Fighting underway inside Gaza as Israel says it will ‘expand’ operations but not to full extent planned


(JTA) — Fighting was reportedly underway inside Gaza late Friday night, after Israeli officials announced plans to “expand” their offensive inside the territory.

But both Israeli and U.S. officials told ABC News that the fighting did not represent the full-scale invasion that Israel has said it was readying since shortly after Hamas attacked Israel Oct. 7, killing 1,400, wounding thousands and taking hundreds hostage.

It was the third straight night in which Israeli troops were reportedly operating inside Gaza. Israel says it is conducting targeted activities and says it has killed several Hamas commanders in recent days. It also said on Friday it had identified a hospital in Gaza City as sitting on top of Hamas’ operational headquarters.

Israel warned residents of Gaza City to evacuate more than a week ago, and many have moved south within the Palestinian territory that is home to more than 2 million people, about half children. But Israel has not yet moved forward with a ground invasion, despite the mobilization of more than 360,000 troops, the most in the country’s history.

Reports suggest that Israeli officials are at odds with each other about how and when to proceed. The United States has also pressed Israel to refrain from invading without a plan for what happens if it succeeds in wiping out Hamas, its stated intention. And there remain hundreds of Israeli hostages inside Gaza — Israel revised the number up again on Friday, to 229, even after four women were released.

The contours of the fighting within Gaza were unclear late Friday, with Hamas suggesting on social media that there were gun battles underway. But a reported blackout of communications within Gaza that became complete on Friday has contributed to a lack of confirmed details.

The blackout adds to the ways in which Gaza has been largely cut off since shortly after Oct. 7. Israel said it would impose a “complete siege,” cutting off access to food, electricity and fuel, in an effort to punish Hamas and press for the release of its hostages. A humanitarian crisis has unfolded since, with hundreds of thousands of Gazans displaced and, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, more than 7,000 deaths. The Biden administration brokered a deal for the entry of humanitarian aid, which began earlier this week.

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