Israel’s military said Thursday it carried out a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, where for nearly three weeks Israeli forces have been conducting airstrikes targeting Hamas militants.
The Israel Defense Forces said its tanks and infantry “struck numerous terrorist cells, infrastructure and anti-tank missile launch posts” before returning to Israeli territory.
The IDF said the operation was done to prepare “for the next stages of combat.”
Israeli officials have pledged to ensure Hamas can no longer carry out attacks that threaten Israel following its October 7 massacre of about 1,400 people, mostly civilians.
The death toll in Gaza has reached at least 6,546 people, the majority are women and children, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The Israeli military has called up 300,000 reservists and stationed troops near the Gaza border.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised statement Wednesday, said Israel was “preparing for a ground invasion. I will not elaborate on when, how or how many.”
Benny Gantz, a retired general and member of Netanyahu’s war Cabinet, said any ground offensive would be only “one stage in a long-term process that includes security, political and social aspects that will take years.”
“The campaign will soon ramp up with greater force,” he said.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel has no interest in expanding the war front beyond Gaza, although it is prepared to fight Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters based in Lebanon.
“We are waging war on the southern front against Hamas, prepared for any development in the north. Hezbollah is suffering many losses,” Gallant told reporters.
One U.S. lawmaker, Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, who was part of a congressional delegation that recently visited Israel, said it was up to Israeli leaders to decide when to launch any ground invasion into Gaza.
“We have not called for a delay,” Cardin told VOA. “I think every day, we think it’s going to be that day or night or the next day. So, Israel is going to do when they want to do it. It is their judgment.”
“It was clear to all of us that Hamas is evil,” Cardin said. “That they are comparable to ISIS, that their objective is to prevent a Jewish state from existing in the Middle East. They believe it’s right to execute Jews that pose no threat to them and have taken a page out of the Nazi book. And I think we all agreed that they have to be taken down — that there is no future for the Palestinians with Hamas in Gaza.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations humanitarian aid agency said that from last Saturday through Tuesday, 62 trucks with water, food and medical supplies traveled through the Rafah crossing at the Egyptian border into Gaza. But that total was far short of the daily average of 500 trucks allowed into Gaza before the hostilities.
Israeli authorities have continued to ban fuel transports into Gaza for fear Hamas militants will take it for their own use. UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said it has almost exhausted its fuel reserves and begun to significantly reduce its operations.
About 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, with some 629,000 staying in 150 UNRWA-designated emergency shelters. Officials are worried about overcrowding, with the average number of displaced people per shelter now 2.7 times their designated capacity.
Congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson contributed to this report.