Israel mounts limited Gaza ground raids as troops mass on border


Jersalem/Gaza (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Monday its ground forces mounted limited raids into Gaza and airstrikes targeted Palestinian militants assembling to repulse any wider Israeli invasion, as each side prepares for the next stage of the escalating war.

Palestinian group Hamas said on Sunday its fighters had engaged an armoured force infiltrating a southern area of Gaza and destroyed some Israeli military equipment before returning to base. There was no Israeli comment on such losses.

How soon Israel might launch a full-scale invasion is not clear, and neither side can know exactly what to expect when it does. The Middle East’s most powerful military faces a group that has built up a powerful arsenal with Iran’s help, fighting in a crowded urban setting and using a vast tunnel network it has built that Israeli troops have dubbed the “Gaza Metro”.

In a televised briefing describing Israel’s latest moves on the ground, Israel’s chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari also said 222 people had now been confirmed as taken hostage during the Oct. 7 cross-border onslaught by Hamas.

“During the night there were raids by tank and infantry forces. These raids are raids that kill squads of terrorists who are preparing for the next stage in the war,” he said, describing incursions that went “deep” into Gaza.

“These raids also locate and search for anything we can get in terms of intelligence on the missing and the hostages.”

Hagari said such interventions helped understand where “the terrorists are assembling, the terrorists are getting organised in anticipation of the next stages of the war. And our role is to reduce these threats.”

Stoking expectations of a full-scale ground offensive by Israeli forces massed around Gaza, he said the military’s operational readiness was improving and being enhanced “all the time”.

Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, said in a statement on Sunday that its forces had engaged with a force infiltrating east of Khan Younis in southern Gaza.

“Fighters engaged with the infiltrating force, destroying two bulldozers and a tank and forced the force to withdraw, before they returned safely to base,” the statement said.

Inconclusive Wars

Since cross-border attacks by Hamas on Israeli communities on Oct. 7 killed 1,400 people, Israel has amassed tanks and troops near the fenced border around Gaza for a planned ground invasion. Israel has already launched intensive airstrikes on Gaza, where at least 4,600 people have been killed.

Israel says it wants to wipe Hamas “off the face of the earth” after several inconclusive wars since the group seized power in the enclave in 2007, after Israel withdrew its forces from the narrow strip of land in 2005.

The Israeli military said on Monday that in the past 24 hours it had struck more than 320 targets in Gaza, including a tunnel housing Hamas fighters, and command and lookout posts.

Israel has said its military campaign will exceed any previous moves against Hamas, but the Palestinian group has proved capable of surprising Israel in the past and will be fighting in a dense urban setting with powerful weapons.

Based on what happened in Israeli incursions in 2008 and 2014, Israel’s bunker buster bombs and hi-tech Merkava tanks will be up against a vast network of deep tunnels, booby-traps and arms including Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles.

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