JERUSALEM ― Hamas said today its militants in Gaza were ready to confront Israeli attacks with “full force” after Israel’s military widened its air and ground attacks on the Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza said earlier its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in areas near the border with Israel after Israel reported intensified attacks in Gaza.
“In addition to the attacks carried out in the last few days, ground forces are expanding their operations tonight,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised news briefing on Friday evening, raising the question of whether a long-anticipated ground invasion of Gaza may be beginning.
He said Israel’s air force was conducting extensive strikes on tunnels dug by Hamas and other infrastructure.
The armed wing of Hamas said late on Friday its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and in the central area of Al-Bureij.
“The Al-Qassam brigades and all the Palestinian resistance forces are completely ready to confront (Israel’s) aggression with full force and frustrate its incursions,” Hamas said in a statement early on Saturday.
“Netanyahu and his defeated army will not be able to achieve any military victory,” referring to the Israeli prime minister.
Israeli ground forces had massed outside Gaza, where Israel has been conducting an intense campaign of aerial bombardment since a deadly October 7 attack by hundreds of Hamas gunmen on Israeli communities near the strip. Israel says 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were killed and more than 200 taken hostage, some of them foreign nationals or with dual Israeli nationality.
Al Jazeera, which was broadcasting live footage overnight showing frequent blasts in Gaza, said Israeli air strikes had hit areas around the enclave’s main hospital.
Reuters was unable to verify the reports of the strikes near Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.
Israel’s military accused Hamas on Friday of using the hospital as a shield for its tunnels and operational centres, an allegation the group denied.
UN Assembly backs call for humanitarian truce
On Friday, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly backed a resolution drafted by Arab states calling for an immediate humanitarian truce and demanded aid access to Gaza and protection of civilians.
While not binding, the resolution carries political weight, reflecting the global mood. It passed to a round of applause with 121 votes in favour, while 44 abstained and 14 ― including Israel and the United States ― voted no.
After Israel announced a step-up in operations, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the US did support a pause in Israeli military activity in Gaza to get humanitarian aid, fuel and electricity to civilians there.
Kirby would not comment on the expanded ground operation. But he said Washington supported Israel’s right to defend itself and added: “We’re not drawing red lines for Israel.”
Kirby also said that if getting more than 200 hostages abducted by Hamas out of Gaza required a localized temporary pause, then the US supported that.
In Gaza, telecoms firms and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said internet and phone services were cut off as a result of Israeli bombardments.
“Gaza is currently blacked out,” said Paltel, the largest telecommunications provider in Gaza.
The Red Crescent Society said it had completely lost contact with its Gaza operations room and its teams operating there, and the Hamas-run government said rescue crews were unable to receive emergency calls.
Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it had been unable to reach some Palestinian colleagues, and said it was particularly worried for “patients, medical staff and thousands of families taking shelter at Al Shifa hospital and other health facilities.”
The head of the UN Children’s Fund Unicef, Catherine Russell, said her agency too could no longer communicate with staff in Gaza.
“I’m extremely concerned about their safety and another night of unspeakable horror for 1M children in #Gaza,” she posted on X. “All humanitarians and the children and families they serve MUST be protected.”
Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told MSNBC that Israel was starting its payback against Hamas and “Gaza will feel our wrath tonight.”
“They will continue to be on the receiving end of our military blows until we have dismantled their military machine and dissolve their political structure in Gaza,” he told Fox News. “When this is over, Gaza will be very different.”
Israeli leaders have vowed to wipe out Hamas and kill the leaders and planners of the Oct. 7 assault that surprised and shocked Israel. Israel has said it is preparing a ground invasion, but has been urged by the U.S. and Arab countries to delay an operation that would multiply the number of civilian casualties in the densely populated coastal strip and might ignite a wider conflict.
Hamas, backed by Israel’s main regional enemy Iran, has had years to prepare its defences. Over the years, Israel has uncovered a sophisticated network of tunnels and Hamas has fired missiles at Israel since launching this month’s attack.
Palestinian health authorities say Israeli bombing has already killed more than 7,000 Palestinians.
Concerns about a risk of a wider Middle East conflict have risen in recent days with the U.S. dispatching more military assets to the region as Israel pummelled targets in Gaza and Hamas supporters in Lebanon and Syria.
Much of the infrastructure of Gaza, which has been living under blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2007, has been shattered by Israeli bombing.
Power has been cut for days, crippling treatment facilities and depriving Gazans of fresh water, while half of its housing stock has been damaged and 20,000 residential units destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, according to the Hamas media office.
Palestinians said they received renewed Israeli military warnings to move from Gaza’s north to the south to avoid the deadliest theatre of the war.
Making the journey south remains highly risky amid air strikes and southern areas have also been bombed, Gaza residents said.
Many families have refused to leave, fearing a repeat of the experience of previous wars with Israel when Palestinians who left their homes and land were never able to return. ― Reuters