Israel’s widely expected invasion of the northern Gaza Strip is underway, three weeks after Hamas’ stunning attack. The Israel Defense Forces are continuing to expand their ground offensive into Gaza, where the civilian death toll, already in the thousands, is expected to rise sharply. Below are live updates on this significant escalation in the war as it develops.
More settler violence in the West Bank
An Israeli settler reportedly shot and killed a Palestinian man harvesting olives with his family in the West Bank on Saturday — the seventh Palestinian allegedly killed by settlers since the war began. The Associated Press reports:
Tayseer Mahmoud said his nephew, Bilal Saleh, was working in the grove in the village of Sawiya with his wife and their four children on Saturday when a group of settlers attacked them. Saleh, concerned about the safety of his children, tried to leave the area but a settler shot him in the chest, Mahmoud said.
Mahmoud said he didn’t witness the confrontation but was close by and reached the scene within minutes of the shooting. Saleh died before he could be taken for medical care, he said.
Settler leader Yossi Dagan said in a video posted to Facebook on Saturday that the shooter was accompanied by family members and fired in self-defense after they were “attacked with rocks by dozens of rioting Hamas supporters.”
There have been numerous reports of intensified settler aggression against Palestinians civilians and communities in the West Bank since October 7, drawing international condemnation, including from from President Biden.
Inside the Israeli government, Shin Bet head Ronen Bar has reportedly warned the country’s war cabinet that the West Bank could erupt if the settlers aren’t reined in.
A very scary situation in Russia
On Sunday night, a large mob of locals stormed the main airport in Makhachkala, the capital city of the predominantly Muslim Russian Republic of Dagestan, looking for the passengers of a flight arriving from Tel Aviv. Some in the mob shouted anti-semitic slogans.
The chaos forced Russian authorities to close the airport and divert multiple flights, including one from Israel, according to Reuters.
Footage shared on Telegram showed members of the mob converging on at least one plane still on the runway. Reuters adds:
Russian media showed one group attempting to approach the aircraft, but the passengers remained safely on board. Reuters could not determine if the passengers were able to eventually disembark. The identification number on the tail of the plane indicated it had arrived from Israel, according to the FlightRadar24 flight tracking website.
More security forces were eventually called to the airport to regain control, but it’s not yet clear if there were any injuries or arrests, according to Meduza.
Russia hosted a pro-Hamas delegation in Moscow on Friday, and there have been multiple reports of anti-semitic violence in parts of Russia since the Israel-Hamas war began.
The U.S. pressured Israel to turn Gaza’s internet back on
Per the Washington Post, the U.S. worked to get communications restored in the embattled Gaza Strip after the whole system was effectively switched off at the start of the invasion on Friday:
“We made it clear they had to be turned back on,” the [senior U.S.] official said, adding that the Israelis did not give a reason why they had switched off communications networks in Gaza, causing a near-total blackout. “The communications are back on. They need to stay back on.”
During the communications blackout, which lasted until Sunday afternoon, people in Gaza were unable to call first responders for help, so rescue crews tried to seek out the airstrike locations on their own using only their eyes and ears. The New York Times reports:
Sometimes they would try to locate the sites of strikes by listening to the sounds of explosions and guessing where they were coming from, said Mahmoud Basl, a civil defense official. Other times, good Samaritans would pick up wounded people and drive them to the hospital — notifying emergency responders of the location of people they had left behind, he said. “People were bombed, dying and injured while nobody knew anything about them,” he said.
And some people arrived at hospitals running — crossing distances of more than a mile on foot — shouting for help, said Yusuf al-Loh, the head of a medical services agency within Gaza’s interior ministry. “Last night the scene was heartbreaking,” Mr. al-Loh said in an interview on Sunday after communications were restored, calling the blackout a “disaster” for emergency responders.
U.S. says Israel has agreed to increase number of daily aid trucks to Gaza
Israeli officials have signaled that more aid will soon be able to reach Gaza, but haven’t offered specifics. A senior U.S. official meanwhile told the New York Times that Israel had committed to allowing the entry of 100 aid trucks a day into southern Gaza.
