Israel said that it is “expanding” its ground operations in the Gaza Strip, sending infantry and tanks into the northern part of Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government did not say that a large-scale ground invasion was happening, but said that Israel was entering a “second stage of the war.”
The ground incursion comes as Israel conducts one of the heaviest waves of airstrikes in the last three weeks and while the United States continues to position and bolster its forces in the Middle East and negotiates for the release of hostages in Gaza.
Photos from reporters in Israel taken late Saturday and into early Sunday local time show tanks moving into the northern Gaza Strip. That comes after Israel massed approximately 300,000 troops near the border with Gaza while carrying out heavy airstrikes on the tiny territory.
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The exact size of the push into northern Gaza is unclear, as Israel has only sent a portion of its infantry and armor a few kilometers into the territory, with most of its assembled forces still on the other side of the border. Communications in and out of the Gaza Strip were essentially cut off on Friday, with most phone and Internet lines down. Local reporters inside Gaza have reported intense bombing of the area.
The infantry and armor incursion into Gaza is the largest ground operation since the Oct. 7 attacks. Israeli forces have conducted some small raids, but nothing on this size as of yet.
The United States currently has two carrier strike groups in the area. The USS Gerald R. Ford is in the eastern Mediterranean Sea while the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its support group were directed from there to the Middle East. The United States moved the carrier strike groups there after the Oct. 7 attacks, and sent additional aircraft to the region. This week, U.S. forces carried out airstrikes in Syria in response to a series of attacks on Americans there. 21 U.S. troops have been injured in the attacks, believed to be carried out by armed groups tied to Iran.
Meanwhile the United States is currently taking part in negotiations for the release of hostages with Qatar, which acts as an intermediary for Hamas. More than 200 people remain as hostages. Some are American citizens.
More than 9,000 people have died since Oct. 7 across Israel and the occupied territories. That includes several thousand children. The fighting is the bloodiest conflict in Gaza since Israel pulled its forces out of the territory in 2005. The territory, 140 square miles or roughly the size of Detroit, Michigan, is one of the most densely populated places on Earth and home to two million people.