Hamas said on Saturday its militants in Gaza were ready to confront Israeli attacks with “full force” after Israel’s military widened its air and ground attacks on the Palestinian enclave.
The Palestinian militant group that rules Gaza had said its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in areas near the border with Israel after Israel reported intensified attacks in Gaza.
By early Saturday morning, a cutoff in internet and phone services – which telecoms firms and the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said was a result of Israeli bombardments – had been continuing for more than 10 hours.
“In addition to the attacks carried out in the last few days, ground forces are expanding their operations tonight,” Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said at a televised news briefing on Friday evening, raising the question whether a long-anticipated ground invasion of Gaza might be starting.
He said Israel’s air force was conducting extensive strikes on tunnels dug by Hamas and on other infrastructure.
The armed wing of Hamas said late on Friday its fighters were clashing with Israeli troops in Gaza’s northeastern town of Beit Hanoun and in the central area of Al-Bureij.
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“The Al-Qassam brigades and all the Palestinian resistance forces are completely ready to confront (Israel’s) aggression with full force and frustrate its incursions,” Hamas said in a statement early on Saturday.
“Netanyahu and his defeated army will not be able to achieve any military victory,” referring to the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
After Israel announced a step-up in operations, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the U.S. supported a pause in Israeli military activity in Gaza to get humanitarian aid, fuel and electricity to civilians there.
Kirby would not comment on the expanded ground operation. But he said Washington supported Israel’s right to defend itself and added: “We’re not drawing red lines for Israel.”
He said that if getting more than 200 hostages abducted by Hamas out of Gaza required a localized temporary pause, the U.S. supported that.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, in a call with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, “underscored the importance of protecting civilians” during operations in Gaza, the Pentagon said on Friday.