Israeli forces have advanced at least a few miles into the northwest Gaza Strip
The IDF released images of its troops advancing south along the coast:
Two Gaza City hospitals have reportedly been damaged by airstrikes
The Associated Press reports:
[R]esidents living near Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, said Israeli airstrikes overnight hit near the hospital complex and blocked many roads leading to it. Israel accuses Hamas of having a secret command post beneath the hospital but has not provided much evidence. Hamas denies the allegations.
Tens of thousands of civilians are sheltering in Shifa, which is also packed with wounded patients. “Reaching the hospital has become increasingly difficult,” Mahmoud al-Sawah, who is sheltering in the hospital, said over the phone. “It seems they want to cut off the area.” Another Gaza City resident, Abdallah Sayed, said the Israeli bombing over the past two days was “the most violent and intense” since the war started.
The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said another Gaza City hospital received two calls from Israeli authorities on Sunday ordering it to evacuate. It said airstrikes have hit as close as 50 meters (yards) from the Al-Quds Hospital, where 12,000 people are sheltering.
Desperate Gazans break into U.N. aid warehouses
The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees announced Sunday that crowds of Gazans broke into four of its facilities on Saturday, calling it a “worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down”:
Yesterday, thousands of people broke into several UNRWA warehouses and distribution centres in the middle and southern areas of the Gaza Strip, taking wheat flour and other basic survival items like hygiene supplies. One of the warehouses, in Deir al-Balah, is where UNRWA stores supplies from the humanitarian convoys coming from Egypt.
“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza. People are scared, frustrated and desperate. Tensions and fear are made worse by the cuts in the phones and internet communication lines. They feel that they are on their own, cut off from their families inside Gaza and the rest of the world,” said Thomas White, Director of UNRWA Affairs in the Gaza Strip.
Massive displacement of people from the north of the Gaza Strip southward has placed enormous pressure on those communities, adding further burden on crumbling public services. Some families received up to 50 relatives taking shelter in one household.
The agency says only 80 trucks of humanitarian aid have made it into Gaza since the border crossing with Egypt was partially reopened last week. ““The current system of convoys is geared to fail,” White warned. “Very few trucks, slow processes, strict inspections, supplies that do not match the requirements of UNRWA and the other aid organizations, and mostly the ongoing ban on fuel, are all a recipe for a failed system.”
Netanyahu sparks uproar after tweet blaming October 7 attack on his own security chiefs
The prime minister deflected a question about his own responsibility for the attack on Saturday night. Not long after, per the Times of Israel:
Late on Saturday night, Netanyahu wrote a post on X (formerly Twitter), insisting that he never received any warnings of Hamas “war intentions” at any stage, and adding that “all the security services, including the head of military intelligence and the head of the Shin Bet, were of the opinion that Hamas was deterred and wanted to come to a settlement.”
The tweet did not go over well, and Netanyahu soon deleted it.
Netanyahu also admitted it was a mistake, which he never does:
Internet service partially restored in Gaza
How long is a long war?
The Economist looks at Israel’s emerging invasion strategy:
The army’s tactics are not what they were assumed to be in the days after the massacre. The two locations where Israel entered on October 27th—north and south of Gaza city, the enclave’s largest urban area—suggest a gradual plan to encircle it. One senior officer describes the ground offensive as a campaign that will take months, perhaps a year.
Some Israeli politicians have begun to argue that a big ground offensive would play into Hamas’s hands, drawing the idf into urban fighting for which Hamas has surely prepared ambushes and booby traps. It would also cause significant civilian deaths and damage to infrastructure in Gaza, which would create international pressure for a ceasefire. Israeli strikes have already killed more than 7,000 Palestinians in the enclave, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. “I don’t want us to get bogged down there without achieving our goal of dismantling Hamas,” says Naftali Bennett, who served a one-year stint as prime minister until June 2022.
