Ground forces hit Hamas as IDF warns north Gaza residents area is now a ‘battlefield’

Multiple rocket barrages target south and central Israel, with no casualties; army says it will start allowing significantly more humanitarian aid to enter southern Gaza

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A picture taken from Israel's southern city of Sderot shows rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel as smoke rises from Israeli strikes on October 28, 2023 (Aris MESSINIS / AFP)
A picture taken from Israel's southern city of Sderot shows rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel as smoke rises from Israeli strikes on October 28, 2023 (Aris MESSINIS / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces continued its ground operations in the Gaza Strip throughout Saturday, targeting several Hamas operatives and positions, the military said.

At the same time, the IDF warned residents of Gaza City that the area was now a “battlefield,” as it stepped up its air campaign against Hamas terrorists in the Palestinian territory.

“To the residents of the Gaza Strip: The Gaza governorate (Gaza City) has become a battlefield. Shelters in northern Gaza and Gaza governorate are not safe,” the army said in leaflets dropped by fighter jets, as it urged residents to “evacuate immediately” to the south.

Israel has repeatedly warned that it is heavily targeting Gaza City and other areas in northern Gaza, where Hamas is believed to have its main bases of operations and has extensive underground installations, many of them located under the city. The military has been urging some one million civilians to move to the Strip’s south for two weeks. Many have done so, but hundreds of thousands are thought to remain.

Also Saturday rockets were launched from Gaza at southern and central Israel in several barrages. Rockets hit the central cities of Kiryat Ono and Holon. One rocket hit a home in Ramat Gan. There were no casualties in any of the incidents.

Another rocket hit a home in the southern city of Beersheba, causing damage but no injuries. An Ashdod home was struck, with no casualties.

A home in Beersheba hit by a rocket from Gaza on October 28, 2023 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Hamas also claimed to have launched rockets at Dimona, the site of an Israeli nuclear reactor. There were no reports of an impact in the city.

Concurrently, Assuta Medical Center in Ashdod announced the death of a 9-year-old girl who suffered cardiac arrest last week when an incoming rocket siren was activated in the southern port city.

Israel has been fighting Hamas since October 7, when some 2,500 terrorists streamed 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 over 230 hostages — including some 30 children — into the Gaza Strip where they remain captive.

At a press conference Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his heart was broken after meeting families of the kidnapped, and pledged, “We will utilize every opportunity to return our kidnapped brothers and sisters to their families’ embrace.”

“Their abduction is a crime against humanity,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the war against the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, October 28, 2023. (YouTube screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Netanyahu also denounced those who “dare to accuse our soldiers of war crimes” as hypocrites and liars. Many worldwide now understand what Israel has been saying for years, he continued: “Israel is fighting not only its war, but humanity’s war against the barbarians.”

And war cabinet member Benny Gantz said there was “no diplomatic time limit” to the war, “only an operational clock.”

Ongoing limited ground operation as airstrikes pound Gaza

The IDF said that in the ground operations that began Friday night, troops struck terror cells attempting to carry out anti-tank guided missile and mortar attacks.

Additionally, ground forces found and destroyed a booby-trapped home, the IDF said.

Also during the raid, the IDF said, tank forces directed a combat helicopter to strike a building in the Gaza Strip where a number of Hamas members were gathered.

The military published a series of clips showing the forces operating inside Gaza.

At the same time Israeli warplanes pounded northern Gaza overnight Friday and on into Saturday, hitting more than 150 underground tunnels and bunkers.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Saturday afternoon that the war had “entered a new phase,” underlining the stepped-up ground force activity inside Gaza.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said in a video statement that to defeat Hamas and return the hostages the terror group is holding, Israel must carry out a major ground offensive in the Strip

“Today we moved into a new phase,” Halevi said, echoing Gallant. “Our forces are currently carrying out ground operations in the Gaza Strip… which serve to achieve all the war’s objectives: the dismantling of Hamas, security at the borders, and utmost efforts to return all the hostages back home.”

“The objectives of the war require ground entry. There are no achievements without risks, and there is no victory without prices being paid,” he continued. “We have set clear goals, the road will be long… we will fight with determination, and win.”

The IDF said among Hamas men killed in strikes was the head of Hamas’s so-called aerial array Issam Abu Rukbeh. A statement from the IDF and Shin Bet intelligence service said that Abu Rukbeh was responsible for managing the terror group’s drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, paragliders, aerial detection systems and air defenses.

In this handout photo, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (R) speaks with Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar on October 28, 2023, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The military said that he played a role in the planning and execution of the October 7 onslaught by Hamas by directing the terrorists who entered southern Israel on paragliders, as well as the drone attacks on IDF observation posts.

It also said it killed the commander of Hamas’s naval forces of the Gaza City Brigade, Rateb Abu Sahiban, in an overnight airstrike.

The IDF said Abu Sahiban planned and commanded a Hamas infiltration attempt via the sea on October 24, which was foiled by Israeli Navy forces.

The humanitarian situation

Also Saturday, the army said it would start allowing significantly more humanitarian aid to enter southern Gaza from Egypt.

The IDF hopes that the additional food, water and medical supplies will encourage more Palestinians to leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip for the south.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell demanded a “pause of hostilities” to allow humanitarian aid into the Strip after the intense overnight bombing of the coastal territory.

“Gaza is in complete blackout and isolation while heavy shelling continues,” Borrell said on social media. “Far too many civilians, including children, have been killed. This is against international humanitarian law,” he said, adding: “A pause of hostilities is urgently needed to enable humanitarian access.”

Destroyed buildings in Gaza City, Saturday, Oct. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled)

Palestinian reports from Gaza were scarce after internet and phone services collapsed amid the Israeli bombardment Friday night, largely cutting off Gaza from contact with the outside world.

The Palestinian telecom provider, Paltel, said the bombardment caused “complete disruption” of internet, cellular and landline services. The cutoff meant that casualties from strikes and details of ground incursions could not immediately be tallied. Some satellite phones continued to function.

In one of the few reports to emerge from Gaza on Saturday, a reporter for the BBC said there was “total chaos” in the Strip.

“There was a huge bombardment in the north of Gaza Strip on a scale we’ve never seen before,” wrote Rushdi Abualouf. “At the hospital here, ambulance drivers told me they couldn’t communicate with anyone, so they were just driving in the direction of the explosions.”

“Hundreds of buildings and houses were completely destroyed and thousands of other homes were damaged,” Mahmud Bassal, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza Civil Defense told AFP, saying that the intense bombardments had “changed the landscape” of northern Gaza.

A still from video released by the IDF shows Israeli tanks in the Gaza Strip on October 28, 2023. (Screen capture: IDF)

Witnesses said most of the bombing was concentrated in areas around two hospitals — Al-Shifa and the so-called Indonesian hospital — located in the Jabaliya district of northern Gaza.

The strikes left wide craters in the streets and flattened many buildings in the area.

The Israeli military on Friday night revealed that Hamas was using Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital as a main base of operations, providing visuals and intercepted audio as evidence of the terror organization’s activities.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said Saturday that over 7,700 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 terrorists and gunmen killed in Israel and in Gaza, and the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets that have landed in the Strip since the war began. Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists inside Israel on and after October 7.

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