Israeli special forces unit ‘Sayeret Matkal’ started the first ground offensive into besieged Gaza

Super-elite Sayeret Matkal soldiers are believed to have led tanks and infantry into Hamas lairs to hunt down terrorist rocket crews and search for hostages.

Israel has continued its air strikes on Gaza
Smoke rises above Ashkelon near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip.

The mission was the first to probe Hamas defences ahead of an anticipated full-scale ground invasion as early as tomorrow.

An Israeli defence source told The Sun: “It is safe to assume that special forces would have been involved in this stage of the operation – it is just the start.”

Modelled on Britain’s SAS, the Sayeret Matkal are the prime special forces unit of Israel and experts in hostage recovery.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to destroy Hamas as the army prepares for an expected ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu delivered the threat in a nationally televised address late on Friday.

Israel has been pounding Gaza with airstrikes since Hamas militants carried out an unprecedented cross-border attack last Saturday, killing over 1,300 people in a brutal rampage.

Israel on Friday morning ordered half of Gaza’s population to evacuate their homes.

Families in cars, trucks and donkey carts packed with blankets and possessions were seen streaming down a main road out of Gaza City.

Netanyahu said in a national address on TV that Israel will “never forget these horrific acts of our enemies.”

He added: “We are striking at our enemies with unprecedented might – this is just the beginning. We will end this war stronger than ever.”

“We will destroy Hamas,” he added, saying Israel has widespread international support for the operation.

Israel’s military announced tonight that they had been carrying out “localised raids” into Gaza for the last 24 hours to “cleanse the area of ​​terrorists and weapons”.

Infantry and tank units took part in a mission to locate rocket crews and hostages, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing.

But it is understood the full-scale invasion has not yet begun.

The latest Israel-Hamas war has claimed at least 3,200 lives on both sides since Hamas launched an unprecedented surprise attack on October 7.

For days on end, Israeli troops have been pounding terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip, sparking chilling threats of revenge from both Iran and Hezbollah.

It comes after days of air strikes that have been successfully wiping out its Hamas kill list, an ex-British colonel has revealed.

Colonel Richard Kemp told The Sun: “I’ve watched an artillery battery firing mission against terrorists in Gaza yesterday.”

The former commander of troops in Afghanistan added: “And so far I believe that the IDF operations have been very successful.

“They’ve been making their way down [their] target list of terrorist leaders.”

Kemp also noted Israel’s success in wiping out “terrorist infrastructure”, including communication centres, ammunition dumps and missile launchers.

Nethanyahu has vowed that “every Hamas member is marked by death”.

As many as 1,800 Palestinians have reportedly died in the bombardment of Gaza, including hundreds of children.

Israel warned 1.1million people living in the north of the Gaza Strip to flee their homes ahead of an “imminent attack”.

Hamas has claimed 70 people, mostly women and children, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on convoys fleeing Gaza City.

It comes as Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah has insisted it is “fully prepared” to join Hamas in its bloody war with Israel.

Foreign powers have urged Hezbollah to stay put on the sidelines – but deputy chief Naim Qassem vowed to join “when the time comes for action”.

He told supporters gathered in the southern Beirut suburb: “Hezbollah knows its duties perfectly well. We are prepared and ready, fully ready, and be are following developments moment by moment.”

The group has already clashed with Israel across the Lebanese border multiple times in the past week.

Qassem added: “We will contribute to the confrontation within our plan… when the time comes for any action, we will carry it out.”

Now, Iran has joined in on the threats, warning that “new fronts” will open up if its “war crimes” in Gaza continue.

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, said: “Naturally, with the continuation of Israeli war crimes and the humanitarian siege of Gaza and Palestine, any decision and possibility by other members of the resistance movement is probable.”

The resistant group he is referring to is made up of Hamas, Hezbollah and militant groups spread across Yemen, Iraq and Syria.

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