. ‘This is the second stage of the war whose goals are clear: destroying the military and leadership capabilities of Hamas, and bringing the hostages back home,’ Netanyahu told journalists. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said earlier that Israel was attacking ‘above the ground and below the ground’ in the new phase of the war, alluding to the sprawling network of tunnels Hamas has built under Gaza. ‘Since early Friday evening, combined combat forces of armour, combat engineers and infantry have been operating on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip,’ the Israeli army said late Saturday.
The IDF says it has hit some 450 Hamas targets in the past day and night, including command centres, observation posts and anti-tank guided missile launch positions. Additional ground forces entered the Gaza Strip overnight, with troops on the ground striking terror cell hideouts and helping to direct warplanes to new targets. Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari reiterated that civilians should go south ‘to a safer area where they can receive water, food and medicine’, vowing that ‘the humanitarian efforts to Gaza, led by Egypt and the United States, will be expanding’.
Desperation among the already impoverished population is ramping up, with thousands of Gazans breaking into warehouses and distribution centres to steal flour and ‘basic survival items’, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said on Sunday. UN human rights chief Volker Turk has warned of ‘the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza’, saying ‘thousands more civilians’ could die. The Palestinian death toll passed 8,000, most of them women and children, according to the Health Ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza. In the occupied West Bank, more than 110 Palestinians have been killed in violence and Israeli raids. Most of those killed in Gaza have been women and children, the ministry has said.
Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told reporters on Saturday that the disruption of communications had ‘totally paralyzed’ the health network. Residents had no way of calling ambulances, and emergency teams were chasing the sounds of artillery barrages and airstrikes. An estimated 1,700 people remain trapped beneath the rubble, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which has said it bases its estimates on distress calls it received. The intense strikes against Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, provided cover for Israeli ground forces to step up operations, ahead of an expected full-blown invasion.
The bombardment – described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war – knocked out most communications in the territory late on Friday, largely cutting off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world. Communications were restored to many people in Gaza early on Sunday, according to local telecoms companies, internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground. Israeli fighter jets dropped leaflets over Gaza City on Saturday, warning residents that the area was now a ‘battlefield’, that shelters in northern Gaza were not safe, and they should ‘evacuate immediately’.
The army delivered similar warnings earlier in its campaign, but many who fled south have returned home after failing to find refuge from Israeli bombing. Israel says most residents have fled to the south, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north. Residents said the latest airstrikes destroyed most of the roads leading to Shifa Hospital. Tens of thousands of people are said to be sheltering in the facility, which is also packed with patients wounded in strikes. ‘Reaching the hospital has become increasingly difficult,’ Mahmoud al-Sawah, who is sheltering in the hospital, told the Associated Press over the phone. ‘It seems they want to cut off the area.’
Another Gaza City resident, Abdallah Sayed, said the Israeli bombing over the past two days was ‘the most violent and intense’ since the war started. The Israeli military had no immediate comment about reports of strikes near Shifa. The army recently released computer-generated images showing what it said were Hamas installations in and around Shifa Hospital. Israel has made similar claims, but has not substantiated them. The Hamas’ government dismissed the allegations as ‘lies’ and said they were ‘a precursor for striking this facility’. On Saturday, the Israeli military released grainy images showing tank columns moving slowly in open areas of Gaza, apparently near the border, and said warplanes had bombed dozens of Hamas tunnels and underground bunkers.
The escalation ratcheted up domestic pressure on Israel’s government to secure the release of at least 230 hostages seized in the October 7 rampage, when Hamas fighters stormed from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns and gunned down civilians and soldiers. Family members met with Mr Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Hamas’ top leader in Gaza, Yehia Sinwar, said the Palestinian militant groups ‘are ready immediately’ to release all hostages if Israel releases the thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. Rear Admiral Hagari dismissed the offer as ‘psychological terror’. Mr Netanyahu told a televised news conference Israel is determined to bring back all the hostages and maintained that the expanding ground operation ‘will help us in this mission’.
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