Israeli forces have initiated a ground operation with the primary objective of identifying and incapacitating the extensive tunnel network utilized by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. This development marks the next phase of the Israeli offensive following a significant attack on October 7, which resulted in widespread Israeli airstrikes and casualties among Palestinian residents.
Since the initial attack, Israel has conducted intense airstrikes on Gaza and deployed ground troops to effectively divide the coastal enclave. As a result, Gaza City, a major stronghold for Hamas, currently finds itself encircled by Israeli forces. The situation remains highly volatile, with Israel reporting that its troops have successfully advanced into the densely-populated city. In contrast, Hamas claims that its fighters have managed to inflict substantial losses on the invading Israeli forces.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has emphasized that Israel’s sole target is “Hamas terrorists in Gaza, their infrastructure, their commanders, bunkers, and communications rooms.” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Chief Israeli military spokesperson, provided details on Israel’s efforts to combat the tunnel network, stating that the combat engineering corps are employing explosive devices to dismantle the extensive network, which extends for hundreds of kilometers beneath Gaza.
It has been reported that Israeli tanks are currently facing fierce resistance from Hamas fighters who are utilizing the tunnel network to launch ambushes. However, the battlefield claims made by both sides remain unverified.
The situation is further complicated by concerns over hostages believed to be held within the tunnels. Israel has firmly stated that it will not agree to a ceasefire until these hostages are safely released. In response, Hamas has affirmed that it will continue to resist as long as Gaza remains under attack.
Since the devastating attack in October, Israeli airstrikes have resulted in the loss of over 10,000 Palestinian lives, as reported by health officials in Hamas-ruled Gaza. While the United States has expressed support for Israel’s stance that a ceasefire could strengthen Hamas militarily, President Joe Biden has called for a temporary halt to the fighting.
Israel’s long-term plans, should it succeed in its mission to defeat Hamas, remain uncertain. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mentioned that Israel seeks to assume security responsibility for Gaza “for an indefinite period” following the conflict’s conclusion. However, Israeli officials have clarified that they have no intention of governing the enclave. Defense Minister Gallant has emphasized that neither Israel nor Hamas will rule Gaza once the conflict is resolved.
In light of the escalating conflict and deteriorating humanitarian conditions, Saudi Arabia is taking steps to convene summits involving Arab and Islamic nations to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia for the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation summit, marking the first visit by an Iranian head of state since the recent reconciliation between Tehran and Riyadh.
The summits aim to promote a peaceful resolution to the ongoing conflict, which has caused widespread suffering and destruction. As international organizations and Western nations intensify their efforts to provide aid to Gaza and facilitate the evacuation of foreign nationals, the situation on the ground remains complex and challenging.