Israeli forces have initiated ground operations against Hamas in Gaza on Sunday, marking what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has termed the second phase of a three-week-old conflict with the aim of weakening the Palestinian militant group.
As Israeli warplanes continue to carry out airstrikes and Israeli troops, along with armoured units, advance into the Hamas-ruled enclave, residents in Gaza have experienced a significant disruption in communications and internet access. Israeli military leaders have indicated their preparedness for an expanded ground offensive.
During a press conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday, Netanyahu cautioned Israelis to brace themselves for a “long and challenging” campaign but refrained from officially labelling the ongoing military actions as an invasion. Some of U.S. President Joe Biden’s advisors have advised their Israeli counterparts to exercise restraint before launching an all-out assault, according to U.S. officials.
While the initial ground operations seem somewhat limited at this point, Netanyahu has made a commitment to spare no effort in securing the release of more than 200 hostages, including Americans and other foreigners, held by Hamas.
“This is the second stage of the war with clear objectives: to dismantle Hamas’ governing and military capacities and to secure the release of the hostages,” Netanyahu informed reporters.
“We are only at the outset,” he added. “We will eliminate the enemy both above and below the ground.”
For the past three weeks, Israel has imposed a strict blockade on Gaza and conducted relentless airstrikes following a devastating attack by the Islamist group Hamas on October 7, resulting in the deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, with at least 1,400 casualties, according to Israeli authorities.
Western countries have generally expressed support for Israel’s right to self-defence. Nevertheless, there has been growing international concern regarding the humanitarian toll of the bombings, with mounting calls for a “humanitarian pause” to facilitate the delivery of aid to Gaza’s civilians and alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis.
Medical authorities in the Gaza Strip, with a population of 2.3 million, have reported that Israel’s military campaign against the Iran-backed militants has claimed the lives of 7,650 Palestinians.
President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority governs parts of the occupied West Bank while Hamas governs Gaza, described the situation as a “war of genocide and massacres” committed by Israeli forces, all in full view of the world.
With many buildings reduced to rubble and scarce shelter options, Gazans are facing severe shortages of food, water, fuel, and medicines. Their situation worsened when phone and internet services were severed on Friday night, followed by intense bombings throughout the night, and the communications blackout persisted into Sunday.
The chief military spokesperson of Israel declined to confirm whether the country was responsible for the telecommunications blackout in Gaza but emphasised that Israel would take the necessary measures to protect its forces.