A slower campaign would rely, in effect, on siege tactics. Hamas has stockpiled fuel, food and other essentials in its labyrinth of tunnels. At some point, though, supplies will run out: a lack of fuel for generators would mean no fresh air or lights underground, which would force Hamas to surface. “Hamas doesn’t expect this at all. It expects a ground invasion for three to six weeks,” Mr Bennett argues.
Netanyahu: ‘We are only at the beginning.’
The Israeli prime minister held a televised news conference on Saturday night in which he said the next phase of the country’s war with Gaza had begun with the ground operation into the northern Gaza Strip. He did not call the invasion an invasion, but emphasized that the “second War of Independence” would be “long and difficult.”
“We are only at the beginning,” Netanyahu said.
He also insisted that rescuing the hostages held by Hamas was part of the mission. “This is the second stage of the war, whose objectives are clear: to destroy the military and governmental capabilities of Hamas and bring the hostages home,” he told reporters, framing the conflict as a war for Israel’s survival. “We have always said, ‘Never again.’ ‘Never again’ is now.”
Netanyahu was flanked by Benny Gantz, who has helped formed a wartime unity government, and Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant, who echoed that “this will not be a short war.”
Asked if he would take any responsibility for the failures to stop Hamas’s October 7 attack, Netanyahu claimed that “no stone will be left unturned” in investigating what went wrong, but deflected, adding that “For now, my supreme mission is to save the country and lead our soldiers to total victory.”
Gaza health ministry says death toll is now over 7,700
A spokesperson for the ministry said on Al Jazeera on Saturday that nearly 3,200 children were among the ever-rising death toll in Gaza since the war began. Israel has disputed the ministry’s casualty totals, which it claims are are inflated by Hamas — and President Biden has called the accuracy of the reporting into question as well. The Associated Press reported Thursday that the ministry isn’t like others controlled by Hamas, and its numbers have largely held up to past scrutiny:
The ministry is the only official source for Gaza casualties. Israel has sealed Gaza’s borders, barring foreign journalists and humanitarian workers. The AP is among a small number of international news organizations with teams in Gaza. While those journalists cannot do a comprehensive count, they’ve viewed large numbers of bodies at the sites of airstrikes, morgues and funerals.
The United Nations and other international institutions and experts, as well as Palestinian authorities in the West Bank — rivals of Hamas — say the Gaza ministry has long made a good-faith effort to account for the dead under the most difficult conditions. “The numbers may not be perfectly accurate on a minute-to-minute basis,” said Michael Ryan, of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Program. “But they largely reflect the level of death and injury.”
In previous wars, the ministry’s counts have held up to U.N. scrutiny, independent investigations and even Israel’s tallies.
Israeli forces are still in Gaza
IDF ground forces remain in northern Gaza on Saturday following an overnight incursion, according to the Israeli military — though the IDF isn’t describing the operation as a full-scale invasion. The military says it struck 150 underground Hamas targets overnight, including tunnels and command posts, in the northern Gaza Strip. It also says it killed one of the Hamas leaders who was central to the October 7 attack. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Israeli military spokesman Brig. Gen. Daniel Hagari said Saturday that infantry troops, artillery batteries and engineering units were operating in northern Gaza under the cover of heavy airstrikes across the strip. … Hagari said Israel struck 150 underground targets and killed Hamas generals who commanded the group’s naval forces and aerial squadron. Israeli defense and security officials said in a statement Saturday that the head of Hamas’s aerial array, Asem Abu Rakaba, had been killed. Israel said Rakaba had overseen the paragliders and drone strikes that were central to the militant group’s attack and helped plan the massacre of Israeli communities near Gaza. Israeli jet fighters bombed the location in Gaza where he was believed to have been located. Hamas hasn’t commented on the claim by the Israelis that they had killed Rakaba and others.
Not calling the invasion an invasion
Apparently, expanding ground operations may mean something less than an actual invasion, per ABC News:
A U.S. official told ABC News the Israelis are launching a more limited incursion and have agreed to provide humanitarian support in conjunction with the operation. In an interview with ABC News, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner denied the expanded operations are the official ground invasion that has been expected.
