Israeli ground forces are inside Gaza after entering the enclave overnight, as Palestinians experienced what they have described as the most intense round of airstrikes since Israel began its retaliation against Hamas’ October 7 terror attack.
Israeli forces “went into the Gaza Strip and expanded the ground operation where infantry, armour and engineer units and artillery with heavy fire are taking part,” Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Saturday morning.
“The forces are in the field and continue the fighting,” he added, without giving further details.
Hagari’s words confirm the military operation has undergone a significant expansion after what it had earlier described as two “targeted raids,” which took place on Wednesday night and Thursday night. Both those raids saw ground forces withdraw after a few hours.
However, it does not appear as though any major ground offensive aimed at seizing and holding significant amounts of the territory is yet underway. In a fresh call for Gazans to move south, the IDF spoke of an “impending” operation.
Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said his country had entered “a new phase in the war.”
“Tonight, the ground in Gaza shook,” he said in a statement.
“We attacked above ground and below ground. We attacked terrorist operatives at all levels, in all places. The instructions to our forces are clear: the operation will continue until a new order is given.”
Near the Gaza border, staging grounds once teeming with hundreds of Israeli tanks, armoured personnel carriers and bulldozers have mostly emptied out when a CNN team visited.
CNN also observed some tank units returning from the direction of Gaza, back to their forward operating positions.
The IDF said on Saturday that its warplanes hit 150 underground targets in the north of the enclave, striking what it called terror tunnels and underground combat spaces and killing several Hamas operatives.
Hagari said Gazans who had moved south of Wadi Gaza, a waterway bisecting the centre of the strip, were in an area he called a “protected space,” and would receive more food, water and medicine today, though he did not give any details.
More than 2 million people live in the enclave, which spans just 140 square miles and is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. For weeks, people living in the territory have faced Israeli airstrikes and a growing humanitarian situation, with shortages of water, food and fuel.
At least 7,650 people have been killed and more than 19,450 more injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to the latest figures released by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave.