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.
The expanded operation has left families of the more than 200 hostages taken to Gaza fearful for their loved ones. A group lobbying for the families of Israeli hostages spoke of “the most terrible of all nights” as emotions spiked with the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) expansion of its ground operation.
Catch up below on the latest developments in the war:
Israel’s goals in this stage: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Saturday the war in Gaza is “going to be long.” He said the goals of this stage of the war are to destroy Hamas and return the hostages the militant group took on October 7 and still holds in Gaza. Netanyahu confirmed he spoke with family members of the hostages and said he vowed to them that he would exhaust all options to return their loved ones home.
Meanwhile, Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said in a statement his country had entered “a new phase in the war.” The official said Israel “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.”
Details on the expanded ground operation: Israeli forces “went into the Gaza Strip and expanded the ground operation where infantry, armor and engineer units and artillery with heavy fire are taking part,” IDF spokesperson 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.
Mourning in Gaza: Gazans mourned the loss of their loved ones on Saturday following a night of intense Israeli airstrikes, with many gathering at Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al Balah in central Gaza. Video captured by CNN shows multiple bodies, including those of children, covered in white shrouds or thick blankets, placed on the ground in the hospital yard. Another video showed a young man lying on the floor of the hospital as doctors operated on him.
More than 2 million people live in the enclave, and for weeks people in the territory have faced Israeli airstrikes and a growing humanitarian situation, with shortages of water, food and fuel. The IDF said Gazans who had moved south of Wadi Gaza, a waterway bisecting the center of the strip, were in a “protected space,” and would receive more food, water and medicine today, but did not give any details.
Aid agencies lose contact: Communications in the enclave have been severely disrupted, leaving aid agencies out of touch with their staff on the ground and emergency services struggling to reach those in need. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Saturday morning that reports of the intense bombardment are “extremely distressing.” He added: “We are still out of touch with our staff and health facilities. I’m worried about their safety.” Several United Nations agencies have also reported losing contact with their local staff in Gaza.