Israel expanded its military operations in northern Gaza, including bombardments that cut off communications and internet connections, as military officials suggested an anticipated ground offensive against the Hamas militants was starting.
“We moved to the next stage in the war,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in remarks broadcast Saturday. “Last evening, the ground shook in Gaza. We attacked above ground and underground,” he added.
“The instructions to the forces are clear. The campaign will continue until further notice,” Gallant said.
The Israel Defense Forces reissued a call for residents to evacuate northern Gaza, warning: “Your window to act is closing, move south for your own safety.”
Aid groups and civil society organizations said they have lost touch with staff and families in the Gaza Strip as a result of the connection outages.
“Last night, the ground forces entered and continued expanding the ground force operations. Infantry, engineering and artillery are accompanied by heavy gunfire,” IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Saturday. Senior Hamas officials, including the head of the militant group’s aerial operations, were killed, he said.
“Overnight, IDF fighter jets struck Asem Abu Rakaba, the head of Hamas’ Aerial Array. Abu Rakaba was responsible for Hamas’ UAVs, drones, paragliders, aerial detection and defense,” the IDF said on social media. Abu Rakaba took part in planning the October 7 attack by Hamas militants on Israel and “was responsible for the drone attacks on IDF posts,” the IDF said.
Israel’s stepped-up military moves heightened fears that a widely anticipated ground invasion of Gaza was coming neareer. Residents in the enclase have already suffered large losses from air strikes and targeted raids.
The head of the World Health Organization said on Saturday that “reports of intense bombardment in Gaza are extremely distressing,” adding that “evacuation of patients is not possible under such circumstances, nor to find safe shelter.”
“The blackout is also making it impossible for ambulances to reach the injured. We are still out of touch with our staff and health facilities. I’m worried about their safety,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. He appealed to “all those who have the power to push for a cease-fire to act NOW.”
The U.N. General Assembly on Friday adopted a resolution on the Israel-Hamas crisis, calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.” The Israeli government dismissed the U.N. resolution, saying Israel will continue to defend itself. “Israel will do what must be done to eradicate Hamas’ capabilities,” said Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the U.N.
EU leaders on Thursday agreed to call for “pauses for humanitarian needs” to allow aid into Gaza, with European Council President Charles Michel welcoming the “strong unity” among the bloc’s governments.
Hamas launched its attack on Israel on October 7, killing over 1,400 people. Israel has retaliated with daily airstrikes on the blockaded Palestinian enclave, killing an estimated 7,000 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health.