Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the nation Saturday night that the military has opened a “second stage” in the war against Hamas by sending ground forces into Gaza and expanding attacks from the ground, air and sea.
Casting the war as a fight for his country’s very survival, he warned that the assault would intensify ahead of a broad ground invasion into the territory.
“There are moments in which a nation faces two possibilities: to do or die,” Netanyahu said. “We now face that test and I have no doubt how it will end: We will be the victors. We will do and we will be the victors.”
The bombardment, described by Gaza residents as the most intense of the war, knocked out most communications in the territory and largely cut off the besieged enclave’s 2.3 million people from the world. The military released grainy images showing tank columns moving slowly in open areas of Gaza, many apparently near the border, and said warplanes bombed dozens of Hamas tunnels and underground bunkers. The underground sites are a key target in Israel’s campaign to crush the territory’s ruling group after its bloody incursion into Israel three weeks ago.
The escalation ratcheted up domestic pressure on Israel’s government to secure the release of dozens of hostages seized in the Oct. 7 rampage by Hamas, when militants stormed from Gaza into nearby Israeli towns and gunned down civilians and soldiers. The unprecedented attack during a major Jewish holiday initiated a war between Israel and Hamas that could spread into a broader Mideast conflict.
Desperate family members met with Netanyahu on Saturday and expressed support for an exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel, a swap floated by the top Hamas leader in Gaza.
Netanyahu told the nationally televised news conference that Israel is determined to bring back all the hostages, and maintained that the expanding ground operation “will help us in this mission.” He said he couldn’t reveal everything that is being done due to the sensitivity and secrecy of the efforts.