It was the culmination of three weeks of Israeli missiles raining incessantly upon Gaza and, as darkness approached, the onslaught’s intensity increased exponentially.
As well as airstrikes up and down the length of the Strip, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, artillery barrages and tank shells streaked through the gathering gloom, each bringing its own wave of destruction.
‘We moved to the next stage in the war,’ defence minister Yoav Gallant said as daybreak revealed hundreds of destroyed buildings.
‘Last evening the ground shook in Gaza. We attacked above ground and underground. The campaign will continue until further notice.’
In a press conference last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was fighting its ‘second war of independence’ and it would be a ‘long war’.
Gaza skyline again glowed orange as fires raged following another day of intense bombing
Medics scrambled to rush a smash child into Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital on Saturday evening
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (pictured, right) said Israel was fighting its ‘second war of independence’ and it would be a ‘long war’
He added: ‘We will fight and we will not surrender. We will not withdraw. It will be a victory of good over evil as we are fighting for our life.’
He said the military had entered ‘the stronghold of evil’, adding: ‘This is the second phase of the war which has clear objectives to destroy Hamas and bring our hostages home.’
He said his ‘heart breaks’ for families of the 229 hostages in Gaza, adding: ‘I promise we are going to do our utmost to bring them back.’
The ‘next stage’ saw jets strike targets in northern Gaza on Friday night, including Gaza City suburbs. There were also strikes around the Al-Shifa hospital, which Israel claims hides a Hamas command and control centre underneath, making it a military target.
According to some reports, the Israeli Air Force deployed ‘bunker buster’ ordnance to destroy Hamas’s tunnel network. The first warhead of the missiles creates a hole, then a second penetrates deeper into the earth, destroying underground structures.
At least 100 fighter-bombers attacked around 150 underground targets. Israel Defence Forces spokesman Daniel Hagari again warned civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate without delay.
A power, internet and mobile phone outage was the most significant signal that the ground invasion had begun.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ‘completely eliminate’ Hamas on Saturday night
One woman cradled a young child after another night of Israeli attacks hit Gaza
The intense attacks came as Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to ‘eradicate’ Hamas (pictured, a patient is taken into Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Gaza on Saturday)
Then, after dark, but under an almost full moon, around 8pm the column of tanks waiting near the Israeli town of Sderot began to inch forward, then gathered speed as they trundled toward the same fence the Hamas death squads had breached on October 7.
They were joined by vehicles carrying troops who would stay in Gaza instead of withdrawing before daylight as they had done on Wednesday and Thursday.
At the same time, Israeli special forces assaulted the port of Gaza City. Hamas defiantly fired salvo after salvo of rockets at Israel.
A mosque’s minaret was close enough to the launch site to be illuminated by the rockets – confirmation, were it needed, that Hamas will use any building as cover.
An Israeli military source outlined their high-risk strategy to The Mail on Sunday, saying: ‘Our ground operation is not a full-scale invasion. It is ‘modular’, which means we can enter an area, then withdraw, and return again with larger forces if necessary.
A Palestinian carries a wounded man following an Israeli airstrike on northern Gaza
People take cover as sirens of incoming rockets sound, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian
Moments after Netanyahu addressed the nation, terrified Israelis in Tel Aviv were seen scrambling for cover as rocket sirens rang out across the city
A picture taken from Israel’s southern city of Ashkelon shows rockets fired from the Gaza Strip on October 28
Smoke rises over Gaza, as seen from Israel’s border with Gaza on Saturday
Fire and smoke rise following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel
‘The modular method creates pressure on the Hamas leadership and the idea is to cause increasing distress for whoever is holding the hostages and cause Hamas and Islamic Jihad to reduce the manipulation and games of psychological warfare they have been conducting.’
The source acknowledged there was a risk to hostages from a ground invasion. ‘Some claim that the lives of the hostages should not be endangered and therefore negotiations should continue.’
Families of the hostages met Mr Netanyahu last night to express concern they will be killed in the strikes. On Friday, it was clear the Israeli cabinet agreed ‘negotiations’ over the hostages, brokered by Qatar, were merely a play for time by Hamas.
The source added: ‘A second school of thought believes that without the additional pressure produced by a ground [assault] into Gaza, Hamas will never release the Israeli hostages, including the children, women and the elderly, which are actually the only political and effective card left in its hands.’
As dawn broke yesterday the bombardment continued, but this time interrupted by a new sound – of heavy machine-gun and small-arms fire as the sides engaged in closer combat than before and the war entered a new and equally bloody chapter.