Israeli strikes on Jabalia neighborhood is latest in a broader, more aggressive war against Hamas.
Airstrikes on a densely populated neighborhood in Gaza this week show Israel is waging a broader and more ferocious war against Hamas, an approach that aims to destroy the Palestinian militant group but has sparked an international backlash.
The repeated strikes on the Jabalia neighborhood—a refugee camp that has turned into a warren of permanent homes and apartment buildings—come amid a three-week-long air campaign by Israel that is the most intense in its history and rivals any aerial bombardment this century, military analysts say.
Israel’s campaign to eliminate Hamas has faced a deluge of criticism as the civilian death toll has risen and the humanitarian crisis has worsened, prompting repeated calls for Israel to agree to a cease-fire and to end its blockade.
The ferocity of Israel’s campaign has also put pressure on the U.S., which has supported Israel’s right to defend itself but has increasingly stressed the importance of minimizing civilian casualties and increasing humanitarian aid.
Israel says it has hit more than 11,000 targets, with missiles, bombs and artillery, in Gaza, an area half the size of New York City that is home to around two million people. That compares to some 1,500 strikes the last time Israel fought Gaza militants in 2021.
Human rights groups have warned of a mounting humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says the strikes have killed some 8,796 people, most of them women and children. The figures don’t distinguish between civilians and militants. The strikes have also displaced hundreds of thousands and turned large parts of Gaza into rubble. Israel says the attacks have destroyed crucial military infrastructure and killed key leaders of Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization.
Israel also says it has moved “significant” ground forces into Gaza. The troops appear to be digging in on the northern coastline of Gaza, where their flank is protected and can receive cover fire from Israel’s Navy, said Michael Horowitz, the Israel-based head of intelligence for the consulting firm Le Beck. Israeli troops appear to be making short raids into central Gaza to attack Hamas, and then falling back to more protected areas, he said.
The air and ground assault comes after the killing of more than 1,400 people in Israel—the worst massacre in its history—prompted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to launch a war to drive Hamas from power in Gaza, where the group has ruled since 2007.
It is a far different kind of war than Israel has fought, at least since it invaded Lebanon in 1982. Its sweeping goals have shown a willingness by Israel to target Hamas’s leaders with fewer restraints than in the past—in their homes and underground bunkers in populated areas.
The attacks and broader bombing campaign underscore the delicate balance Israel is trying to strike between destroying Hamas and minimizing civilian deaths in an urban area where Hamas’s military capabilities are interwoven within residential neighborhoods and in hundreds of miles of tunnels beneath them.
Israel has defended its tactics in the air campaign, saying it has for weeks urged civilians to vacate northern Gaza to protect themselves. More than 800,000 people have left their homes, many of them fleeing south or taking shelter in hospitals, schools and international aid facilities in hopes of escaping the fighting.
In Tuesday’s attack, Israel said it used airstrikes to hit a Hamas command-and-tunnel network under Jabalia, killing the commander who was leading Hamas’s forces against Israeli forces operating in northern Gaza at that time, and who also played a pivotal role in the Oct. 7 attacks. On Wednesday, Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israel understood civilians were in the area on Tuesday and could be affected, but argued the Hamas commander, Ibrahim Biari, was a legitimate military target.