Israel pounded Gaza with more air and ground attacks Sunday in an escalating military campaign as the UN warned civil order was “starting to break down” in the besieged Palestinian territory.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu steeled the nation for a “long and difficult war” ahead in a late-night televised address as the Red Cross voiced shock at the “intolerable level of human suffering” inside Gaza.
More than three weeks on from the October 7 attacks, Israel has intensified the war despite UN calls for a humanitarian ceasefire, outrage across the Muslim world and desperate pleas from families of the 230 hostages to “bring them home”.
The ground operations have heightened fears that other countries — the Iran-allied “axis of resistance” forces in Lebanon as well as Syria, Iraq and Yemen — could get involved in the conflict.
After weeks of heavy bombardment of Gaza, the health ministry said has claimed over 8,000 lives, the army said “stage two” of the war started with ground incursions since late Friday.
Israel’s military said early Sunday that it had struck another 450 Hamas targets within the past 24 hours, and that it was increasing the number of ground forces in Gaza.
“As part of the expansion of ground activities, combined combat forces struck terrorist cells that attempted to attack the forces,” it added, reporting that two Israeli soldiers were wounded, one severely by a mortar shell.
Netanyahu said Saturday that “this is the second stage of the war whose goals are clear: Destroying the military and leadership capabilities of Hamas, and bringing the hostages back home.”
He vowed to “eradicate” Hamas “for the sake of our existence”.
Panic and fear have surged inside Gaza, where over one million people are displaced, and where communications went dark for days after Israel cut internet lines, although connectivity had gradually returned early Sunday.
Inside Gaza, where petrol and diesel have virtually run out, donkey cart driver Raafat Najjar told AFP that “there are no cars, we transport (people) on carts as there’s no fuel.”
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Sunday that “thousands of people broke into several UNRWA warehouses and distribution centres in the middle and southern areas of the Gaza Strip, taking wheat flour and other basic survival items like hygiene supplies.
“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza. People are scared, frustrated and desperate.”