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Israel’s military said on Friday night that its ground forces were ramping up their operations in the Gaza Strip, as its air force launched an intense bombardment that knocked out the enclave’s telecommunications systems.
Israel’s leadership has been threatening to launch a ground invasion of Gaza to destroy Hamas since its militants carried out the deadliest attack on Israeli soil earlier this month.
Over of the past two nights, Israeli ground forces have been carrying out limited incursions into Gaza, and Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for Israel’s military, said they were ratcheting up their activities further.
“In recent hours, we have intensified attacks on Gaza. The air force is widely attacking subterranean targets and terror targets in a significant fashion,” he said in a briefing on Friday.
“In continuation with the offensive operations that we have done in recent days, ground forces are expanding their ground operations this evening.”
Paltel, the Palestinian telecoms company, said the Israeli bombardment on Friday night had destroyed “all remaining connections between Gaza and the outside world”.
“This has led to the complete interruption of comms service in Gaza,” it said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had lost contact with its operations room in Gaza, and that it was “deeply concerned about the ability of our teams to continue providing their emergency medical services”.
The attack by Hamas on October 7 sent shockwaves through Israel, and inflicted the highest single death toll since the state was founded in 1948. More than 1,400 people were killed and more than 5,400 were injured according to Israeli officials, while Hamas militants also seized more than 200 hostages.
Israel has responded with a ferocious bombardment of Gaza, an impoverished enclave that is home to 2.3mn people. The attacks have killed more than 7,000 people and injured more than 18,400, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel has also severely limited supplies of electricity, water, fuel and food to Gaza, exacerbating already dire humanitarian conditions in the strip, which it and Egypt have subjected to a crippling blockade since Hamas seized power in 2007.
Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, the UN’s aid agency for Palestinians, said on Friday that the last public services and civil order in the territory were “collapsing”, while the streets were overflowing with sewage.
“Our aid operation is crumbling and for the first time ever, [UN staff] report that now people are hungry,” Lazzarini said, adding that the small aid convoys that Israel has permitted to enter Gaza in recent days were “crumbs that will not make a difference to 2mn people”.
More than 1.4mn people have been displaced and 641,000 are sheltering in UN-designated emergency facilities, according to UNRWA.