The Israeli military announced that its forces had fully encircled Gaza City and were carrying out “a significant operation” in the Gaza Strip late Sunday, as the entire enclave was plunged into the same kind of widespread communications blackout that cut it off from the world during Israel’s initial ground invasion 10 days ago.
“At this hour, we are carrying out a large attack on terrorist infrastructure both below and above ground,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, said in a late-night briefing.
Israel has described Gaza City, in the north of the enclave, as a center for Hamas’ military operations, and its encirclement of the city appeared aimed at cutting it off from the rest of the strip. “Essentially today there is a northern Gaza and a southern Gaza,” Hagari said.
Journalists’ reports were limited by the blackout, but the BBC said one of its Gaza reporters thought the night had brought “the most intense airstrikes since the beginning of the war,” which it said were largely focused in northwest Gaza.
And Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency, based in the West Bank, reported “violent explosions and an unprecedented bombardment by Israeli aircraft and warships,” saying the raids targeted the vicinities of several hospitals and had killed and injured dozens of people.
Hagari said that the operation Sunday night was searching for senior Hamas commanders. Earlier in the day, the Israeli military had accused Hamas of using two hospitals in northern Gaza, Sheikh Hamad and Indonesian hospitals, as cover for its operational centers. The claim could not immediately be verified.
The Israeli military had earlier made similar accusations about Al Shifa Hospital, in Gaza City, and Friday the Israeli military confirmed an airstrike near that facility. Hamas rejected the assertions 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. It was confirmed by Gaza’s main telecommunications provider, Paltel, which described the “complete interruption of all communications and internet services.”
It was the third such blackout since Israeli forces began entering Gaza, leaving its people without access to internet or phone services as night fell.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society, an independent aid group, said on social media that the blackout affected more than 2 million civilians, cutting off access to emergency medical services, and that, as during the previous blackouts, it had lost contact with its teams in Gaza.
UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinians, also said it was unable to reach “the vast majority” of its team in the enclave. The agency said in a report Sunday that 79 of its staff members had been killed since Oct. 7.
The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it was “very concerned” about the connectivity outage and the reports of heavy bombardment in the enclave.
“Without connectivity, people who need immediate medical attention cannot contact hospitals and ambulances,” Tedros said on social media. “All channels of communication must be restored immediately.”
The director of NetBlocks, Alp Toker, said in an interview Sunday that his organization was unable to immediately determine whether the blackout had been caused by Israel taking technical measures against Gaza’s telecommunications infrastructure or by physically damaging it. However, he noted that in the previous blackouts, the restoration of service had come “almost instantaneously,” suggesting physical repairs were not necessary. Paltel said it had made no repairs to restore connectivity after the first blackout.
The loss of connectivity in Gaza on Sunday was “technically fully consistent” with the previous two blackouts, and “whatever happened in each of those is happening again,” Toker said.
The first blackout on Oct. 27, which began around 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 the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the United States believed that Israel had been responsible for the cutoff and had urged Israeli counterparts at the time to restore service.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.