Another military spokesperson wouldn’t say if this was the invasion, reports the New York Times:
Maj. Nir Dinar, a military spokesman, said some Israeli troops had crossed the border and were fighting inside the Gaza Strip, but he declined to say if the incursion was the start of a full-scale ground invasion, which Israel has been threatening to launch for weeks. For two days, Israeli forces and tanks have made small sallies into Gaza without staying. “Our troops and tanks are inside the Gaza Strip — they’re shooting and they’re operating,” Major Dinar said. He added: “But our troops and tanks were inside Gaza yesterday as well.”
CBS News adds that “the extent of the expanded activity was unclear, but two U.S. officials tell CBS News this appears to be a rolling start to the ground invasion.”
As far as where IDF ground forces are operating, Hamas says it’s in at least two locations:
Everyone is still trapped in Gaza
Including U.S. citizens, despite weeks of negotiations between officials from the U.S., Qatar, Egypt, and Hamas. NBC News reports:
A senior [Biden] administration official said that over the past week, Egypt, Hamas and Israel have all raised objections to a continuous flow of aid going in, as the U.S. has been demanding since the beginning of the war.
Senior administration officials say Egypt was insisting no one could come out of Gaza until all the aid got in, but that those Egyptian officials have now relented, but now Hamas is holding up the exit of the Americans.
“There are a lot of factors and moving pieces,” one U.S. official said. “We’re exploring all options.”
Peace protest shuts down Grand Central Terminal
Hundreds of protesters staged a demonstration and sit-in, organized by the Jewish anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace. It prompted the MTA to temporarily close down the terminal, disrupting subway service.
UN General Assembly calls for ceasefire
The General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza. General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, but signal broad international support.
An amendment to the resolution by Canada calling Hamas’s October 7 incursion a terrorist attack was opposed by all Arab countries and defeated.
U.S. has warned against full ground assault
The Biden administration has reportedly been warning Israel against a full invasion of Gaza, but while U.S. pressure may have helped delay the ground operation, it’s not clear how much Israeli leaders are heeding the advice. Per the Washington Post on Friday:
The Biden administration is urging Israel to rethink its plans for a major ground offensive in the Gaza Strip and instead to opt for a more “surgical” operation using aircraft and special operations forces carrying out precise, targeted raids on high-value Hamas targets and infrastructure, according to five U.S. officials familiar with the discussions.
Administration officials have become highly concerned about the potential repercussions of a full ground assault, the officials said, and they increasingly doubt that it would achieve Israel’s stated goal of eliminating Hamas. They also are concerned that it could derail negotiations to free nearly 200 hostages, particularly as diplomats think they have made “significant” advances in recent days to free a number of them, potentially including some Americans, one of the officials said.
The Biden administration also is worried that a ground invasion could result in numerous casualties among Palestinian civilians as well as Israeli soldiers, potentially triggering a dramatic escalation of hostilities in the region, the officials said. U.S. officials think a targeted operation would be more conducive to hostage negotiations, less likely to interrupt humanitarian aid deliveries, less deadly for people on both sides, and less likely to provoke a wider war in the region, the officials said.
The invasion has begun
On Friday night, Israeli forces launched their heaviest barrage of air strikes on Gaza since the war’s start on October 7, striking what they said were Hamas targets, including tunnel infrastructure in northern Gaza. Air strikes are also being conducted in southern Gaza, where an estimated 700,000 Gazan civilians fled after the the Israeli urged them to leave the north. Soon after the air strikes began, an IDF spokesman held a news conference and announced:
In the last few hours, we have increased the attacks in Gaza. The Air Force is widely attacking underground targets and terrorist infrastructures, very significantly. Following the offensive activity we carried out in the last few days, the ground forces are expanding their operation tonight.
For civilians trapped in the war zone, the situation looks increasingly dire:
Gaza appears to have lost all telephone and internet access
What about the hostages?
International negotiations have been underway to get Hamas to release a significant number of the more than 200 Israeli hostages militants abducted during their October 7 attack. It appears Israeli leaders believe the negotiations have mostly been a stalling tactic: