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- Israel says its air and ground forces are stepping up operations.
- Internet connectivity breaks down in Gaza.
- Tel Aviv has been coming under increasingly fierce bombardments from Hamas.
- UN Secretary-General warns the people of Gaza “face an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering”.
Tel Aviv: The Israeli military on Saturday night released a video message reiterating its calls for residents of northern Gaza to evacuate ahead of an impending ground operation.
The Israel Defence Forces had already intensified its operations in Gaza as it prepared for a long-expected ground invasion, claiming to have identified a Hamas military base hidden underneath the strip’s largest hospital.
Smoke is seen over Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip as a result of the attack from the Israeli side of the border on Friday.Credit: Getty Images
Internet and mobile phone services were cut off in the Palestinian territory earlier on Saturday (AEDT). The United Nations’ children’s agency and the World Health Organisation said they had lost touch with all their staff in Gaza because of the blackout.
The Israeli military confirmed its tanks and ground troops were conducting shooting missions in Gaza, but refused to be drawn on whether these incursions were the beginning of a major ground invasion.
“In the last hours, we intensified the attacks in Gaza,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a televised news briefing, raising expectations the ground invasion of Gaza might be about to begin.
He said the air force was conducting extensive strikes on tunnels and other infrastructure.
“In addition to the attacks carried out in the last few days, ground forces are expanding their operations tonight,” he said.
The United Nations General Assembly on Saturday passed a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustainable humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas with 120 nations voting in favour and 14 nations, including Israel and the United States, voting against. Australia was one of the 45 countries to abstain.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen reacted angrily, saying: “We reject outright the UN General Assembly’s despicable call for a ceasefire.
“Israel intends to eliminate Hamas just as the world dealt with the Nazis and ISIS.”
Israeli forces have massed outside Gaza and conducted an intense campaign of aerial bombardment since a deadly Hamas attack in southern Israel on October 7. The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry said at least 7326 Palestinians had been killed and more than 18,000 wounded since Israel began bombarding Gaza. More than 1400 people were killed in the October 7 attack, according to Israeli authorities.
Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told foreign reporters in Tel Aviv the ground offensive into Gaza would be long and difficult because it would require destroying a vast tunnel network Hamas operated.
Tel Aviv, a usually peaceful beachside city in Israel of about 500,000 people, has been coming under increasingly fierce bombardments from Hamas rockets in recent days, with residents sometimes being told to seek shelter in emergency rooms several times a day.
Although most rockets are intercepted by Israel’s “iron-dome” air defence system, a residential apartment building was hit by rocket fire on Saturday, Australian time, injuring four people.
The Israel Defence Forces also released images and graphics it said showed an extensive Hamas command post existed under the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
The Al Shifa Hospital is the largest medical facility in Gaza, with 1500 beds and more than 4000 staff members.
“We have concrete evidence that hundreds of terrorists flooded into the hospital to hide there after the massacres of October 7,” Hagari said.
He added: “Hamas’ use of hospitals is systematic.”
Senior Hamas leader Izzat al-Rishq rejected the allegations as “baseless”, according to a statement reported by the Times of Israel, describing the claim as a “prelude to a new massacre against our people”.
The IDF said on Saturday that its fighter jets had killed the head of Hamas’ aerial array, Asem Abu Rakaba, the military commander in charge of the terror group’s use of paragliders and drone attacks on IDF posts.
Global aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres said it was deeply concerned by the situation in Gaza, having lost contact with some of its Palestinian colleagues on the ground.
“We are particularly worried for the patients, medical staff & thousands of families taking shelter at Al Shifa hospital and other health facilities,” the organisation posted on social media site X.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that “without a fundamental change, the people of Gaza will face an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering” over coming weeks as the fighting intensifies.
“This is a moment of truth,” he said. “History is judging us all.”
Palestinian mobile-phone service provider Jawwal said earlier that services including phone and internet had been cut by heavy bombardment.
A statement from the Palestine Red Crescent Society said it had lost contact with its operations room in Gaza and all its teams operating on the ground.
International news organisations with reporters in Gaza said they were finding it increasingly hard to communicate with them in the enclave after the blackout.
Israel says it is preparing for a ground invasion, but has been urged by the US and Arab countries to delay an operation that would multiply the number of civilian casualties in the densely populated coastal strip and might ignite a wider conflict.
More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict
- Cascading violence: Tremors from the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have reached far beyond the border. But what would all-out war in the Middle East look like?
- The human cost: Hamas’ massacre in Israel has traumatised – and hardened – survivors. And in Gaza, neighbourhoods have become ghost cities.
- “Hamas metro”: Inside the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels, which the Palestinian militant group has commanded beneath war-ravaged Gaza for 16 years. The covert corridors have long provided essential channels for the movement of weapons and armed combatants.
- What is Hezbollah?: As fears of the conflict expanding beyond Israel and Hamas steadily rise, all eyes are on the militant group and political party that controls southern Lebanon and has been designated internationally as a terrorist group. How did it form and what does Iran have to do with it?
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