Israel has expanded its military campaign in Gaza, launching a ground offensive involving tanks and infantry on Saturday night after nearly 3 weeks of intense airstrikes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the start of a new “second stage” aimed to destroy Hamas’ military capabilities and rescue Israeli hostages.
The escalation came after the deadliest day yet in the conflict on Friday, with heavy bombardments knocking out power and communications across the territory. Gaza officials say over 7,700 Palestinians have now died, including 1,700 believed trapped in rubble. Israel continues to face rocket barrages as both sides vow to press on.
Ground Troops Enter Gaza Strip to Target Hamas
According to the Israeli military, ground forces are slowly advancing into northern and eastern Gaza on multiple fronts, stopping short of a full invasion for now. However, Netanyahu confirmed a broadening ground operation is underway to accomplish two main objectives:
- Destroy Hamas’ infrastructure like tunnels and rocket launch sites.
- Rescue Israelis held hostage since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack.
The Prime Minister said in a national address, “There are moments in which a nation faces two possibilities: to do or die. We now face that test and I have no doubt how it will end: We will be the victors.”
Analysts say Israel aims to avoid high casualties with a phased escalation applying overwhelming force from the air, sea and land against the entrenched militant group. But the government faces growing pressure to secure the release of dozens kidnapped in Hamas’ unprecedented incursion.
Gaza Left Reeling as Death Toll Passes 7,700
The intense Israeli bombardment on Friday knocked out electricity, cell service, and water infrastructure across Gaza, leaving over 2 million Palestinians cut off.
Per the Gaza Health Ministry, 377 more Palestinians were killed on Friday, bringing the total close to 7,700 since fighting erupted on Oct. 7. Over half of the dead are women and children, and another 1,700+ are buried beneath collapsed buildings.
With power down, hospitals are struggling to aid the wounded, ambulances cannot respond to calls, and morgues are overflowing. The UN warns Gaza’s humanitarian situation is dire with food, water, and medical supplies running out.
Regional Powers Increase Pressure as Conflict Widens
Israel’s ground offensive has heightened concerns the conflict could engulf the broader Middle East. Arab nations allied with the U.S., plus Turkey, have warned against an invasion and raised alarm over the growing civilian toll.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said Cairo is working to broker a cease-fire. Turkish President Erdogan told supporters he is preparing to label Israel a war criminal, further straining ties. Overall deaths have surpassed all prior Israel-Hamas wars combined.
Both sides remain defiant despite international efforts. Hamas continues firing rockets deep into Israeli territory, while Netanyahu has vowed to use overwhelming force to achieve victory. With over 7,700 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis already dead, the fighting appears set to intensify further despite the immense cost.
Israelis United in Demanding Return of War Hostages
Since Hamas militants crossed into Israel and killed over 1,400 people on Oct. 7, the conflict has transformed Israeli views on national security. Now Israelis are united in demanding the government prioritize rescuing their own held captive.
Hundreds protested in Tel Aviv on Saturday, as bereaved families met Netanyahu to back prisoner swaps if needed to retrieve kidnap victims alive. Israel also admitted needing to investigate security failures that allowed the unprecedented Hamas raid resulting in mass casualties on its territory.
But Netanyahu reiterated the military operation aims both to destroy Hamas’ capabilities and bring “all the hostages home.” Analysts say domestic pressure explains the rapid escalation from airstrikes to a ground invasion as approval of the government’s handling of the war has plummeted.
Israel Determined to Deal Decisive Blow to Hamas
After 3 weeks of relentless airstrikes has so far failed to stop Hamas rocket attacks or locate tunnels, Israel appears determined to deal a decisive blow from ground forces. Netanyahu has cast the offensive as a fight for Israel’s survival.
He stated, “Never again is now” in reference to past conflicts and said the nation faces a critical “to do or die” moment. His speech indicates the government will back the military in applying overwhelming force to achieve long-term security, regardless of global concerns over excessive civilian casualties.
Israel says it seeks to degrade Hamas’ military capabilities and infrastructure. But after the shocking losses sustained earlier this month, Israeli officials seem unwilling to accept anything short of total defeat of the militant group. How far the ground invasion proceeds remains uncertain.
Yet the death toll and destruction after nearly 3 weeks of war has already shaken the region. The clashes have upended decades of conventional wisdom on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Leaders on both sides have given few details on potential cease-fire terms or what comes after the fighting finally ends.
For deeper analysis, read our exclusive interview with a former Mossad intelligence chief here. And see our photo essay documenting the devastating human toll as the war rages on.
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