(Reuters) - A telephone and internet blackout isolated people in the Gaza Strip from the world and from each other on Saturday, with calls to loved ones, ambulances or colleagues elsewhere all but impossible as Israel widened its air and ground assault.
International humanitarian organisations said the blackout, which began on Friday evening, was worsening an already desperate situation by impeding life-saving operations and preventing them from contacting their staff on the ground.
Three weeks into a war between Israel and Hamas that has saturated global media coverage, the blackout also meant a previously constant flow of information, images and videos from inside the strip had reduced to a trickle, making it difficult to understand the extent and impact of the latest strikes.
"My brain cannot fathom that things can get any worse. And here we are on Day 21, we have lost service. If you are dying, you can't ring up the ambulance service. If you are struck, whatever happens, you can't communicate with anyone," said Plestia Alaqad, a freelance journalist in Gaza.
She was speaking in a video recorded on Friday night and uploaded on Saturday to Instagram, where she has 1.4 million followers, when she said she was able to access the internet, one of a small number of Gazans who have managed to do so.
"I'm supposed to tell the world what is going on, well I am in Gaza and I don't know what is going on. There is no internet, no network, no service, no fuel to move around by car, no electricity, nothing," she said in a mix of English and Arabic.
Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday Israeli forces would continue operations begun overnight in the Gaza Strip, targeting tunnels and other infrastructure of Hamas as well as leaders of the Islamist movement.
"We attacked above the ground and under ground, we attacked terror operatives of all ranks, everywhere," he said in a video statement.
Israel had earlier made only brief incursions into Gaza during three weeks of bombardment to root out Hamas militants, who it said had killed 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, on Oct. 7.
The Palestinian health ministry said on Saturday 7,650 people had been killed and 19,450 injured in Gaza since Israel's bombardment began. It said 70% of the dead there and in the West Bank, were women, children or the elderly.
'DISCONNECTED FROM THE WORLD'
The U.N. World Food Programme, World Health Organization and other agencies, as well as independent aid groups including Medecins Sans Frontieres and the Norwegian Refugee Council were among those saying they had lost contact with staff in Gaza.
Several humanitarian groups said Israel had deliberately cut off communications to the strip. The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Reuters has been unable to independently verify what was causing the blackout.
"The Israeli authorities have cut off landline, cellular, and internet communications, severely affecting our essential emergency medical services," said the Palestine Red Crescent Society on social media plaform X, without citing evidence.
For media organisations including Reuters, the inability to maintain regular contact with teams in Gaza underlined concerns over the safety of their staff and made it much harder to report comprehensively on what was happening.
The Israeli military says it does not deliberately target journalists but cannot guarantee their safety in Gaza.
"The shelling was intense everywhere in the strip," one Reuters reporter wrote in a message to colleagues, one of the few able to be sent by the Reuters team inside Gaza on Saturday.
Gaza-based freelance photographer Mohammed Zaanoun, speaking from inside the strip in a video he posted on social media on Saturday morning, said this might be the last video he uploaded.
"I have driven a long way to reach the border with Egypt to be able to send you this message and tell you that Gaza has been disconnected from the world," he said.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem and Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Alison Williams)