What is happening in Israel and Gaza now as ground operations expand?

Israel’s military announced on Friday evening that it is “expanding” ground operations in Gaza, amid reports of the heaviest bombardment yet of the besieged strip and a total communications blackout.

Airstrikes could be heard from as far as an Egyptian town in the Sinai as the attacks on the 42km-long strip throughout Friday night.

In a statement Saturday, the IDF said its warplanes hit 150 underground targets in northern Gaza overnight, striking what it called terror tunnels and underground combat spaces and killing several Hamas operatives.

Army spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari confirmed the Israeli military had launched “intensified” strikes on the besieged strip.

“In addition to the [ground] attacks carried out in the last few days, ground forces are expanding their operations tonight,” he said, igniting fears that Israel had launched its widely-anticipated ground offensive. “In the last hours, we intensified the attacks in Gaza.”

The “open-air prison” - home to some 2.3 million Palestinians- has been hit with over 7,000 Israeli air strikes since Hamas’ attack on 7 October, destroying hospitals and UN-protected schools in the relentless assault on the enclave. Israel says more than 1,400 people were killed in the Hamas attacks and around 200 more were taken hostage.

Smoke rises from the northern part of the Gaza Strip as a result of an Israeli airstrike on Saturday morning (EPA)
Smoke rises from the northern part of the Gaza Strip as a result of an Israeli airstrike on Saturday morning (EPA)

What’s happening on the ground now?

On Saturday, the Hamas media center reported heavy nighttime clashes with Israeli forces at several places, including what it said was an Israeli incursion east of the refugee camp of Bureij in the central Gaza Strip.

Asked about the report, the Israeli military reiterated early Saturday that it had been carrying out targeted raids and expanding strikes with the aim of “preparing the ground for future stages of the operation.”

Israeli has amassed tens of thousands of soldiers along Gaza’s perimeter fence, along with tanks and artillery. Alongside the Israeli military’s standing force of 160,000, around 300,000 reservists have been activated.

Israeli army carried out a
Israeli army carried out a "targeted raid" in northern Gaza with tanks and infantry on 26 October (Israeli Army/AFP via Getty Image)

Early on Friday, the military said ground forces conducted their second hourslong incursion inside Gaza in days. The Israel Defense Forces said the raid was brief as its tanks and infantry engaged Hamas fighters and struck anti-tank weapons before returning to Israeli territory.

There have been several raids by Israeli forces into Gaza since 7 October, one of the most significant being on Wednesday night.

Though the IDF did not reveal the location of the raid, Geoconfirmed, an online geolocating platform, posted photos of military vehicles on X, mapping the tanks at the northern border of the Gaza strip.

This map shows where the tanks were located, according to Geoconfirmed:

The troops came from the Givati brigade and 162nd Armoured Division, according to Israeli media reports, and returned from the raid without casualties.

“Through the raid, we eliminated terrorists, neutralised threats, dismantled explosives, neutralised ambushes, in order to enable the next stages of the war for the ground forces,” said Israeli military spokesperson R Adm Daniel Hagari.

What damage has been done?

It comes as Israel knocked out internet and communications in the Gaza Strip in stepped-up bombardment Friday night, largely cutting off its 2.3 million people from contact with each other and the outside world and creating a near-blackout of information.

More than 7,000 people have been killed in Gaza, including almost 3,000 children, the Palestinian authorities say. At least 17,439 people are said to have been injured.

An estimated 1.4 million people in Gaza have also been displaced, according to the UN. They added that its shelters in Gaza are now at three times their intended capacity.

“No place in Gaza is safe now,” Haytam Harara from Gaza City told The Independent. “Bombing is everywhere around us. We hear nothing except for the sound of warplanes, massive bombings, and the sirens of ambulances. It is like we are waiting until our turn comes.”

The overall number of deaths far exceeds the combined toll of all four previous wars between Israel and Hamas, estimated at around 4,000.

The UN once again issued a desperate plea for a ceasefire on Friday saying that they will be forced to halt their humanitarian support if fuel is not allowed into the strip and a ceasefire is not imposed.