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IDF Escalates Ground Operation in Gaza Amidst Communications Blackout


The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have announced an expansion of ground operations in the Gaza Strip, according to IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. The announcement comes amidst intense airstrikes in the region, and reports suggest a communications blackout in Gaza. The IDF is operating forcefully on all fronts and will continue striking Gaza City, urging civilians to evacuate. Residents reported that the recent airstrikes were the most intense since Israel's retaliation against Hamas' terror attack on October 7. A ground offensive has been anticipated following previous attacks by Hamas, but it remains unclear if this announcement marks the beginning of that push. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's senior adviser, Mark Regev, stated that the "expansion" of ground operations means an increase in pressure on Hamas, with the goal of continued escalation until objectives are achieved. This development follows weeks of bombardment and blockades, contributing to what aid agencies describe as a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Hamas has vowed to retaliate if Israeli ground troops enter Gaza, emphasizing their readiness to confront Israeli soldiers in the territory.

Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official, conveyed to the Associated Press that Hezbollah and other allies are expected to play an increased role in the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Expressing appreciation for Hezbollah's actions against the occupation, Hamad publicly appealed for more support to halt the aggression on Gaza. Concerns have arisen over potential targeting of Gaza hospitals by the Israeli army, claiming Al Shifa, the largest medical center in the enclave, serves as a Hamas command and control center. Palestinian authorities, along with doctors at the hospital, have refuted these claims. The Director General of the Gaza Health Ministry, Dr. Medhat Abbas, emphasized that Gaza's hospitals are solely used for treating patients and not for hiding anyone. Hamas rejected the allegations, urging international intervention to stop the bombing and preserve the medical system. Critics argue that Israel's claims are unfounded and reminiscent of similar unverified accusations during past conflicts.

The escalation of bombardment in the Israel-Hamas conflict intensified on Friday evening, resulting in large explosions rocking Gaza City, according to a CNN team near the border with Gaza. Reports indicate "unusual, intense, and sustained" military activity, accompanied by heavy machine gunfire. Communication in Gaza has been severely disrupted by airstrikes, with the Palestinian telecoms company Jawwal reporting significant issues. NetBlocks, a monitoring firm, noted damage to international routes for the last standing major internet operator in the region, Paltel.

Amidst this communication blackout, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of deliberately cutting off communications and the internet in Gaza to facilitate potential military operations. Various aid organizations and UN agencies have lost contact with local staff in Gaza, raising humanitarian concerns. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported the inability to communicate with staff and partners on the ground, while UNICEF expressed extreme concern about its team in Gaza. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) noted the loss of contact with Palestinian colleagues, and the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed deep worry for the safety of its staff and civilians.

In addition to the humanitarian impact, international news agencies voiced concern after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) stated an inability to guarantee the safety of journalists reporting from Gaza. The situation underscores the broader challenges faced by civilians, aid workers, and journalists in conflict zones with restricted communication access.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that at least 29 journalists have been killed during the Israel-Hamas conflict since October 7, marking the deadliest period for reporters covering conflict in decades. The continuous bombardment of Gaza has led to a humanitarian crisis, affecting over 2 million people. The UN Relief Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warns of food and water shortages, along with overflowing sewage on the streets. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah, over 7,300 people have been killed and 18,500 injured in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, with children, women, and the elderly comprising 70% of the casualties. Additionally, 53 UN staffers have been killed, with 14 in the past 24 hours. Gaza hospitals are operating with dwindling resources and power shortages, leading to challenges in providing medical care. Witnesses describe Gaza as "left in the dark with no connection to the outside world," emphasizing the urgent need for humanitarian assistance.

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CNN's Jeremy Diamond, Andrew Carey, Ibrahim Dhaman, Jonny Hallam, Kevin Liptak, DJ Judd, Priscilla Alvarez, and Sam Fossum have contributed to the reporting of this ongoing and developing story. As events unfold, additional updates and insights will be provided by the CNN team.

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