Explosions caused by Israeli airstrikes in the northern Gaza Strip, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. AP
The Israeli military’s announcement signaled it was moving closer to an all-out invasion of Gaza, where it has vowed to crush Hamas.
Explosions from a barrage of airstrikes lit up the sky over Gaza City after nightfall Friday when the blackout in internet, cellular and landline services hit. Already plunged into darkness after most electricity was cut off weeks ago, Palestinians were now thrown into isolation, huddled in homes and shelters, with food and water supplies running out. The Palestinian telecom provider, Paltel, said the “complete disruption” was due to bombardment.
Casualties from new airstrikes could not be immediately known in the information blackout. The Red Crescent said it cannot reach its medical teams and that residents can no longer call ambulances, meaning rescuers will have to chase the sound of explosions to find those wounded from strikes. International aid groups said they were only able to reach a few staff using satellite phones.
Relatives outside Gaza panicked after their messaging chats with families inside suddenly went dead and calls stopped going through.
“I was so scared this was going to happen,” said Wafaa Abdul Rahman, director of a feminist organization based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. She said she hadn't heard for hours from family in central Gaza.
“We’ve been seeing these horrible things and massacres when it’s live on TV, so now what will happen when there’s a total blackout?” she said, referring to scenes of families that have been crushed in homes by airstrikes over the past weeks.
Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said ground forces were “expanding their activity” Friday evening in Gaza and “acting with great force ... to achieve the objectives of the war.” Israel says its strikes target Hamas fighters and infrastructure and that the militants operate from among civilians, putting them in danger.
Israel has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border with Gaza ahead of an expected ground offensive. Earlier Friday, the military said ground forces conducted their second hourslong incursion inside Gaza in as many days, striking dozens of militant targets over the past 24 hours.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told a small group of foreign reporters that Israel expects a long and difficult ground offensive into Gaza soon. It “will take a long time” to dismantle Hamas' vast network of tunnels, he said, adding that he expected a lengthy phase of lower-intensity fighting as Israel destroys “pockets of resistance.”
His comments pointed to a potentially grueling and open-ended new phase of the war after three weeks of relentless bombardment. Israel has said it aims to crush Hamas’ rule in Gaza and its ability to threaten Israel. But how Hamas’ defeat will be measured and an invasion’s endgame remain unclear. Israel says it does not intend to rule the tiny territory of 2.3 million Palestinians but not who it expects to govern — even as Gallant suggested a long-term insurgency could ensue.
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza has soared past 7,300, more than 60% of them children and women, according to the territory's Health Ministry. A blockade on Gaza has meant dwindling supplies, and the U.N. warned that its aid operation helping hundreds of thousands of people was “crumbling” amid near-depleted fuel.
The overall number of deaths far exceeds the combined toll of all four previous Israeli wars on Gaza, estimated at around 4,000.