Israeli prime minister describes campaign against Hamas as ‘second war of independence’.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country’s war with Hamas has entered its “second stage” as Israeli troops and armoured vehicles push into Gaza in an expansion of ground operations.
In a press conference in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, Netanyahu told Israelis to prepare for a “long and hard” offensive, describing the campaign as the country’s “second war of independence” since 1948.
“This is the second stage of the war whose goals are clear – to destroy Hamas’s governing and military capabilities and to bring the hostages home,” Netanyahu told reporters.
“We are only at the start. We will destroy the enemy above ground and below ground.”
Netanyahu’s comments came as Gaza continued to be under a near-total communications blackout overnight amid intense Israeli bombardment thought to be aimed at clearing the way for troops to push into the enclave.
Palestinian media outlets on Sunday reported that telephone and internet communications were gradually being restored to the enclave.
Tareq Abu Azzoum, reporting from Khan Younis in Gaza, said on Friday that Israel’s bombardment of the enclave had intensified in the eastern and northern areas of the strip.
“These kinds of attacks are giving clear permission to the Israeli ground troops to keep going deeper into the territory,” Abu Azzoum said.
Israeli military officials have confirmed that troops and armoured vehicles have been operating in northern Gaza since Friday but have stopped short of calling the escalation in ground operations an “invasion”.
Israel’s military had until now restricted its ground operations to brief incursions by its forces into the enclave.
Still, the latest escalation did not point to a full-scale invasion following weeks of speculation that Israel would stage an overwhelming show of force after amassing more than 300,000 troops along the border.
The administration of United States President Joe Biden has urged Israel to delay launching a major ground offensive amid concerns about civilian casualties, regional escalation and the safety of captives held by Hamas.
Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said that Israel has signalled that the ground war in Gaza is now under way.
“They’re fighting there,” he said. “They’re carrying out operations. This is not like the other night where they sent them in and pulled them back. They’re there now.”
The escalating campaign in Gaza comes amid growing fears of a humanitarian catastrophe in the enclave amid shortages of food, water and medicines.
Humanitarian organisations have also raised concerns that the lack of communications in the enclave could provide cover for war crimes and other human rights violations.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to meet on Monday to discuss the crisis.
“A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in front of our eyes,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Saturday.
Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, launched in response to Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attacks on Israeli communities, has displaced more than 1.4 million people, according to the UN.
Israeli air strikes have killed at least 7,703 Palestinians, including more than 3,500 children, according to authorities in the Hamas-governed enclave.
Hamas’s multi-pronged attack on Israel killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli officials.