Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza with airstrikes throughout Friday night and into Saturday morning, as ground troops and armor were launched in a significant incursion into the Palestinian enclave.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed that it destroyed more than 150 underground tunnels and bunkers used by Hamas, while columns of tanks and troops engaged the armed group’s fighters.
“We have moved on to a new phase in the war,” Gallant stated on Saturday in remarks carried by Israeli media.
“The ground in Gaza shook. We attacked above and below the ground, we attacked terrorist operatives at all levels, in all places,” he declared, adding that similar operations in the enclave would continue “until new orders are given”.
In a briefing on Saturday morning, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that the troops sent into Gaza the previous night “are still in the field and continuing the war”.
Hamas announced in a statement that its fighters ambushed Israeli forces on Friday, inflicting heavy losses on the attackers.
In a separate statement on Saturday, the group said that it was engaging Israeli troops near the northeastern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun and the refugee camp of al-Bureji, located in the center of the enclave.
The IDF’s expansion of its operation comes almost three weeks after Hamas fighters launched a surprise attack on Israel, hammering Israeli towns and cities with rockets and raiding settlements near the Gaza border. Around 1,400 Israelis have been killed since the war began, while Israeli air raids have killed more than 7,700 Palestinians, according to the latest figures from the IDF and the Gaza Health Ministry, respectively.
Both Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have warned for the past two weeks that a major ground operation in Gaza would be imminent, although the decision to send in troops was reportedly postponed several times.
It is unclear whether Friday’s incursion will be followed by a larger invasion.