Israel expanded its ground offensive in the Gaza Strip in what it calls a “new phase in the war.”
Israel said it struck as many as 600 Hamas targets overnight, and tanks have entered the enclave, while it remained unclear if this escalation of attacks was the formal start of its anticipated ground invasion.
The expansion comes as global powers call for increased humanitarian aid into the Strip. An estimated 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, many of them children. More than 1,400 Israelis were killed in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas.
The United Nations Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza, days after 120 countries voted for a U.N. General Assembly resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce.” Only 12 countries joined Israel and the U.S. in opposing the resolution, with 45, including the U.K., abstaining.
The new ground campaign suggests that Israel is shifting its focus away from negotiating over the release of hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7, Bloomberg’s Ethan Bronner notes. While many Israelis say their safe return should be the only priority, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the ground operation will hasten their release. Instead of a massive anticipated ground invasion the army “has started slowly, taking a day-by-day approach based on casualties, concerns of the conflict spreading to Hezbollah in the north and internal political pressures” on Netanyahu, Bronner writes.
Representatives for the Qatari government, which has been involved with hostage negotiations, have warned that the intensifying ground operations this weekend could hinder those discussions. “This escalation makes it considerably more difficult,” foreign ministry spokesperson Majed al-Ansari told CNN. Israel’s near-constant bombardment of the Gaza Strip will make it harder to secure the release of hostages, Ansari said, noting that “mediation only works when you have periods of calm.”
The escalation comes as the crisis has reached a humanitarian tipping point. In the Gaza Strip, 40% of the approximately 8,000 people killed since Oct. 7 have been children, said the nonprofit Save the Children. “Is the killing of almost 1,000 children a week self-defence?” Australian Broadcasting Corporation foreign editor John Lyons asked in a recent column. It’s a question “that leaders around the world are going to need to contemplate in coming days as the war between Israel and Hamas continues — or indeed escalates,” he writes.