Israel Defense Forces ground troops continued to operate in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Saturday morning, as the Israel Air Force unleashed a wave of firepower strikes that stood out in their intensity.
Israeli soldiers were operating deeper in the Palestinian enclave than during previous limited raids carried out in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of 1,400 people in Israel.
The air force simultaneously struck overnight Friday some 150 underground terrorist targets in Gaza, killing several Hamas terrorists.
Issam Abu Rukbeh, the head of Hamas’s aerial array, was among those slain. The IDF said he played a role in planning the cross-border assault that began on Oct. 7.
“In recent hours, we stepped up attacks on Gaza. The IAF is attacking [in a] broad manner, hitting underground targets and terror infrastructure in a very significant manner,” IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said on Friday night. Ground forces are broadening their activity.”
U.S. and Israeli officials told ABC News that the current ground activity in Gaza is not a large-scale offensive, and Lt. Col. (res.) Peter Lerner, another IDF spokesman, said that the current action is not the major operation that is expected.
Israel’s stated war objectives are the destruction of the Hamas terrorist army and the return of all kidnapped hostages.
“We will continue to attack in Gaza City and its environment and call on civilians to evacuate,” Hagari said.
The IDF was set on Saturday to begin allowing more goods to enter the southern Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt. The move is geared towards encouraging additional Palestinians to heed evacuation orders for the northern part of the Strip, where the IDF is focusing its offensive.
Internet and phone service is reportedly down in Gaza, and the Palestine Telecommunications Company (Paltel) announced “a complete disruption of all communication and Internet services” due to the IDF offensive.
Hagari said terrorists in Lebanon targeted military posts near Moshav Avivim and Kibbutz Misgav Am in the Upper Galilee, with the IDF returning fire. “We are continuing to search and destroy terror squads,” he said of the lower-intensity conflict with Hezbollah.
“Since the start of the war, the IDF destroyed many terror squads. Anyone who endangers us will pay with their lives,” Hagari added. “The IDF is on high alert in the north.”
The IDF also thwarted an aerial threat in the Red Sea on Friday morning.
IAF aircraft “were scrambled after an aerial threat was identified in the area of the Red Sea. The IAF intercepted the hostile targets in the area,” the military said. “No threat was posed to civilians, and no infiltration into Israeli territory was identified.”
Israel will continue to work with Egypt and the United States to tighten defenses in the Red Sea, Hagari said.
The IDF’s official count has reached 310 slain soldiers and 229 hostages (nearly all civilians) held in Gaza. “At this time our heart is with the hostages,” Hagari said. “We are dedicated to the national mission of bringing them all back.”
At the end of the third week of war, hundreds of thousands of reservists and other security force personnel are deployed around Israel’s borders, as well as in the air, at sea and in the cyber arena, he said.
Asked to address reports on alleged hostage exchange deals, Hagari called those “psychological terrorism on Israeli citizens.”
“We will hold and bring any relevant data on the hostages, operational, intelligence or civilian,” he said. “We’ll give it to families. Until then, I call on civilians not to capitulate to this.”