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Israel says it's 'expanding' ground activities in Gaza as internet blackout takes hold

Smoke rises and billows in the Gaza Strip as the Israeli army conducts air attacks early Saturday local time.
Ali Jadallah
Anadolu via Getty Images
Smoke rises and billows in the Gaza Strip as the Israeli army conducts air attacks early Saturday local time.

Updated October 27, 2023 at 4:58 PM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel — Ahead of a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced that its forces were "expanding" ground activities in Gaza Friday night as the besieged territory was plunged into a communications and internet blackout.

The announcement comes as Israel's military has increased its bombing campaign in Gaza to target what it says is underground infrastructure used by Palestinian militant groups, including Hamas, whose deadly attack on Israel Oct. 7 sparked the current conflict.

Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers are stationed around Gaza's borders, and in recent days, Israeli tanks and troops have entered Gaza for limited incursions, supported by heavy airstrikes and artillery.

"In continuation of the raids we have carried out in the last few days, the ground forces are expanding their activity this evening," said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces. He repeated Israel's call for Palestinians to flee to southern Gaza where conditions, he said, would be "safer."

A heightened pace and intensity of operations could pave the way for the much-expected Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. A large-scale invasion would likely mark a significant and deadly turning point in a war that has already seen more than 1,400 dead in Israel and 7,300 dead in Gaza, according to respective officials.

In an interview on Fox News, Mark Regev, a senior adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said that Hamas is "feeling now Israel's might."

"We are beefing up the pressure on Hamas. We're increasing the pressure that they're under. Our military operations are underway," Regev said.

When NPR asked if Friday's operation marked a new phase in the war, Regev replied, "No comment."

Phone calls and text messages to and from Gaza had sputtered around sundown Friday. Paltel, a major Palestinian telecommunications company, announced that a barrage of airstrikes had cut key communications infrastructure.

"The intense bombing in the last hour caused the destruction of all remaining international routes linking Gaza to the outside world," the company said in a statement on the social media site X.

Aid groups said they had lost contact with their teams on the ground in Gaza, and decried the great risk to civilians, health workers and other noncombatants.

"Hospitals & humanitarian operations can't continue without communications, energy, food, water, meds," Lynn Hastings, the United Nations' humanitarian coordinator in Gaza, wrote on X.

"We are deeply concerned about the ability of our teams to continue providing their emergency medical services, especially since this disruption affects the central emergency number '101' and hinders the arrival of ambulance vehicles to the wounded and injured," the Palestinian Red Crescent Society wrote on X.

In response to the blackout, Hamas accused Israel of an "intention to commit more massacres and genocides away from the eyes of the press and the world."

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.