Israel has initiated a new phase in its war against Hamas, expanding its military operations to include ground forces in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the decision aims to destroy Hamas’ governmental and military capabilities and to secure the release of hostages.
The announcement was made during a televised news conference Saturday. The escalation comes three weeks after an incursion by Hamas into Israel, in which militants attacked nearby Israeli towns on Oct. 7, torturing, raping and murdering civilians, and taking as many as 230 hostages.
Netanyahu told reporters that the ground operations would assist in securing the release of the hostages. However, he didn’t provide further details due to the sensitivity of the military operations.
“There are moments in which a nation faces two possibilities: to do or die,” Netanyahu said. “We now face that test and I have no doubt how it will end: We will be the victors. We will do and we will be the victors.”
Gaza residents said the ongoing bombardment is the most intense they’ve seen.
Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmation on the ground reported that the majority of communications in the area were knocked out on Friday but were restored to many by Sunday, The Associated Press reports, adding that the Israeli military released images of tank columns moving in open areas near the Gaza border.
Israel’s airstrikes have targeted dozens of Hamas terror tunnels and underground bunkers. These underground sites became significant targets after Hamas attacked Israel.
Meanwhile, family members of the hostages met with Netanyahu Saturday, expressing support for a potential prisoner swap with the top Hamas leader in Gaza.
Netanyahu’s office also released a statement denying prior knowledge of the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, saying he was not warned “in no way and at no stage,” The Times of Israel reported.
Both the head of the Shin Bet and the head of Israel Defense Forces military intelligence had assessed that Hamas was "deterred and was interested in an arrangement," the newspaper said.
The IDF urged civilians in Gaza to move south of Wadi Gaza. The announcement was made through a video posted on IDF social media on Sunday, according to CNN, which said Egypt and the United States will expand humanitarian efforts to Gaza on Monday, as announced by Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in the same video.
However, with limited or no internet since late Friday, the evacuation warning might not reach all Arabic-speaking Gazans.
The International Committee of the Red Cross called for an immediate de-escalation in Gaza. ICRC President Mirjana Spoljaric said the situation is a “catastrophic failing.”
Spoljaric also mentioned the parties involved are obligated under international humanitarian law to spare civilians. She said the ICRC has offered to facilitate any future hostage release operation.
Meanwhile, there were unconfirmed reports in Syrian opposition media that Israel has targeted Syrian Army posts in the Quneitra area of southern Syria.
Netanyahu said last week there will be a thorough investigation into the Oct. 7 Hamas terror attacks in Israel and everyone, including himself, will have to answer questions as to how the terrorists were able to storm into the country, torturing and murdering civilians.
“We all will have to provide answers to what happened on Oct. 7, myself included — but only after the war,” said Netanyahu in a speech to the nation.
Comparing Hamas to ISIS, Netanyahu said, “All Hamas activists must die, above the ground, beneath the ground, inside Gaza and outside of Gaza,” adding that he and other Israeli leaders were working to convince world leaders to “support our campaign.”
“Hamas is ISIS, and ISIS is Hamas,” he added, speaking in Hebrew. “Our war against Hamas is their war as well. Our war against Hamas is a test for all of humanity.
“It is a struggle between the axis of evil of Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas and the axis of freedom and progress."
Invoking Bible prophecy, the prime minister referred to Israel and its allies as “the people of the light.”
In Luke 16:8, Jesus spoke of the “people of the light”: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”
“We are the people of the light, they are the people of darkness and light shall triumph over darkness,” said Netanyahu.