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Israel expands ground operation in Gaza

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel yesterday expanded its ground operation in Gaza with infantry and armoured vehicles backed by massive strikes from the air and sea, including the bombing of Hamas tunnels.

The bombardment, described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war, also knocked out most communications in Gaza. This largely cut off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world, while enabling the Israeli military to control the narrative in a new stage of fighting.

The military released grainy images yesterday showing tank columns moving slowly in open areas of Gaza, many apparently near the border, and said warplanes bombed dozens of Hamas tunnels and underground bunkers.

“The forces are still on the ground and are continuing the war,” said the army spokesman, Daniel Hagari, indicating that the next stage has begun in what is expected to evolve into an all-out ground offensive in northern Gaza.

The Palestinian death toll in Gaza yesterday rose to just over 7,700 people since October 7, with 377 deaths reported since late on Friday, according to the territory’s Health Ministry. A majority of those killed have been women and minors, the ministry said.

ABOVE & BELOW: Smoke and explosions caused by Israeli bombardment in northern Gaza; and an Israeli army officer in a tunnel. PHOTO: AP & AFP
An Israeli tank rolling close to the border with the northern Gaza Strip. PHOTO: AP & AFP

Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qidra told reporters that the disruption of communications has “totally paralysed” the health network.

Residents had no way of calling ambulances, and emergency teams were chasing the sounds of artillery barrages and airstrikes to search for people in need.

Some civilians were using their bare hands to pull injured people from the rubble and loading them into personal cars or donkey carts to rush them to the hospital. In a video posted by local media, Palestinians were sprinting down a ravaged street with a wounded man covered in the dust of a building’s collapse while he winced, eyes clenched shut, on a stretcher.

“Ambulance! Ambulance!” the men shouted as they shoved the stretcher into the back of a pick-up truck and shouted at the driver, “Go! Go!”

Other residents travelled by foot or car to check on their relatives and friends. “The bombs were everywhere, the building was shaking,” said a journalist in central Gaza Hind al-Khudary and one of a few people with cell phone service. “We can’t reach anyone or contact anyone. I do not know where my family is.”

Across Gaza, terrified civilians were huddling in homes and shelters with food and water supplies running out. Electricity was knocked out by Israel in the early stages of the war.