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How Israel’s ground offensive is unfolding in Gaza and what we can expect next

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How Israel’s ground offensive is unfolding in Gaza and what we can expect next

Israeli military tanks have entered Gaza but not the main city yet. The Israeli forces rescued a woman soldier kidnapped by Hamas and they claim to have killed several militants. However, they appear to be proceeding with caution. Here’s why

FP Explainers Last Updated:October 31, 2023 11:49:56 IST How Israel’s ground offensive is unfolding in Gaza and what we can expect next

Numerous Israeli tanks are seen gathered in southern Israel as the country says it is extending its military operations in Gaza, on 30 October. Reuters

Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, has begun the “second stage” of the war. Its military has started the ground invasion, which it has been threatening for weeks to avenge the October 7 attack by Hamas. While Israel has been pounding the Gaza Strip for more than three weeks now and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have conducted ground raids into the enclave, its soldiers are now infiltrating deeper into the northern part of the region.

What is happening on the ground and what can we expect next in Gaza? We bring you the answers.

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What’s the ground invasion looking like?

On Tuesday, Israeli tanks reached the fringes of Gaza City. “Dozens” of tanks entered the Zaytun district on the southern fringes of Gaza City, cutting a key road from the north to the south of the war-torn Palestinian territory, witnesses told the news agency AFP.

A tank was seen on Salah al-Din Road, south of Gaza City, further sparking speculation it could be part of an advance on Gaza City, according to a report by the BBC. This is one of the two routes that Palestinians in the northern part of the enclave have been told to use to evacuate from the south to escape Israeli airstrikes. It is at a distance of 3 kilometres from the Gaza fence.

Tanks entering the Zaytun district cut the key road from north to south of the Gaza Strip for more than an hour, witnesses told AFP in southern Gaza over the phone. “They have cut the Salah al-Din road and are firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it,” a resident said.

A video doing the rounds on social media showed the tank appearing to fire on a car on the north-south road in Gaza. The vehicle makes a U-turn as it approaches the tank, which fires at it. Palestinian medical sources were quoted as saying in Al-Jazeera that three people were killed in the attack.

There were also reports of heavy clashes. Smoke was seen rising over the area where the tanks were reported to be, the publication reports. Israeli jets also bombed a part of the road leaving large craters, a resident told AFP.

However, later in the day, the Israeli tanks retreated from the outskirts of Gaza City, according to Salama Maarouf, the head of the Hamas government office in Gaza. “There’s absolutely no ground advance inside the residential neighbourhoods in the Gaza Strip. What happened on Salah al-Din Street was the incursion of a few occupation army tanks and a bulldozer,” Maarouf said in a statement.

“These vehicles targeted two civilian cars on Salah al-Din Street and bulldozed the street before the resistance forced them to retreat. There is currently no presence of occupation army vehicles on Salah al-Din Road, and citizen movement has returned to normal on the road,” he added.

The BBC reported later on Tuesday that the roads were no longer blocked. The tanks were around for over an hour, after which the cars returned to the highway. They had to drive on the edges as craters rendered large parts of the road unusable.

The fighting continued in the night, according to the BBC. Explosions, the sound of aircraft and the occasional rattle of automatic gunfire could be heard.

What has the Israeli military claimed?

The Israeli military has claimed that it killed dozens of Hamas fighters overnight as part of its extended ground operations on Monday, of these four were prominent operatives.

A woman Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas on 7 October was also rescued. “Based on intelligence” the Israeli special forces went into northern Gaza knowing her whereabouts and rescued her, IDF spokesperson Lt Col Jonathan Conricus told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Tuesday.

In one incident, an Israeli aircraft guided by IDF ground troops struck a staging post inside a building belonging to Hamas with over 20 militants inside, the IDF said in a statement. A guided fighter jet also struck the area of Al-Azhar University, where IDF troops had identified what they said were armed terrorists and an anti-tank missile launching post.

In the past two days, the IDF says it has struck more than 600 “terror targets”, including weapons depots, dozens of anti-tank missile launching positions, and hideouts and staging grounds used by Hamas, reports CNN.

In a video taken on Saturday, Israeli troops are seen putting their country’s flag on the roof of a Gaza resort hotel.

Also read: What will happen if Israel invades Gaza?

Can we expect a full-scale invasion?

Israeli forces are moving slowly in their ground offensive in Gaza in part to keep open the possibility of drawing Hamas militants to negotiate the release of more than 200 hostages, military specialists consulted by Reuters said.

The relative caution with which Israeli troops have taken and secured slices of territory in the first days of sustained ground incursions in Gaza stands in contrast to the past three weeks of unrelenting air strikes on the Mediterranean enclave, as well as to Israel’s previous land offensives there.

Not going directly into Gaza’s most built-up areas with full force is simultaneously aimed at wearing Hamas’ leadership down with a long campaign, while leaving space for a possible deal over those held as hostages, according to the assessment of three Israeli security sources, reports Reuters.

By moving slowly, the army also hoped to secure Israeli forces’ flanks and bait Hamas fighters to come out of the tunnels or denser urban areas and engage Israeli forces in open areas where they could be more easily killed, a former senior commander who declined to be named told Reuters.

What can we expect next from Israel?

An Israeli military spokesperson declined to comment on details of the offensive, citing the sensitivity of the issue. “It’s inch by inch, metre by metre, trying to avoid casualties and trying to kill as much as possible Hamas terrorists,” Amos Yadlin, former chief of Israel’s defence intelligence, told reporters.

When BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet spoke with Mark Regev, one of Netanyahu’s senior advisors, and asked if the military would steadily move into the Gaza Strip he did not divulge details of the IDF’s next moves. “Maybe Hamas is watching and we don’t want to give them any advice on how they should better defend themselves. Our goal remains clear: We will destroy Hamas’s military machine, and dismantle the political structure of their rule in Gaza. They are the goals, together with getting the hostages out,” he told the BBC.

Israel has refused any ceasefire in the war against Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday a ceasefire will not happen since that would amount to surrendering to Hamas. “Calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism… this will not happen,” he told a foreign briefing, vowing Israel would “fight until this battle is won”.

With inputs from agencies

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