The armed wing of Hamas said late Friday its fighters were battling Israeli forces inside Gaza, after Israel said it would expand its ground operations against the Palestinian militant group in the territory.
“We are confronting an Israeli ground incursion in Beit Hanoun (in the northern Gaza Strip) and in east Bureij (in the centre) and violent engagements are taking place on the ground,” the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said in a statement.
Israeli military spokesman Major Nir Dinar told AFP: “Our troops are operating inside Gaza as they did yesterday.”
Israeli ground forces made limited ground incursions on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Hamas earlier said it was “ready” for an invasion after Israeli air strikes cut communications across the densely populated Gaza Strip, blasted by nearly three weeks of bombardment.
“Following the series of strikes of the last days, the ground forces are extending the ground operations tonight,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told reporters after two straight nights of tank incursions.
“If (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu decides to enter Gaza tonight, the resistance is ready,” said Ezzat al-Rishaq, a senior member of the Hamas political bureau, on Telegram social media.
“The remains of his soldiers will be swallowed up by the land of Gaza.”
Israel’s military said it had increased its strikes “in a very significant way”.
AFP live footage showed air strike after air strike light up the night sky of northern Gaza as thick black smoke clouded the horizon.
The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades said on Telegram it responded with “salvos of rockets”.
Hamas said all internet connections and communications across Gaza had been cut, and accused Israel of taking the measure “to perpetrate massacres with bloody retaliatory strikes from the air, land and sea”.
The Palestinian Red Crescent said ambulance services had been disrupted.
“We have completely lost contact with the operations room in the Gaza Strip and all our teams operating there,” it said on X, formerly Twitter.
Israel has heavily bombarded Gaza since Hamas gunmen stormed across the border on October 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping over 220 others, according to Israeli officials.
The Hamas-run health ministry said Friday Israeli strikes on Gaza had now killed 7,326 people, mainly civilians and many of them children.
UN truce call
The reports of ground fighting came after the UN General Assembly called by a large majority for an “immediate humanitarian truce” in Gaza.
The nonbinding resolution, criticised by Israel and the United States for failing to mention Hamas, received 120 votes in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions.
Hamas welcomed the General Assembly call. Israel’s ambassador to the world body, Gilad Erdan, called it an “infamy”.
The White House earlier said the United States backs a “humanitarian pause” so aid can get into Gaza.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned that Gaza faces “an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering” because of the lack of food, water and power during Israeli bombing in response to the October 7 attack.
“I repeat my call for a humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages, and the delivery of life-saving supplies,” Guterres said in a statement.
“Misery is growing by the minute. Without a fundamental change, the people of Gaza will face an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering.”
Jordan warned that an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza would spell “catastrophe” for the territory for years to come.
The “outcome will be a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years to come”, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned on X, formerly Twitter, from New York where he was attending the UN General Assembly meeting.
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees had earlier warned that “many more will die” in Gaza from catastrophic shortages after nearly three weeks of bombardment by Israel.
In a bombed out street in the Tal al-Hawa neighbourhood, Om Walid Basal, 50 asked why her apartment block had been bombed by israel.
“This was our house, we lived here just with our children, it was full of children,” she said.
“Why are they bombing us? Why are they destroying our homes?”
Concern is growing about regional fallout from the conflict, with the United States warning Iran against escalation while striking facilities in Syria it says were used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and others.
Israel’s military accused Hamas of using hospitals in Gaza as operations centres for directing attacks, an allegation Hamas swiftly denied.
‘Nothing more than crumbs’
Israel has cut supplies of food, water and power to Gaza, notably blocking all deliveries of fuel saying it would be exploited by Hamas to manufacture weapons and explosives.
“People in Gaza are dying, they are not only dying from bombs and strikes, soon many more will die from the consequences of (the) siege,” said Philippe Lazzarini, chief of the UN agency for Palestinian refugee (UNRWA).
A first tranche of critically needed aid was allowed in at the weekend, but since then only 74 trucks have crossed. Before the conflict, the UN says an average of 500 trucks entered Gaza every day.
“These few trucks are nothing more than crumbs that will not make a difference,” Lazzarini said.
EU leaders on Thursday called for “continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid”.
A first team of six medics from the International Committee of the Red Cross entered Gaza Friday via its Rafah crossing with Egypt, along with six aid trucks, the ICRC said.
Between the bombardments and the fuel shortages, 12 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals have been forced to close, and UNRWA said it has had to “significantly reduce its operations”.
With tens of thousands of Israeli troops massed along the Gaza border ahead of a widely expected ground offensive, the army said it had staged another brief ground incursion into Gaza on Thursday night, the second in as many days.
Hamas said Israel had also tried to stage “a large-scale amphibious operation” on the coast around the southern town of Rafah but it had been thwarted.
Israel confirmed the dawn operation, saying troops had struck “Hamas military infrastructure and… a compound” used by militants.
The army also updated to 229 the number of hostages held -by Hamas, many of whom hold foreign passports, with their families frantic about their fate.
Militants also fired rockets on Friday towards Tel Aviv. One struck the city, wounding three people, medics said.
Violence has also risen sharply in the occupied West Bank since the October 7 attacks, with more than 100 Palestinians killed and over 1,900 wounded.
Another four Palestinians were killed Friday during Israeli raids in the northern cities of Jenin and Qalqilya, the health ministry said.