IDF announces expanded ground operation in Gaza, after heavy round of airstrikes

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The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is “expanding ground operations” in the Gaza Strip, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced Friday, as intense airstrikes rocked the besieged enclave and with communications links reportedly severed.

The IDF is “operating forcefully” on all fronts and will “continue striking Gaza City,” Hagari said, repeating previous warnings that civilians should evacuate.

“Don’t know if I (will) live to see the daylight tomorrow morning,” Ammar said. “I split from my wife, and the kids went to her parents’ house, and I came to the hospital here in the event we die in different places and maybe one of us would live and our kids will live. Difficult choices we are making.”

A substantial ground offensive has been expected ever since the attacks, in which Hamas killed more than 1,400 people and saw some 200 people taken to Gaza as hostages. However, it is not yet clear whether the IDF announcement of an expanded operation signals the start of that push.

This is the third night of Israeli ground actions in Gaza, as it amasses thousands of troops on the border with the enclave. It comes after weeks of bombardment and blockading Gaza, precipitating what aid agencies call a humanitarian crisis.

Hamas has vowed to retaliate if Israeli ground troops enter Gaza. Izzat al-Rishq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, vowed that Hamas is ready to defeat Israeli soldiers if they enter the territory.

‘The world is facing a historic moment’

Gaza appears largely cut off from the world, with communications in the enclave badly disrupted by airstrikes, according to Palestinian telecoms company Jawwal. London-based monitoring firm NetBlocks has also reported that the last standing major internet operator in the region, Paltel, has experienced damage to its international routes.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel off cutting communications and internet to Gaza on Friday in an “attempt to create darkness so that crimes can be committed” in preparation for an IDF ground operation.

Several United Nations agencies reported they lost contact with local staff in Gaza, and the number of UN staff killed in the enclave increased to 53 after 14 lost their lives in the past 24 hours, according to a statement by UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) on Friday.

Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the organization had lost touch with its staff as well as with its “health facilities, health workers and the rest of our humanitarian partners on the ground.”

Catherine Russell, executive director of UNICEF, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she is “extremely concerned” about her team in Gaza after losing touch with them. “All humanitarians and the children and families they serve MUST be protected,” Russell added.

The continuous bombardment of Gaza since hostilities broke out after the bloody October 7 attack has led to a crisis in the impoverished and densely-populated enclave. More than 2 million people are affected, the main UN agency in Gaza, UNRWA, warned on Friday, adding that amid food and water shortages, sewage is overflowing on the streets.

Gaza hospitals have been forced to work with dwindling resources and power shortages; eyewitnesses at Al Aqsa Martyrs hospital said on Friday that the institution had been plunged into darkness, they said.

One eyewitness said Gaza has been “left in the dark with no connection to the outside world,” adding the hospital has received the bodies of 11 people killed and dozens injured from the intensified bombardment. They expect casualties to rise.

Another eyewitness, Alla Majhool, said she came to the hospital because her four-year-old niece was injured in a previous strike.

“I am terrified and shaking, I can’t call my family and sisters to check on them, all we hear is explosions,” Majhool said. “It’s dark and there are no communications, we don’t know where the airstrikes and artillery shelling is hitting.”

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has “completely lost contact with the operations room in Gaza and all our teams operating there.”

Phillipe Lazzarini, the head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said earlier on Friday that while aid has begun to trickle into Gaza from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, deliveries so far amounted to “nothing more than crumbs.”

Efforts to free hostages ongoing

As the bombardment began, Jordanian foreign minister Ayman Safadi urged nations to vote for a United Nations resolution calling for a halt to the fighting, saying on social media that the outcome of any Israeli ground operation “will be a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years to come,” he said. “Millions will be watching every vote. History will judge.”

An overwhelming majority of 120 nations voted for the resolution, which calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities in the war between Israel and Hamas and for aid to be allowed to flow unrestricted into the territory. The US and Israel sharply criticized the resolution text, however, for not explicitly criticizing Hamas.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan asked the assembly, “Why are you defending murderers?”

“Israel just endured the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, and according to a majority of the so-called family of nations, Israel has no right to defend itself,” he said.

Israel’s expanded ground operation comes amid ongoing efforts to free hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Earlier on Friday, a source touted “significant progress” in negotiations.

When asked about a possible deal, IDF spokesperson Hagari told reporters to “disregard rumors.” He dismissed reports that a hostage deal was close to being brokered as “psychological terror and a cynical use of Israeli civilians by Hamas.”

The White House said it would not be appropriate to weigh in on Israel’s expanded military campaign.

“We have, of course, certainly seen Israel undertake varied operations on the ground in the last couple of days,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday. “But again, we’re not going to get into the habit of chiming in from the sidelines here on what they’re trying to do on the ground.”

Kirby declined to say if Israel had informed the US before launching an expanded ground operation into Gaza Friday. He also declined to say if the Biden administration has confidence that Israel has fully considered the ramifications of a ground incursion.

This story is developing and will be updated.

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