The Israeli military announced that its forces had completely surrounded Gaza City and were carrying out “a major operation” in the Gaza Strip on Sunday evening, as the entire enclave was plunged into the same type of widespread communications blackout that had cut off the world during Israel’s First Ground Invasion 10 days ago.
“At this time, we are carrying out a broad attack against terrorist infrastructure, both above and below ground,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, chief spokesman of the Israeli army, said during a late evening press briefing.
Israel has described Gaza City, in the north of the enclave, as a center of Hamas military operations, and its encirclement of the city appeared aimed at cutting it off from the rest of the Strip. “Today there is essentially a northern Gaza and a southern Gaza,” Admiral Hagari said.
Journalists’ reporting was limited by the outage, but the BBC said one of its journalists in Gaza believed the night brought “the most intense airstrikes since the start of the war”, which it said they were largely concentrated in the northwest of Gaza.
And Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency based in the West Bank, reported “violent explosions and unprecedented bombardment by Israeli planes and warships”, saying the raids targeted the areas around several hospitals and had killed and injured dozens of people.
Admiral Hagari said Sunday night’s operation was aimed at searching for senior Hamas commanders. Earlier in the day, the Israeli army accused Hamas of using two hospitals in northern Gaza, Sheikh Hamad and Indonesian hospitals, to cover its operational centers. This claim could not immediately be verified.
The Israeli army had previously made similar accusations about Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City and confirmed an airstrike near the facility on Friday. Hamas rejected the claims about Al Shifa, saying Israel had provided no evidence.
The communications blackout hit Gaza after sunset, around 6:20 p.m. local time, according to NetBlocks, an internet monitoring service. This was confirmed by Gaza’s main telecommunications provider, Paltel, which described “a complete disruption of all communications and internet services.” It was the third such power outage since Israeli forces began entering Gaza, leaving the population without access to the internet or phone services as night fell.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society, an independent humanitarian group, said on social networks that the power outage affected more than two million civilians, cutting off access to emergency medical services and that, as in previous power outages, it lost contact with its teams in Gaza.
UNRWA, the United Nations agency that helps the Palestinians, also said he was unable to reach “the vast majority” of his team in the slot. The agency said in a report As of Sunday, 79 members of its staff had been killed since October 7.
World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “very concerned” about the communications breakdown and reports of heavy bombing.
“Without connectivity, people who need immediate medical attention cannot contact hospitals and ambulances,” Dr Tedros said on social media. “All communication channels must be restored immediately.”
NetBlocks director Alp Toker said in an interview Sunday that his organization could not immediately determine whether the outage was caused by Israel taking technical measures against Gaza’s telecommunications infrastructure or by physical damage. However, he noted that in previous outages, restoration of service had occurred “almost instantly”, suggesting that physical repairs were not necessary. Paltel, Gaza’s telecommunications provider, said it had not carried out any repairs to restore connectivity after the first outage.
The loss of connectivity in Gaza on Sunday was “technically entirely consistent” with the two previous outages, and “what happened in each of them is happening again,” Mr. Toker said.
The first power outage, on October 27, which began at sunset, lasted nearly 36 hours and spread fear and panic across Gaza as Israel began a ground invasion. After connectivity was restored, two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the United States believed Israel was responsible for the outage and urged their Israeli counterparts of the time to restore the service.
November 5, 2023
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated when the communications blackout in Gaza began on Sunday. It was around 6:20 p.m. local time, according to NetBlocks, not 4:20 p.m.
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