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What comes next in Israel's incursion into Gaza
03:46 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Israeli ground forces are closing in on Gaza City, the largest and most densely packed population center in the Palestinian enclave, satellite imagery and videos from open and official sources suggest.

CNN’s analysis of the imagery helps shed light on what is happening on the ground as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claim that the military has encircled the city.

“IDF forces encircle Gaza from the air, land and sea, surrounding the city of Gaza and its surroundings,” Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said on Friday. “The fighters are advancing in battles during which they are destroying above ground and underground terrorist infrastructures and eliminate terrorists.”

Since the IDF launched its ground offensive into Gaza a week ago, the latest phase of its war against Hamas, its troops have pushed forward on three axes – from Gaza’s northwest border along the Mediterranean coast, from the northeast near Beit Hanoun, and from east to west, along the south of Gaza City – in an apparent effort to divide the strip into two.

Israeli troops have moved deeper along that western stretch, towards the sea, according to European Space Agency satellite imagery from Wednesday, which indicated that the forces were approximately less than a kilometer away from completely encircling Gaza City.

While the imagery is low-resolution, it appears to show the tracks from heavy armored vehicles snaking across the strip, south of the urban center, nearly reaching the coast.

Videos showing Israel’s advance south of Gaza City have yet to surface, but footage shared by the IDF and circulating on social media in recent days showed Israeli troops had moved in the northernmost communities in Gaza – Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya and Atatra – and were sitting on the perimeter of Gaza City from the north.

Satellite imagery and footage have also shown Israeli forces on Salah al-Din Road, a highway running the length of the strip, seemingly blocking anyone still in Gaza City from moving south. One video, filmed by freelance Palestinian journalist Yousif Al Saifi and which surfaced on Monday, showed an Israeli tank opening fire on a car on the road.

The urban area encompassing Gaza City is home to nearly 2 million people living in an 88-square-mile expanse, which equates to about 21,000 people per square mile.

More than 9,000 people have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since October 7, according to figures released Friday by the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah drawn from sources in the Hamas-controlled enclave. More than 23,000 others have been injured, the ministry said.

Israel launched its offensive in response to the shock Hamas assault on Israel, when the militant group carried out surprise cross-border raids, killing more than 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostages.

A man sits on debris as Palestinians conduct a search and rescue operation after the second bombardment to the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza City, on November 1.

In preparation for its ground incursion, Israel ordered the evacuation of people from northern Gaza just after the war began, instructing residents to move south of Wadi Gaza, a waterway bisecting the center of the strip. But it wasn’t until two weeks later, on October 28, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the “second stage” of the war and a singular goal: “to destroy this enemy.”

In the week since, the Israeli army’s movements have been slow but deliberate, as they have progressed towards Gaza City, where the IDF says Hamas has fighters and command centers among the civilian population and a vast tunnel system underground.

Miri Eisin, a retired Israeli colonel with a background in military intelligence, told CNN that the approach was slow and systematic due to the challenges of fighting in urban areas, as well as the fact that hundreds of Israeli hostages are believed to be held by Hamas in its tunnel network.

“The defenses are not just the tunnels, which are immense. It’s booby traps, snipers, suicide bombs, anti-tank missiles, a variety of capabilities that were prepared upfront as their defenses against any action of the IDF inside the Gaza Strip,” Eisin said.

Satellite imagery taken on Monday showed several breaks in the border wall and vehicle tracks where Israeli forces had crossed into northwestern Gaza before proceeding south on the beach and through farmland. Other imagery showed similar breaches to the northeast and east.

Photos released by the IDF on Tuesday showed soldiers even deeper in the strip, just to the north of the Al Shati refugee camp, only three miles or so from the center of Gaza City.

Other video published by the IDF, which was geolocated by CNN near the northeastern town of Beit Hanoun, showed dozens of soldiers advancing on foot across sandy terrain. In a different clip, a bulldozer could be seen pushing through sandy soil to create a lane free from IEDs (improvised explosive devices).

The Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, has also released video that it claims shows a drone dropping munitions on Israeli soldiers. The attack took place east of Beit Hanoun, according to geolocation by CNN. Hamas said that the attack took place on Wednesday, but CNN could not confirm the date it was filmed. CNN requested comment on the video from the IDF.

Due to the high risk of IEDs, mines or similar boobytraps, the IDF is using heavily armored bulldozers to clear what the military refers to as “safe lanes” through obstacles, so that tanks and ground forces can pass through. The bulldozers are also used to push through rubble-strewn streets, destroy buildings, and create defensive positions for infantry.