On Tuesday, Israeli warplanes pounded the Gaza Strip street by street, reducing buildings to rubble and forcing people to seek refuge in this sealed territory that is suffering severe retaliation for the deadly weekend attack by Hamas militants.
Humanitarian groups pleaded for corridors to bring aid to Gaza and warned that hospitals overwhelmed by the wounded were running out of supplies. Israel has stopped the entry of food, fuel, and medicine into Gaza, and the only remaining access from Egypt was closed on Tuesday after airstrikes near the border crossing.
The war, which has claimed at least 1,900 lives on both sides, is expected to intensify. The weekend attack, which Hamas said was retaliation for worsening conditions for Palestinians under Israeli occupation, has fueled Israel’s determination to crush the group’s control of Gaza. Fresh exchanges of fire on Israel’s northern borders with militants in Lebanon and Syria on Tuesday signaled the risk of a widened regional conflict.
Hamas militants swept into Israel on Saturday morning, killing hundreds of residents in homes and streets near the Gaza border and bringing battles to Israeli cities for the first time in decades. Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza are holding around 150 soldiers and civilians hostage, according to Israel.
Israel intensified its offensive on Tuesday, expanding the mobilization of reservists to 360,000. Israel’s military said it had regained effective control over areas that Hamas attacked in the south and along the Gaza border.
A looming question is whether Israel will launch a ground assault on Gaza, a 40-kilometer-long (25-mile) strip of land wedged between Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, which is home to 2.3 million people and has been ruled by Hamas since 2007.
Under intense bombardment, Palestinians in Gaza move from place to place, only to discover that there is no safe place. Rescuers said “large numbers” of people were still trapped under the remains of collapsed buildings, with rescue teams and ambulances unable to reach the area.
On Tuesday afternoon, Hamas fired volleys of rockets toward the southern Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Tel Aviv. There were no immediate reports of casualties. At night, a group of militants entered an industrial area in Ashkelon, triggering a gunfight with Israeli troops, the army said. Three militants were killed, and troops were searching for others.
Israel’s new tactics could target its new target. The previous four rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas between 2008 and 2021 ended inconclusively, with Hamas beaten but still in control. This time, Israel’s government is under intense public pressure to overthrow Hamas, a goal considered unattainable in the past because it would require a temporary reoccupation of the Gaza Strip.
The devastation also sharpened questions about Hamas’s strategy and goals. Hamas officials have said they planned for all possibilities, including a punitive Israeli escalation. Desperation has grown among Palestinians, many of whom see nothing to lose under endless Israeli control and settlement growth in the West Bank, a 16-year blockade on Gaza, and what they see as the world’s apathy.
Hamas may have been counting on the fighting to spread to the West Bank and possibly for Hezbollah in Lebanon to open a front in the north. Days of clashes between stone-throwing Palestinians and Israeli forces in the West Bank have left 15 Palestinians dead, but Israel has clamped down heavily on the territory, preventing movement between communities. The violence also spread to East Jerusalem, where Israeli police said they killed two Palestinians who threw stones at police on Tuesday night.