Israel will continue to send troops and tanks into Gaza, Yoav Gallant said on Saturday
Israel has “moved on to a new phase in the war,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced on Saturday, adding that ground operations in Gaza will continue “until new orders are given.”
Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza with airstrikes throughout Friday night and into Saturday morning, as ground troops and armor were launched in a significant incursion into the Palestinian enclave. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that it destroyed more than 150 underground tunnels and bunkers used by Hamas, while columns of tanks and troops engaged the militant group’s fighters.
“We have moved on to a new phase in the war,” Gallant said on Saturday in remarks carried by Israeli media. “The ground in Gaza shook. We attacked above and below the ground, we attacked terrorist operatives at all levels, in all places,” he declared, adding that similar operations in the enclave would continue “until new orders are given.”
In a briefing on Saturday morning, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that the troops sent into Gaza the previous night “are still in the field and continuing the war.”
The IDF said that it killed Asem Abu Rakaba, a top Hamas official in charge of air defense, and Rateb Abu Sahiban, a Hamas naval commander, in two separate airstrikes.
Hamas said in a statement that its fighters ambushed Israeli forces on Friday, inflicting heavy losses on the attackers. In a separate statement on Saturday, the group said that it was engaging Israeli troops near the northeastern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun and the refugee camp of al-Bureji, located in the center of the enclave.
The IDF’s expansion of its operation comes almost three weeks after Hamas militants launched a surprise attack on the Jewish state, hammering Israeli towns and cities with rockets and raiding settlements near the Gaza border. Around 1,400 Israelis have been killed since the war began, while Israeli airstrikes have killed more than 7,000 Palestinians, according to the latest figures from the IDF and the Gaza Health Ministry, respectively.
Both Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have warned for the past two weeks that a major ground operation in Gaza would be imminent, although the decision to send in troops was reportedly postponed several times, with media reports identifying the US and Netanyahu himself as responsible for the delay.
It is unclear whether Friday’s incursion will be followed by a larger invasion. According to a New York Times report on Thursday, some members of the Israeli government favor “a less ambitious plan involving several more limited incursions that target one small part of the enclave at a time.” There are concerns that a full-scale invasion may result in heavy Israeli casualties and trigger an escalation with other regional players, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
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