Published1 day ago
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have experienced the heaviest night of Israeli bombardment since the war with Hamas began three weeks ago.
Hamas-run authorities said hundreds of buildings were destroyed in air and artillery strikes, and that at least 377 people were killed in the past day.
Israel’s military said its warplanes hit 150 underground targets, including tunnels and other infrastructure.
Tanks and troops also went into the Strip and clashed with Hamas fighters.
The military said some soldiers would remain in the field, as Israel’s defence minister declared that the war had entered a “new phase”.
Speaking at a news conference on Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had entered the second stage of the war with Hamas.
He said additional Israeli ground forces have gone into what he called “that stronghold of evil” – referring to Gaza – to “dismantle” Hamas and bring hostages home.
“This will be a long and difficult war,” Mr Netanyahu added.
Israel began its bombing campaign in Gaza in response to an unprecedented cross-border attack by hundreds of Hamas gunmen on 7 October, in which 1,400 people were killed and 229 taken hostage.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says more than 7,700 people have been killed in the territory since then, and the UN is warning that a “humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding”.
On Friday night, huge explosions lit up the sky as the Israeli military said it was “operating powerfully on all dimensions in order achieve the goals of the war”, with “ground forces… expanding their operations”.
At the same time, Palestinian mobile phone and internet networks went down, cutting off communications both inside the Strip and making it difficult to get accurate reports out.
Hamas’s military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it was fighting Israeli troops in the north-eastern town of Beit Hanoun and the central Bureij area, and that it had also fired barrages of rockets towards Israel.
On Saturday morning, the BBC’s Rushdi Abu Alouf, who is in the southern Gazan city of Khan Younis, described a scene of total chaos on the ground.
He said the bombardment of northern areas was on a scale he had never seen before. There were fewer strikes in southern areas, he added, but there was panic among the hundreds of thousands of people sheltering there after being told by Israel to leave their homes in the north.
The Israeli military said warplanes struck 150 underground targets in northern Gaza belonging to Hamas – which Israel, the UK and other powers class as a terrorist group – including “tunnels, underground combat spaces and additional underground infrastructure”.
Later, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared: “Last night, the earth in Gaza shook. We attacked above the ground and under it. We attacked terrorist operatives from all levels everywhere.
“The directives to the forces are clear: the operation will continue until further notice.”
Gaza Civil Defence spokesman Mahmoud Bassal told AFP news agency that “hundreds of buildings and houses were completely destroyed and thousands of other homes were damaged” in the Israeli strikes, adding that they had “changed the landscape” of northern Gaza.
Photographer Shehab Younis posted a video on Instagram showing a badly wounded man being rushed out of a building and put into the back of a truck because there was no ambulance.
He told the BBC in a voice note that the situation was “catastrophic”, with people unable to contact emergency services because all means of communication were down.
William Schomburg, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross sub-delegation in Gaza, told the BBC that hospitals had been operating non-stop to deal with the casualties.
“I’ve been able to visit different hospitals, including the Al-Quds hospital, and the scenes there are difficult to describe,” he said.
“Healthcare workers that are operating around the clock while also dealing with a lot of personal tragedy. I spoke to one doctor who had lost his brother and cousin the night before.”
Mr Schomburg said healthcare facilities had also been transformed into centres for displaced civilians “who fear that the only safe place for them is on a hospital floor”.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa – which is hosting more than 600,000 of the 1.4 million people who have fled their homes – said that it lost most contact with its teams during what it described as the “worst and most intensive night” of bombings so far.
“The breaks in communications are making our work… extremely challenging,” spokeswoman Juliette Touma said.
“We have lost so far 53 colleagues and are terrified that the number might have increased given the bombardment overnight.”
More on Israel-Gaza war
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- Hostages: Who are the hostages taken by Hamas from Israel?
UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was surprised by the intensity of Israel’s strikes.
“I was encouraged in the last days by what seemed to be a growing consensus… for the need of at least a humanitarian pause in the fighting to facilitate the release of hostages in Gaza, the evacuation of third country nationals and the necessary massive scale up of the delivery of humanitarian aid to the people in Gaza,” he said.
“Regrettably, instead of the pause, I was surprised by an unprecedented escalation of the bombardments and their devastating impacts, undermining the referred humanitarian objectives.”
Israel also cut off electricity and most water, and stopped imports of food, fuel and other goods in retaliation for Hamas’s attack.
It has allowed 84 lorries carrying aid to cross from Egypt over the past week, but the UN has called that a “drop in the ocean”. About 500 aid lorries per day were coming into Gaza before the war began.
There have been no shipments of fuel, which is needed to generate electricity for hospitals, shelters, bakeries, water treatment and pumping stations.
Israel refuses to allow deliveries of fuel because it says it could be used for military purposes by Hamas. It also accuses Hamas of hoarding fuel.