Israel Tanks Penetrate Deep into Gaza, as Hamas Hostage Video Emerges

The Washington Post

TEL AVIV – Moving quickly, in darkness and daylight, Israeli tanks and soldiers entered the outskirts of Gaza City on Monday, reaching the main highway that connects north and south in the 25-mile-long enclave. The Israeli forces were so close to the city that ground troops called in airstrikes on Hamas targets.

A string of incidents Monday showed the deepest penetration of Gaza yet by Israeli ground forces since the start of a land offensive four days ago. A relentless bombing campaign continued, and the military confirmed that combined infantry, armor and engineering forces were now all inside Gaza’s borders.

Hamas, the militant group that controls the besieged enclave, also released a chilling video of three of its hostages delivering a harsh statement addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with one woman almost screaming at the Israeli leader, “Free, free us now. Free their civilians, free their prisoners, free us, free us all, let us return to our families now. Now! Now! Now!”

Earlier in the day, other dramatic video footage taken by Palestinian journalists and geolocated by The Washington Post showed a white sedan traveling on the highway toward the Netzarim junction, where there was at least one Israeli tank. As the car executed a slow U-turn, the tank appeared to fire on and hit the vehicle. (Netzarim was an Israeli agricultural settlement whose last residents were evicted by Israeli soldiers in 2005 during their pullout from the Gaza Strip.)

Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari declined to comment on the incident on the highway on Monday, but told a news conference that Israel has “expanded the activity of our forces and additional forces entered the strip, including infantry, armored corps, combat engineering and artillery corps.”

“There is also direct contact between our forces on the ground and terrorists as the fighting continues inside the Gaza Strip,” Hagari said.

Without offering much detail, the Israeli military and the Shin Bet internal security agency issued a joint statement saying they had rescued an Israeli soldier who was taken hostage on Oct. 7 during the raids by Hamas into Israel. The soldier was identified as Private Ori Megidish. Authorities said she was in good health and photos appeared on Israeli media sites of her reunited with her family.

In other signs of a deeper incursion into Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces told journalists that Israeli troops spotted “an antitank missile launching post in the area of the al-Azhar University, and guided a fighter jet to strike them.”

The university campus is located just south of Gaza City. Social media reports from Gaza said Israeli troops were in the area.

Earlier, IDF soldiers hoisted an Israeli flag atop a beachside hotel north of Gaza City.

Until now, short video clips released by the IDF mostly show tanks and troops operating on the periphery of Gaza, mainly in farmlands and the edges of urban areas.

There are only two main roads connecting north and south in Gaza. One of them runs along the exposed coast and the other is Salah al-Din road, the main artery. Salah al-Din is an ancient road, traversed by the armies of Alexander the Great, the Romans and Napoleon.

Journalist Bashar Talib told The Post by phone that he was at al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in central Gaza when around 8:30 a.m. local time he and a colleague, Youssef Saifi, left and headed north to Gaza City. They traveled along the Salah al-Din highway, as other routes have been battered by Israeli bombardments.

“We were surprised by the presence of an Israeli tank and bulldozer on the Salah al-Din road at the Netzarim junction,” Talib said. He and Saifi immediately stopped their car and started to turn around.

“During our withdrawal,” Talib said, he saw “a civilian car. . . . In the front was an old man and in the back sat a woman with children.”

The Israeli tank “directly targeted” them, he said. Saifi, a cameraman for Al Araby TV, posted a video of the encounter online.

“I felt in extreme danger, and I had never faced this situation before,” Talib said. “The scene was terrifying. I saw pillars of flame rising.”

Talib said three people were killed and an unknown number injured. All casualties were taken to al-Aqsa Hospital, where spokesman Mohammed Haj confirmed the deaths of three people in the blast.

In a statement, Hamas spokesperson Salama Maarouf said several Israeli tanks and a bulldozer moved onto the road from an agricultural area and targeted more than one vehicle before Hamas fighters “forced them to retreat.”

But Maarouf also appeared to play down the presence of Israeli troops, saying, “There was absolutely no ground advance in residential areas” by Israeli troops, who have “currently no presence” on Salah al-Din road, he said.

Previously, Hamas has encouraged people not to leave the north.

Hamas also released footage Monday that appeared to show three Israeli hostages delivering a statement to Netanyahu, whom they address by his nickname “Bibi.”

The video shows three women, in clean dresses, sitting on plastic chairs in a tiled room. One of the women reads what appears to be a prewritten statement that is strongly critical of the Israeli prime minister, with another of the women repeating some words and shaking her head in agreement at the conclusion of the video.

The three hostages are not visibly injured in the video. It is not clear when the video was made, though one of the hostages said it was 23 days after Oct. 7.

The names of the hostages were not included in the video, but Israel’s Channel 13 reported that all were from the Nir Oz kibbutz. The families of the women had asked that the video not be shown, Channel 13 reported.

The Israeli prime minister’s office called the video “cruel psychological propaganda” and in a statement, Netanyahu said they were doing everything they could to bring the hostages home. “Our hearts go out to you and the rest of the hostages.”

On Monday night, Netanyahu held a brief news conference for the foreign press, where he said he would not resign from office.

“The only thing that I intend to have resign is Hamas,” he said. “We’re going to resign them to the dustbin of history.”

Netanyahu said fighting Hamas in Gaza is the best way to free the hostages. “Hamas won’t do it without pressure,” he said, adding, “We are going out of our way to protect civilians” in Gaza.

The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, reported on Monday that 8,306 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of the conflict on Oct. 7, including 3,457 children and 2,136 women.