“In the initial weeks of the war, we launched massive airstrikes that dealt a severe blow to the enemy… We eliminated many terrorists,” the PM stated in his address to the Israelis on Saturday night.
In three weeks of Israeli air raids, the death toll in Gaza has exceeded 8,000 people, “half of whom are children”, the health ministry in the Palestinian enclave told AFP early Sunday. It remains unclear how many of the casualties were actual combatants.
“However, we are only at the beginning of the road. The battle within the Gaza Strip will be difficult and long,” Netanyahu warned, while stressing that “this is our second War of Independence. This is our mission, our purpose in life, and together we will prevail”.
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, and over 200 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.
“Last night, additional ground forces entered Gaza, marking the beginning of the second stage of the war, whose goal is to destroy the military and political capabilities of Hamas and to bring our kidnapped citizens back,” Netanyahu declared.
Israeli warplanes pounded Gaza with airstrikes throughout Friday and Saturday nights, as ground troops and armor were launched in a significant incursion into the Palestinian enclave. It is unclear, however, whether the ongoing “expanded” ground operations will be followed by a larger invasion. There are concerns that a full-scale invasion may result in heavy Israeli casualties and trigger an escalation with other regional players, such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also stated on Saturday that Israel has “moved on to a new phase in the war”, and added that ground operations in Gaza will continue “until new orders are given”.
Gallant has confirmed military operations against Hamas have progressed, stating, “We moved to a new phase in the war.”
“Tonight, the ground in Gaza shook. We attacked above ground and below ground. We attacked terrorist operatives at all levels, in all places. The instructions to our forces are clear: the operation will continue until a new order is given.”