It was the culmination of three weeks of Israeli missiles raining incessantly upon Gaza and, as darkness approached, the onslaught’s intensity increased exponentially. Israel sent its elite soldiers into the Gaza Strip on Saturday night to fight fierce street battles against Hamas as it prepared for a ‘long and difficult’ war – following weeks of relentless air bombardments.
As well as airstrikes up and down the length of the Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, artillery barrages and tank shells streaked through the gathering gloom, each bringing its own wave of destruction ‘We moved to the next stage in the war,’ defence minister Yoav Gallant said as daybreak revealed hundreds of destroyed buildings.
‘Last evening the ground shook in Gaza. We attacked above ground and underground. The campaign will continue until further notice.’ In a press conference last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was fighting its ‘second war of independence’ and it would be a ‘long war’. He added: ‘We will fight and we will not surrender. We will not withdraw. It will be a victory of good over evil as we are fighting for our life.’
He said the military had entered ‘the stronghold of evil’, adding: ‘This is the second phase of the war which has clear objectives to destroy Hamas and bring our hostages home.’ He said his ‘heart breaks’ for the families of the 229 hostages in Gaza, adding: ‘I promise we are going to do our utmost to bring them back.’ The ‘next stage’ saw jets strike targets in northern Gaza on Friday night, including Gaza City suburbs. There were also strikes around the Al-Shifa hospital, which Israel claims hides a Hamas command and control centre underneath, making it a military target.
According to some reports, the Israeli Air Force deployed ‘bunker buster’ ordnance to destroy Hamas’s tunnel network. The first warhead of the missiles creates a hole, then a second penetrates deeper into the earth, destroying underground structures.
At least 100 fighter-bombers attacked around 150 underground targets. Israel Defence Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari again warned civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate without delay. A power, internet and mobile phone outage was the most significant signal that the ground invasion had begun.