Gaza: Israel has escalated its military campaign against the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, cutting off its internet and phone services, launching continuous airstrikes, and expanding its ground operations. The move has isolated the 2.3 million Palestinians living in the coastal enclave, who are already facing a humanitarian crisis due to a blockade and lack of electricity.
The Israeli military said it was “preparing the ground for future stages of the operation” and that it had conducted two targeted raids inside Gaza in two days, hitting dozens of militant sites. It also said it was aiming to destroy Hamas’ extensive network of tunnels, which it used to launch a bloody attack on southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people and taking at least 229 hostages.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has risen to over 7,300, with more than 60% of them minors and women, according to the health ministry. Many casualties and details of the ground clashes could not be verified due to the communication blackout. Some satellite phones continued to work, but most Gazans were left in the dark, huddled in homes and shelters with dwindling supplies of food and water.
The U.N. warned that its aid operation helping hundreds of thousands of people was “crumbling” amid near-depleted fuel. It also said that more than 100,000 people had been displaced by the fighting and that access to health care, water, and sanitation was severely hampered.
Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel, including one that hit a residential building in Tel Aviv on Friday, wounding four people. Israel has deployed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border ahead of a possible full-scale invasion of Gaza, which would be its fifth war with Hamas since 2008.
The Israeli defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said the ground offensive would take a long time and that he expected a lengthy phase of lower-intensity fighting as Israel eliminates “pockets of resistance.” He also said Israel did not intend to rule Gaza but did not specify who it expected to govern after Hamas’ defeat.
The U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, spoke with Gallant on Friday and “underscored the importance of ending the violence,” according to the Pentagon. The U.S. has repeatedly blocked attempts by the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement calling for a ceasefire, saying it prefers diplomatic efforts behind the scenes.