Chilling photos emerge as Israel declares ‘second phase’ of war against Hamas

Israel has signalled its intent to encircle Gaza’s main city publishing pictures of battle tanks on the Palestinian enclave’s western coast 48 hours after ordering expanded ground incursions across its eastern border.

Israel’s self-declared “second phase” of a three-week war against Hamas militants had initially been kept from public view, with forces moving under darkness and a telecommunications blackout cutting off Palestinians.

The phone and internet cuts appeared to be easing on Sunday, according to Gaza residents. This, reports US media, was at the insistence of the US government. But they had severely hampered rescue operations for casualties of Israeli barrages wreaking destruction, especially on northern Gaza City, site of Hamas’s government and command centres.

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As well as the Israeli military’s pictures of tanks, some pictures online appeared to show Israeli soldiers waving an Israeli flag deep inside Gaza.

Reuters could not verify those images.

Hamas said it was firing mortars against Israeli forces in north Gaza and had hit Israeli tanks with missiles, belittling reports of deep advances by its enemy.

Israeli Defence Force (IDF) fighter jets struck over 450 Hamas targets, including operational command centres, look-out posts, and anti-tank missile launch posts, in the last 24 hours, the military said.

It said several gunmen emerged from a tunnel near Israel’s border and were killed or wounded in a clash with troops.

“We are gradually expanding the ground activity and the scope of our forces in the Gaza Strip,” said IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.

Fire breaks out after an IDF, Israeli Defence Force bombardment in northern Gaza on October 29. Credit: Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Israel has tightened its blockade and bombarded Gaza since Hamas gunmen stormed across the border into Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostages.

Medical authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of 2.3 million people, said 8,005 people – including 3,324 minors – had been killed.

Israel has vowed to annihilate Hamas, a task that it described as necessitating protracted ground assaults in, around and under Gaza City, where the militants have an extensive subterranean bunker network.

Western countries have generally backed what they say is Israel’s right to self-defence. But there has been mounting international outcry over the toll from the bombing with large demonstrations worldwide in support of the Palestinians and calls for a “humanitarian pause” to allow aid to reach Gaza civilians.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan visited the Rafah crossing where he said blocking relief for innocent civilians could constitute a crime and urged Israel to cooperate.

Pope Francis on Sunday called for a ceasefire and renewed his call for the release of all hostages.

With supplies of food, water and medicines running low and much of Gaza reduced to rubble, thousands of residents broke into warehouses and distribution centres of the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA), grabbing flour and other basics, the organisation said.

“This is a worrying sign that civil order is starting to break down after three weeks of war and a tight siege on Gaza,” the UNRWA said in a statement. The agency said at least 59 of its staff in Gaza have been killed.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said it had received warnings from Israeli authorities to immediately evacuate al-Quds hospital in the Gaza Strip, adding that raids conducted on Sunday had taken place just 50 metres from the facility.

The Red Crescent says some 14,000 people have sought shelter at the hospital from Israeli air strikes.

Israel has accused Hamas of locating command centres and other military infrastructure in Gaza hospitals, something the group denies.

There are fears of regional overspill to the Gaza war, including in Lebanon where the Israeli army and Iranian-backed Hezbollah group have been exchanging fire and one member of the United Nations’ Lebanon peacekeeping force was injured after shells hit the mission’s base.

Israel said there were several rocket or mortar launches from Lebanon at its territory, and that it was returning fire, while Hezbollah said it shot down an Israeli drone.

However, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian told CNN on Sunday, “We don’t want this war to spread out”.

He dismissed claims directly connecting Iran to the attacks, calling them “baseless”.

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