Israel’s military announced late on Sunday that it had encircled Gaza City and divided the besieged coastal strip into two, while Gaza came under the third total communications outage since the start of the war.
“Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters, calling it a “significant stage” in Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group ruling the enclave. Israeli media reported that troops are expected to enter Gaza City within 48 hours. Strong explosions were seen in northern Gaza after nightfall.
But the “collapse in connectivity” across Gaza reported by internet access advocacy group NetBlocks.org and confirmed by Palestinian telecoms company Paltel made it even more complicated to convey details of the new stage of the military offensive.
“We have lost communication with the vast majority of the UNRWA team members,” UN Palestinian refugee agency spokeswoman Juliette Touma said. The first Gaza outage lasted 36 hours and the second one for a few hours.
The Islamist militant organisation Hamas once again fired rockets at Israeli towns and villages on Sunday evening, with warning sirens sounding several times in the greater Tel Aviv area.
The military arm of Hamas claimed responsibility for the attacks on Telegram. According to initial reports, no one was injured.
According to Israeli military figures, more than 8,000 rockets have been fired at Israeli towns and villages from Gaza since Hamas invaded Israeli villages on October 7, killing 1,400 mainly civilians and taking 240 hostages.
Hamas, which rules the coastal region, took responsibility for a large proportion of these attacks. It is classified as a terrorist organisation by the United States, the European Union and Israel.
Also on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to backtrack on a comment he was reported to have made earlier about the need to check if a pre-war protest among army reservists pushed Hamas to carry out its attack last month.
Israel’s Channel 12 and other news outlets reported that Netanyahu said there may be a need to examine whether months of protests against his government, including by reservists who said they would no longer report for regular duty, added to Hamas’ motivation to carry out the rampage through southern Israel that triggered the current war.
But after public backlash, Netanyahu posted on X, formerly Twitter, that Hamas started a war “because it wants to kill us all and not because of any argument within us.”
“Hamas was wrong – and therefore will be eliminated. Only together will we win,” Netanyahu said.
Earlier, Benny Gantz, who joined Netanyahu’s war cabinet from the opposition as part of an emergency government, said Netanyahu must retract his comment.
“Avoiding responsibility and slinging mud at the time of war is a blow to the country,” Gantz wrote on X.
On Saturday, protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s residence, chanting “Jail Now!” in a public display of anger at the failures that led to last month’s deadly attack by Hamas gunmen on Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip.
The protest, which coincided with a poll showing more than three quarters of Israelis believe Netanyahu should resign, underlined the growing public fury at their political and security leaders.
On Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck two central Gaza refugee camps, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens, health officials said. Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush Hamas, despite US appeals for even brief pauses to get aid to desperate civilians.
Gaza’s Health Ministry said more than 9,700 Palestinians have been killed in the territory in nearly a month of war, more than 4,000 of them children and minors. That toll is likely to rise as Israeli troops advance into dense, urban neighbourhoods.
Additional reporting by Reuters, dpa