The Israel Defense Forces expanded its ground incursion inside the Gaza Strip on Sunday, destroying Hamas anti-tank positions and killing several gunmen on the Gaza coast and at the Erez border crossing, the military said.
Rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli towns and cities throughout the day, as the military focused its operations on Hamas targets in the northern part of the Strip.
An IDF officer was seriously hurt by a mortar impact and a soldier was moderately hurt during a battle with Hamas gunmen, both in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, the military said.
The IDF said the pair were taken to a hospital for treatment.
Sirens were triggered in southern border communities throughout the day, and at noon in central Israel, including Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Ra’anana, Holon, and Hod Hasharon. The barrage sent 1.5 million to 2 million people running for shelter.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage, but photos and videos circulating on social media showed fragments of apparently intercepted rockets that fell in locations across central Israel during the bombardment.
One fragment fell in a schoolyard in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon. All the students were inside and in shelters at the time. Pieces also fell in Rishon Lezion.
Israel has been fighting Hamas since October 7, when some 2,500 terrorists burst into Israel by land, sea, and air, killing over 1,400 people, a majority of them civilians, in their homes and at an outdoor music festival. Hamas and allied terrorist factions also dragged at least 239 hostages — including some 30 children — back to the Gaza Strip, where they remain captive.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
Terror groups led by Hamas have continued to barrage southern and central Israel with rocket fire, causing further deaths and injuries. There has also been sporadic rocket fire in the north from the Lebanese Hezbollah terror group and its allies. Over 200,000 people in Israel have been displaced from their homes.
Expanding ground incursion
The IDF said ground units were continuing to operate in the northern part of the Gaza Strip after entering on Friday, killing Hamas operatives and destroying sites belonging to the terror group.
Troops killed a number of Hamas gunmen who opened fire at its forces in the Gaza Strip, including several on the northern Gaza coast near the southern Israeli community of Zikim, according to the military.
The IDF said ground troops, including tanks, also struck anti-tank guided missile positions, observation posts, and other Hamas infrastructure.
The forces also directed the air force to carry out strikes against buildings used by the terror group, the IDF said.
In another incident, a number of Hamas operatives exited a tunnel near the Erez Crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, and clashed with IDF soldiers. The military said the troops killed four of the terrorists and wounded others.
Several more Palestinian gunmen were killed in other nearby battles, the IDF added.
Additionally, the military said ground forces directed the air force to carry out drone strikes against two Hamas staging grounds, killing several operatives.
The military published video showing troops operating in Gaza, as well as some of the recent airstrikes on the Strip.
Israel has been delaying an expected broadening of its ground operations in line with suggestions made by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, American officials told The New York Times in a Saturday report.
One unnamed official told the newspaper that Israel altered its operations after an initial plan alarmed Washington over fears it could not achieve its military objectives. Due to efforts by Austin and other US officials, Israel refined its plan, the official said, and is currently engaging in smaller raids.
Austin has been holding almost daily conversations with Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Washington, which has sent military advisers to Israel to help plan the campaign, has repeatedly stressed that the US is only advising and that Israel is making its own decisions in the war.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Sunday that amid the expanded operation, the military was working to bring home the hundreds of hostages captured by terrorists on October 7 and held in the Strip.
“We all doing everything to bring the hostages home. It is a top priority,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Saturday with representatives of families whose loved ones are held in Gaza and heard from them that they favor a prisoner exchange with Hamas, swapping the captives for Palestinian security prisoners held in Israeli prisons.
Hagari also said that a new group of surveillance soldiers was being drafted into the military, where they would perform the “important job” for the defense of Israel. A number of surveillance soldiers were killed or kidnapped on October 7.
IDF surveillance soldiers, referred to in Hebrew as tatzpitanim or tatzpitaniyot, belong to the Combat Intelligence Corps and operate along the country’s borders, as well as throughout the West Bank.
The surveillance soldiers are referred to by many as “the eyes of the army” as they provide real-time intelligence information to soldiers in the field, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Gaza’s deteriorating humanitarian situation
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Red Crescent said that Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza City received two calls from Israeli authorities demanding it evacuate.
A statement released by the organization said that the calls constituted a “clear and direct threat that the hospital must be evacuated at once, otherwise PRCS holds full responsibility for the lives of everyone inside the hospital.”
Spokesperson Nebal Farsakh said that 12,000 people are currently sheltering in the hospital.
She added the intensive care unit is predominantly occupied by children injured in the latest airstrikes.
“Most of them are connected to oxygen machines,” she said. “Evacuating them would be killing them.”
The military did not immediately comment.
On Friday, the IDF said the Hamas terror group’s main base of operations is under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, providing visuals and intercepted audio as evidence of the terror organization’s activities.
Gaza hospitals have been a key feature of the now three-week-long Gaza war, with Hamas on October 17 claiming that an Israeli strike targeted al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City and killed over 500 civilians. The claim was disproven within hours by Israeli and US intelligence, which found that the explosion occurred just outside the hospital, was caused by an errant Islamic Jihad rocket aimed at Israel, and killed far fewer than 500 people.
The IDF has told some 1 million civilians to evacuate to the southern part of the Gaza Strip ahead of an expected major ground invasion in the north of the enclave where troops are already operating. Though hundreds of thousands have moved south, many have remained, including in Gaza City. Israel has provided evidence that Hamas is preventing civilians from evacuating the war zone, setting up roadblocks and turning people back.
On Sunday, the UN said that “civil order” was crumbling in Gaza and that thousands of people had ransacked its warehouses.
The UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said wheat, flour and other supplies had been pillaged at several warehouses.
Israel originally imposed a total blockade on food, water, medicine, and fuel deliveries into Gaza, but later allowed humanitarian aid convoys — not including fuel — to bring supplies in from Egypt, and has resumed some of its water supply. Some 50 trucks with humanitarian aid entered the Strip on Sunday.
Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Saturday that more than 8,000 people had been killed in the war, many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own members killed in Gaza, and the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets aimed at Israel that have landed in the Strip since the war began.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.