TEL AVIV—Israeli tanks and infantry pushed into the outskirts of Gaza City on Monday and severed one of the main roads connecting the northern part of the Gaza Strip to the south, witnesses said, in a major advance that appeared aimed at encircling the enclave’s biggest population center.
A spokesman for the Israeli military declined to discuss the locations of troops, but said operations inside Gaza were expanding as more armored vehicles, artillery and combat engineers joined the fight aimed at dismantling the Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas and evicting it from Gaza.
“There is direct contact between ground forces and the enemy. The fight is ongoing,” said the spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.
Hagari said dozens of militants stationed in buildings to confront advancing Israeli troops were killed by airstrikes.
Israeli soldiers pushed at least 2 miles deep into the densely populated Gaza Strip Sunday in moves that analysts said seemed designed to trap Hamas in the enclave’s north, as the U.S. pressured Israel to restore communications in the territory.
Soldiers and tanks appeared to be taking up positions deep inside Gaza on Sunday, two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country was entering a new phase of the war. Tanks fired from Gaza’s Mediterranean beaches, and soldiers moved across open and hilly ground, according to video the military released.
The latest actions suggest a war that is likely to last a long time, as Israel prepares to move deliberately in stages into Gaza territory. At the same time, Israel faces pressure from the U.S. and other Western countries to minimize civilian casualties, which are mounting.
Some evidence of Israel responding to U.S. pressure could be seen Sunday morning, when Israeli authorities restored internet and phone communications after implementing a near complete communications blackout on Friday night. Washington convinced Israel that communications needed to be turned back to allow the United Nations, World Health Organization and other aid groups to coordinate with their staff in Gaza, a senior U.S. government official said.
In a call Sunday with Netanyahu, President Biden pushed for increasing the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza and said that protection of civilians is a priority. “I reiterated that Israel has every right to defend its citizens from terrorism and a responsibility to do so in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law which prioritizes the protection of civilians,” Biden wrote on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter.
In recent days, the White House has also embraced the idea of humanitarian pauses, which stops short of a cease-fire. National security adviser Jake Sullivan said Sunday that the U.S. is prepared to support humanitarian pauses so that hostages held by Hamas can be released safely.
The Israeli ground invasion is expected to focus initially on Gaza City, where much of Hamas’s infrastructure and weaponry is believed to be located, said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst on Israel-Palestine at the International Crisis Group. Israel’s leaders have said the main war aim is the destruction of Hamas as the ruler of Gaza, where it came to power 17 years ago.
Israeli forces have to go in deep to access the group’s extensive underground tunnel network, she said. “There already is and will likely be a long-term ground invasion,” she added, but what it can realistically achieve “is still in question and constantly evolving.”
Israel’s military has been silent about its strategy and tactics but a growing part of the country’s security establishment has called for what Naftali Bennett, the former Israeli prime minister, called “strategic patience.” On Sunday, Bennett said the army should encircle Hamas in Gaza City and lay a long-term siege, instead of quickly sending forces into urban combat.
“Make the passing time work in our favor,” he said on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We have all the time in the world.”