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Israel Says Hamas War Has ‘Entered New Phase’

(AFRICAN EXAMINER) – Israel said Saturday its war on Hamas had “entered a new phase” with its massive bombardment of Gaza as the Islamist group demanded the release of all Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages it seized three weeks ago.

The United Nations warned thousands more civilians could die in Gaza as Israel said ground forces were still operating inside the Hamas-run territory more than 24 hours after entering it on Friday.

Israel unleashed its bombing campaign after Hamas gunmen stormed across the Gaza border on October 7, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and seizing more than 220 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

The Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza said Israeli strikes had since killed 7,703 people, mainly civilians, with more than 3,500 of them children.

The conflict is the fifth and deadliest in Gaza since Israel unilaterally withdrew troops and settlers from the Palestinian territory in 2005.

UN human rights chief Volker Turk warned of “the possibly catastrophic consequences of large-scale ground operations in Gaza”, saying “thousands more civilians” could die.

The intense strikes against Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, provided cover for Israeli ground forces to step up operations.

“Since early Friday evening, combined combat forces of armour, combat engineers and infantry have been operating on the ground in the northern Gaza Strip,” the army said late Saturday.

Israel has massed tens of thousands of troops along the Gaza border raising expectations of a full-blown invasion, with its soldiers making limited ground incursions on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We’ve entered a new phase in the war,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said.

“Last night, the ground in Gaza shook. We attacked above the ground and below the ground,” he said, alluding to the network of tunnels Hamas has built under Gaza.

Israeli fighter jets dropped leaflets over Gaza City warning residents that the area was now a “battlefield”.

“Shelters in northern Gaza and Gaza (City) governorate are not safe,” the army said, urging residents to “evacuate immediately” to the south.

The army already delivered similar warnings earlier in its campaign, but many who fled south ended up returning home after failing to find refuge from Israeli bombing.


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