Israel will expand ground operations tonight and has warned residents of Gaza City to move south.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), said: “In addition to the attacks that we carried out in recent days, ground forces are expanding their activity this evening.
“The IDF is acting with great force… to achieve the objectives of the war.”
Internet and mobile phone services have also been cut off in the Gaza Strip, a local telecoms firm and the Red Crescent have said.
The IDF’s announcement comes after they said they had carried out more raids into Gaza – including a naval operation.
The IDF said troops had used vessels to attack “Hamas military infrastructure”, with support from aircraft, along the coast in the southern Gaza Strip last night.
Officials released footage of what they said was the raid, but did not go into further details.
The video showed explosions near the sea and soldiers firing their weapons in the dark.
However, Hamas disputed the IDF’s version of events in a statement and said its forces had repelled the raiders, Israeli media reported.
Israeli forces also said they carried out a separate ground raid in the outskirts of Gaza City on Thursday night, as part of a second wave of recent incursions into the territory.
Israel has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops along the border with Gaza ahead of an expected ground offensive.
‘Impossible to tell’ if ground invasion has started, says military analyst
Sky News’s military analyst, Sean Bell, says it is “impossible to tell” if Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza has started in full – but if it has, clearing the streets of Gaza City will be “extremely dangerous”.
“There are lots of phases military operations go to, to gradually ramp up and de-risk the ultimate invasion,” he says.
“And we’ve seen that over the last few nights – an increase in the bombing campaign, what the IDF calls raids – all of this is testing Hamas’s defences and what threats will face the IDF as they get closer to mounting the offensive.
“The first phase of that is likely to be an armoured push over the border, probably to encircle the city of Gaza.
“But the challenge is the IDF doing an urban battle on foot – clearing Gaza City and worse the tunnels. I think that will be an extremely dangerous undertaking.”
Ayman Safadi, the foreign minister of Israel’s neighbour Jordan, said on Friday night that Israel had “just launched a ground war on Gaza”.
“[The] outcome will be a humanitarian catastrophe of epic proportions for years to come,” he said in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He called on the UN General Assembly to support a vote, put forward by Jordan on behalf of Arab nations, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Israel accuses Hamas of launching attacks from Gaza hospitals
At an earlier briefing, Rear Admiral Hagari accused Hamas of launching attacks from hospitals in Gaza.
He claimed the Israeli authorities had “concrete evidence” that hundreds of Hamas fighters who took part in the 7 October terrorist atrocity in southern Israel afterwards “flooded” into Shifa hospital, the largest medical complex in the Gaza Strip.
“Right now, terrorists move freely in Shifa hospital and other hospitals in Gaza,” the spokesperson said.
“Hamas’s use of hospitals is systematic… When medical facilities are used for terror purposes, they are liable to lose their protection from attack in accordance with international law.
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) will continue making efforts to minimise harm to the civilian population and will continue to act in accordance with international law.”
It was not immediately possible to independently verify the claims.
Another IDF spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, was asked by Sky News if the briefing was to soften the ground for the Israeli military to begin strikes on hospitals.
Asked if hospitals would no longer be afforded protection under international law, he said: “If these actions continue from hospitals, under certain conditions, hospitals could indeed lose the protections that they are entitled to.
“They (Hamas) have to leave hospitals, they have to let people leave hospitals, they can’t tell them to say and hold them hostage in hospitals.”
However, a doctor from north London, who is currently working in Gaza, claimed the Israeli briefing was an “outlandish excuse” to target hospitals.
Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah said: “At the end of the day, what they need to be reminded of, continuously, by everybody, and press included, is that the targeting of any hospital is a war crime, regardless of what outlandish excuses they might provide.”
However, Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said those in Gaza who speak out against Hamas can “face consequences”.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “If that doctor knows, as we do, that Hamas has built a headquarters in the basement of his hospital, can he say so to Sky?
“Of course, he cannot.”
More than one million have fled their homes
According to Gaza authorities, more than 7,300 Palestinians have now been killed in waves of airstrikes by Israel in retaliation for a cross-border massacre carried out by Hamas in the south of the country on 7 October.
Officials said the dead include more than 3,000 children and more than 1,500 women.
More than 1,400 people in Israel, mostly civilians, were killed during the initial Hamas attack, according to the Israeli government.
It also said Hamas is holding at least 224 captives inside Gaza, including women, children and the elderly.
The overall number of deaths far outstrips the combined total of all four previous conflicts between Israel and Hamas, estimated at around 4,000.
More than one million people in Gaza have fled their homes, with many following Israeli orders to evacuate to the south.
The humanitarian crisis sparked by the war and the Israeli siege has sparked protests across the region, and more demonstrations are expected later on Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.
‘Crucial humanitarian assistance’
It comes as six International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) trucks arrived in Gaza carrying medical and water purification supplies.
Ground invasion seems imminent – but Israel won’t announce it before it does
Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza seems imminent.
An announcement on Friday evening by the military that it would be expanding its raids into the territory followed what appeared to be a significant ramping up of an already unprecedented barrage of airstrikes against the Palestinian enclave during the day.
The night sky over Gaza flashed orange and the boom of explosives impacting could be heard loudly from the Israeli town of Ashkelon, around eight miles away.
The language used by Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israel Defence Forces spokesman, to describe what was planned stopped short of declaring this to be the moment of the full ground invasion.
But Israel is not going to announce such a move before it has begun, hoping to maintain some element of surprise.
Commanders have also said that this war against Hamas would be conducted differently to previous conflicts – though it has not specified how. It makes it hard to predict what will come next.
Israel is under pressure to delay the invasion while more time is given to negotiate the release of more than 220 hostages taken captive by Hamas.
There are also significant concerns about the risk of a widening of the war against Hamas triggering an escalation into a regional conflict.
But the huge military build up along Israel’s border with Gaza points to a clear intent by political and military leaders to push forward with their plans to invade.
The ICRC’s Fabrizio Carboni said: “This crucial humanitarian assistance is a small dose of relief, but it´s not enough.
“Our surgical team and medical supplies will help relieve the extreme pressure on Gaza’s doctors and nurses.
“But safe, sustained humanitarian access is urgently needed.
“This humanitarian catastrophe is deepening by the hour.”
The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has warned remaining public services in Gaza are collapsing fast with fuel and food shortages.
UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini said the international community “seems to have turned its back on Gaza.”
He also said Israel must allow more aid into Gaza amid a blockade he said is being used to “collectively punish more than two million people”.
Gaza’s sole power station shut down for lack of fuel days after the start of the war, and Israel has barred all fuel deliveries, saying it believes Hamas would steal them for military purposes.