The Israeli military said on Thursday that it had briefly sent tanks into the northern Gaza Strip overnight as part of preparations for the next stage of fighting, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated a ground invasion by the troops massed on the enclave’s border was likely.
The military said in a Telegram post that it had hit multiple targets and “operated to prepare the battlefield,” but did not elaborate, while Mr. Netanyahu, in a televised speech on Wednesday evening, vowed that Israel would punish the armed group Hamas for the Oct. 7 assault that massacred more than 1,400 people and seized more than 200 hostages.
Since the Hamas attack, Israel has waged an aerial and artillery bombardment that been far more intensive, more destructive and deadlier than any previously seen in Gaza. The Hamas-controlled government in Gaza said Thursday that the Israeli campaign has killed more than 7,000 people, with nearly 2,000 others trapped in the ruins of destroyed buildings, figures that could not be verified.
Hamas’s health ministry on Thursday released a list of 6,747 names of people it said had been confirmed killed, including 2,665 children, along with each person’s ID number, age and sex. It said 281 others who had died in the bombardment could not be identified.
That was an apparent response to President Biden, who said on Wednesday that he had “no confidence” in the death toll cited by the Gazan authorities. Last week, Hamas officials put the death toll in an explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City at 471, while U.S. intelligence agencies assessed that it was 100 to 300.
With Israel flattening many buildings and telling the population of northern Gaza to flee to the south, international aid agencies say more than half of the territory’s over 2 million people have been displaced.
The Israeli military said Thursday that it had carried out more than 250 strikes in the preceding 24 hours; the Gazan health ministry said that at least 43 of those, and 481 resulting deaths, were in southern Gaza — the region Israel has directed civilians go for their safety. Israel says it is hitting Hamas targets, often concealed within — or in tunnels beneath — residential buildings, mosques, schools and other civilian sites. Palestinians accuse it of indiscriminately killing civilians.
Desperately needed humanitarian aid — including food, water and medicine — has been trucked into southern Gaza from Egypt since last Saturday, but at a relative trickle, while vital supplies from foreign countries and international aid groups pile up on the Egyptian side.
The United Nations, which is leading the effort, says that 100 trucks a day are needed, but by Thursday morning, only 74 had entered Gaza in five days, and in the previous 24 hours, there were only 12.
Israel insists on having its people thoroughly inspect each shipment to ensure that it does not contain weapons, requiring that each truck go to an inspection site 25 miles from the border crossing, greatly slowing the flow. Israel has informed the United Nations that it has the capacity to inspect at most 40 trucks per day, and the handling of shipments by the Egyptian Red Crescent had been disorganized, according to a U.N. aid official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the situation.
While the aid deliveries represent a slight loosening of the “complete siege” Israel imposed on Gaza after the Hamas attack, it still is not allowing fuel deliveries. The territory’s sole electric power plant ran out of fuel and stopped generating within days, and backup generators and vehicles have been running dry. Water desalination plants and pumping stations, hospitals, ambulances, shelters and many other sites have been forced to curb or halt operations.
International aid groups argue that fuel must also reach Gaza to prevent the humanitarian crisis there from worsening. On Thursday, the United Nations said its aid agency operating in Gaza “has almost exhausted its fuel reserves and began to significantly reduce its operations.”
But Israeli officials say any fuel deliveries would fall into the hands of Hamas, which they say has stockpiled a large supply of fuel and refuses to use it for humanitarian purposes, a charge Hamas denies.
The conflict in Gaza has spurred increased violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where the Israeli military said it had carried out “an extensive arrest operation” overnight, detaining more than 60 Palestinians, including 46 who it said were affiliated with Hamas. It said it had made about 1,000 arrests there since the Hamas incursion.
More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in West Bank clashes with Israeli security forces and settlers since Oct. 7.
The raid into northern Gaza that was announced on Thursday marked the first time in the current war that Israel had sent tanks into the territory. It conducted an unknown number of limited ground raids inside Gaza since Oct. 7, using troops.
A video released by Israel’s military shows its tanks firing inside Gazan territory. The area is immediately next to Gaza’s northern border near the Mediterranean Sea, according to a New York Times examination of the footage.
There is widespread expectation that Israel will launch a full-fledged invasion to try to rout Hamas from its dense network of tunnels and hide-outs, a far more dangerous operation for Israeli forces than waging war from the air.
U.S. officials said this week that the Biden administration has advised Israel to delay its invasion in a bid to buy time for hostage negotiations and to allow more humanitarian aid to reach Palestinians in the sealed-off enclave. The administration, which is advising and helping arm Israel, has also expressed concern that Israel lacks a clear plan or achievable goals for an invasion.
“We brace for a ground incursion. I won’t detail when, how or how much. I also won’t specify the set of considerations we weigh,” Mr. Netanyahu said in his speech on Wednesday. “When we enter Gaza, we’ll make Hamas pay the price for its attack.”
Israel’s security services have long been seen as among the world’s best, but its intelligence agencies failed to foresee the Hamas assault, its border defenses failed to stop the incursion, and its military was slow to respond. Since Mr. Netanyahu returned to power 10 months ago, his government has focused heavily on enacting measures to weaken and assert greater control over the judiciary.
Some prominent Israelis have said that Mr. Netanyahu should resign over the security failures exposed by Hamas. In his speech on Wednesday, he hinted at the issue but stopped short of taking direct responsibility.
“This disaster will be fully looked into,” he said. “Everyone will need to give answers — including myself. But all of this will only happen after the war.”
Reporting was contributed by Monika Pronczuk, Hiba Yazbek, Iyad Abuheweila, Josh Holder, Karen Zraick and Abu Bakr Bashir.