Israel increases air and ground attacks in Gaza and cuts off communication in the area
DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA STRIP — Israel shut down the Internet and communications in the Gaza Strip in a series of bombings Friday night, largely cutting off its 2.3 million people from communicating with each other and the outside world and creating a lack of intelligence, as the military described it as “expanding” ground operations on the territory.
The military announcement signaled that it was moving closer to an all-out assault on Gaza, where it has vowed to crush the Hamas terrorist group after the bloody attack in southern Israel three years ago. weeks.
Explosions from successive airstrikes lit up the skies over Gaza City for hours after nightfall. Palestinian telecommunications provider Paltel said the blast caused “total disruption” to internet, cellular and landline services. The cut off meant casualties from strikes and details of ground attacks were not immediately known. Some satellite phones continued to work.
Already plunged into darkness after most of the electricity was cut off a few weeks ago, Palestinians were left alone, crowding homes and shelters with supplies of food and water running out.
Relatives outside Gaza panicked after their text conversations with families inside suddenly went dead and calls stopped going through.
“I was afraid that this was going to happen,” said Wafaa Abdul Rahman, the leader of a women’s group based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. She said she had not heard from her family in central Gaza for hours.
“We’ve been seeing these horrible things and murders when it’s live on TV, so now what happens when there’s a total blackout? ” she said, referring to scenes of families crushed in homes by airstrikes over the past weeks.
Lynn Hastings, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for the occupied territories, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, that hospitals and aid work would not be able to function without phone lines and internet. The Red Crescent said they could not contact medical teams and residents could no longer call ambulances, meaning rescuers had to run blasts to find the injured. International aid groups said they were only able to reach a few workers using satellite phones.
The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed alarm, saying the world is “losing a window into the reality” of the conflict. He warned that the information vacuum “can be filled with deadly propaganda, disinformation and misinformation.”
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari that ground forces were “expanding their operations” Friday afternoon in Gaza and “working with great force … to achieve the goals of the war.” ” Israel says its strikes are targeting Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants are operating among civilians, putting them at risk.
The Hamas media center reported that there were heavy clashes at night with Israeli forces, including tanks, in several places along the border fence. The Israeli military did not comment on that.
Israel has massed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border ahead of an expected ground offensive. Earlier on Friday, the military said ground forces carried out the second one-hour attack inside Gaza in as many days, hitting dozens of militant targets over the past 24 hours.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has risen past 7,300, more than 60% of whom are minors and women, according to the region’s Ministry of Health. The blockade of Gaza has meant that supplies have dwindled, and the UN warned that its aid operation was helping hundreds of thousands of people “collapse” amid running out of fuel. down.
More than 1,400 people were killed in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, according to the Israeli government, and at least 229 hostages were taken into Gaza. Palestinian terrorists have fired thousands of rockets into Israel, including one that hit a residential building in Tel Aviv on Friday, injuring four people.
The total number of deaths far exceeds the total of the previous four Israel-Hamas wars, estimated at around 4,000.
The Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant, told foreign reporters that Israel expects a long and difficult offensive into Gaza in the near future. It will take “a long time” to dismantle Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, he said, adding that he expected a prolonged phase of lower-intensity fighting as Israel destroys “pockets of resistance.”
His comments marked a potentially painful and open new phase of the war after three weeks of non-stop bombing. Israel has said that it aims to crush the Hamas regime in Gaza and its ability to threaten Israel. But it is not clear how the defeat of Hamas will be measured and the end of the game of aggression. Israel says it does not intend to rule the tiny area but not who it intends to rule over – even as Gallant suggested a long-term emergency could occur.
The conflict has threatened to ignite a wider war across the region. Arab countries – including US allies and those that have reached peace treaties or normalized ties with Israel – have raised alarm over a possible ground attack that is likely to cause even higher casualties. among urban fighting.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned X that the “result would be a humanitarian disaster of massive proportions for years to come.”
US warplanes struck targets in eastern Syria that the Pentagon said were linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard following a series of attacks on American forces. Two mysterious explosions hit coastal towns in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, injuring six people. Egypt said it was caused by drones coming from the south over the Red Sea, while Israel blamed the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have tried to fire rockets that Israeli attack since the start of the war.
The loss of internet and telephones deals another blow to a medical and aid system that relief workers say was already on the verge of collapse, overwhelmed by the wounded and running out of supplies under the seal of Israel for a week. More than 1.4 million people have fled their homes, nearly half crowding into schools and UN shelters. Aid workers say that a small fraction of the aid that Israel let in from Egypt last week is very little of what is needed.
Gaza hospitals have been scrambling for fuel to run emergency generators that power incubators and other life-saving equipment.
Gallant said Israel believes Hamas would take any fuel that comes in. He said that Hamas is using generators to pump air into hundreds of kilometers (miles) of tunnels, which originate from civilian areas. He showed reporters aerial photos of what he said was a tunnel shaft built right next to a hospital.
“For air, they need oil. For oil, they need us,” he said.
Late Friday the army released photos showing what it said were Hamas bases in and around Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the largest in Gaza. Israel has made similar claims in the past, but refused to say how they obtained the photos.
Little is known about the Hamas tunnels and other infrastructure. The army’s and Gallant’s claims could not be verified.
Speaking at Shifa Hospital, Hamas media chief Salama Maroof called Israel’s claims “false” and said they were “a precursor to hitting this facility.” ”
“I’m ringing the alarm bell. “There is an imminent threat to the medical facility” and those who are there, Maroof said. Thousands of patients and injured people have overwhelmed the hospital, and about 40,000 people are Displaced people have gathered in and around his land for shelter, the UN says.
Asked if the military plans to target Shifa, Hagari said, “We will not be able to allow terrorist activities against Israel from hospitals, and we must, along with the rest of the world, oppose this red flag.” He said Hamas is using “its own people as human shields.”
Hundreds of thousands remain in northern Gaza, unable or unwilling to evacuate south as Israel has ordered. Israeli flyers who fell in Gaza have said that those who remain could be considered “supporters” of Hamas.
Federman reported from Tel Aviv and Mroue from Beirut. Najib Jobain in Rafah, the Gaza Strip, Jack Jeffery in Cairo, Isabel DeBre in Jerusalem, and Brian Melley in London contributed to this report.
This story has been updated to correct the name of Hamas spokesperson Salama Maroof.