Israel’s expanded ground operation continued Saturday with infantry and armored vehicle forays into Gaza and massive strikes from the air and sea.
“We are advancing in the stages of war. Last night, IDF [Israel Defense Forces] entered the Gaza Strip and expanded ground activity,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told an early Saturday news briefing. “The forces still remain in the field and are continuing the war‚” he said, signaling that Israel’s sustained ground incursion had likely begun.
Hagari said fighter jets struck 150 underground targets in the northern Gaza Strip, including Hamas tunnels, underground combat spaces and other underground infrastructure, while killing others from the group.
“Their killing, their elimination, is a good progress in the stages of war and gives the forces on the ground a fight against a weaker enemy,” Hagari said.
“Overnight, IDF fighter jets struck Asem Abu Rakaba, the Head of Hamas’ Aerial Array,” IDF officials posted on X, formerly Twitter, indicating it may have killed the militant group’s air chief.
“Abu Rakaba was responsible for Hamas’ UAVs, drones, paragliders, aerial detection and defense,” the post continued. “He took part in planning the October 7 massacre and commanded the terrorists who infiltrated Israel on paragliders and was responsible for the drone attacks on IDF posts.”
IDF officials also reported they downed a surface-to-air missile fired from inside Lebanon at an IDF drone. Spokesman Avichay Adraee wrote on X that the IDF was “attacking the source of the missile launch.” Adraee said earlier that an Israeli jet struck a Hezbollah military structure that had fired missiles toward Israel that landed in Syria.
Hamas on Saturday pledged to confront Israeli attacks with “full force.” The al-Qassam brigades, an armed wing of Hamas, said its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and in the central area of Al-Bureij.
“Al-Qassam Brigades and all Palestinian resistance forces are fully prepared to confront the aggression with full force and thwart the incursions,” it said.
Israeli strikes knocked out Gaza’s communications infrastructure, causing a near-blackout of information and severing Gaza’s estimated 2.3 million residents from contact with the outside world.
The United Nations human rights chief warned Saturday of “possibly catastrophic consequences” of large-scale ground operations in the Gaza Strip, where thousands have already died in Israeli air strikes.
“Given the manner in which military operations have been conducted until now, in the context of the 56-year-old occupation, I am raising alarm about the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza and the potential for thousands more civilians to die,” Volker Turk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement.
“Continued violence is not the answer,” he said.
Hagari said Israel would allow trucks carrying food, water and medicine to enter Gaza on Saturday, indicating a possible pause in bombing, at least along its border with Egypt, where small amounts of aid have been arriving.
The World Health Organization appealed to “the humanity in all those who have the power to do so to end the fighting now” in Gaza.
“There are more wounded every hour. But ambulances cannot reach them in the communications blackout. Morgues are full. More than half of the dead are women and children,” it said.
World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted Saturday that his organization still has no communication with its staff and health facilities in Gaza, adding: “I’m worried about their safety.”
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said 377 people have been killed since Israel expanded its ground offensive on Friday evening, raising the death total in Gaza to 7,703 people, including 3,195 children and 1,863 women. These figures could not be independently verified.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Friday to discuss Israel’s operations in Gaza. Austin underscored the importance of protecting civilians during the Israel Defense Forces’ operations and focusing on the urgency of humanitarian aid delivery for civilians in Gaza. He also focused on the need for Hamas to release all of the hostages, according to a Pentagon statement.
Some of the relatives of hostages captured in Israel during the October 7 Hamas assault demanded an urgent meeting with Israeli officials after what they called “the most terrible of all nights.”
“None of the war cabinet bothered to meet with the families of the hostages to explain one thing — whether the ground operation endangers the well-being of the 229 hostages in Gaza,” the Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum headquarters said.
Gallant said he would meet with the group on Sunday. The hostages include children and the elderly and many people with foreign passports. Four women have been released so far.
Another relative of hostages, Yosi Shnaider, said earlier that Israel’s military operation was the only way to release them. “We can’t wait anymore,” he said.
IDF spokesperson Hagari said Hamas was cynically manipulating the situation.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi on Saturday urged the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza and said that the Egyptian government was working to de-escalate the conflict through talks, including discussions about releasing prisoners and hostages. He did not provide details.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Israel to emerge from what he described as its “state of insanity” and end military actions.
“The ever-increasing Israeli bombardments on Gaza, which intensified last night, have targeted women, children and innocent civilians, deepening the humanitarian crisis,” Erdogan wrote in a message posted Saturday on X.
UN General Assembly vote
The United Nations General Assembly on Friday overwhelmingly called for an immediate humanitarian truce between Israel and Palestinian militants Hamas and demanded aid access to the besieged Gaza Strip and protection of civilians.
The resolution, drafted by Arab states, was passed with 120 votes in favor, while 45 countries abstained and 14, including Israel and the United States, voted no. The General Assembly voted after the Security Council failed four times in the past two weeks to take action. Israel called the U.N. resolution “infamy.”
Israel is rejecting calls for a temporary truce in Gaza.
Israeli officials have pledged to ensure Hamas can no longer carry out attacks that threaten Israel following its October 7 massacre that killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians.