Israeli forces push deeper into Gaza territory, with airstrikes nearing crowded hospitals

Israel Intensifies Ground Assault into Gaza Amid Rising Civilian Death Toll

Israeli troops and tanks pushed deeper into Gaza on Monday, advancing on two sides of the territory’s main city, Gaza City, as the U.N. and medical staff warned that airstrikes have hit closer to hospitals where tens of thousands of Palestinians have sought shelter alongside thousands of wounded.

Witnesses reported seeing Israeli tanks entering the Zaytun district on Monday morning and footage circulated on social media showing what appeared to be the shelling of a car. “They have cut the Salah al-Din road and are firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it,” said a resident, according to Agence France-Presse.

Video circulating on social media showed an Israeli tank and bulldozer in central Gaza blocking the territory’s main north-south highway, which the Israeli military earlier told Palestinians to use to escape the expanding ground offensive. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who remain in the north would no longer be able to escape if the road is blocked since it’s the only usable route south.

Soldiers of Israel’s 33rd Caracal Battalion take part in a graduation march in the northern part of the southern Israeli Negev desert on March 13. The Caracal was formed in 2004 with the chief purpose of giving women a chance to serve in a true combat role.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the advances a “second stage” of the war ignited by Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 incursion. The Israeli advances put their forces on both sides of Gaza City and the surrounding areas of northern Gaza. Casualties on both sides are expected to rise sharply if Israeli forces expand their ground operation and end up battling Palestinian militants in dense residential areas.

The Gaza Health Ministry reported that the death toll among Palestinians passed 8,300, mostly women and minors, with more than 1.4 million people in Gaza having fled their homes. Over 1,400 people have died on the Israeli side, mainly civilians killed during Hamas’ initial attack.

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said “we expanded our operations,” but would not comment on specific deployments. Hagari added that additional infantry, armored, engineering, and artillery units had entered Gaza and the operations would continue to “expand and intensify.”

Israeli soldiers organize their armor personnel carriers as they are moving in formation near the Israeli border with Lebanon on October 15, 2023 Near Amiad, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, crowded hospitals in northern Gaza came under growing threat. Strikes hit near Gaza City’s Shifa and Al Quds hospitals and the Indonesian and Turkish hospitals in northern Gaza in recent days, the U.N. and residents said Monday. The U.N.’s office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said all 10 hospitals operating in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders, but staff have refused to leave, saying evacuation would mean death for patients on ventilators.

The violence has also spilled beyond Gaza. In the West Bank, Israeli forces carried out airstrikes Monday against militants clashing with its forces in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel said its warplanes also hit military infrastructure in Syria after rockets from there fell in open Israeli territory.

An Israeli tank rolling close to the Israeli border with the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, after Israel expanded ground incursions. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

Conditions for civilians in Gaza are continually deteriorating as food, water, medicine, and fuel run dangerously low amid a weeks-long Israeli siege. The largest convoy of humanitarian aid yet — 33 trucks — entered the territory from Egypt on Sunday, but relief workers say the amount is still far less than what is needed for the population of 2.3 million people.

Amid the escalating violence and increasing desperation of civilians, crowds of people broke into four U.N. facilities and took food supplies in what the U.N called a sign that civil order was starting to break down.

The escalating violence has raised concerns that the conflict could spread across the region, with Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah engaging in daily skirmishes along Israel’s northern border.

Israel and Hamas have each made demands for the release of hostages seized during the Oct. 7 attack, with Hamas saying it is ready to release all hostages if Israel frees all of the thousands of Palestinians held in its prisons. Israel has dismissed the Hamas offer.