Israeli ground forces fought deadly battles with Hamas militants inside Gaza Monday and sent tanks to the outskirts of the biggest city as air strikes pounded the besieged Palestinian territory. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his war cabinet Israeli forces were making “systematic progress” in the campaign to defeat Hamas in response to the October 7 attacks — the deadliest in the country’s history. The Israeli military said a woman soldier was released from captivity after an operation in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory. “Last night, soldier Ori Megidish was released during a ground operation after being kidnapped by Hamas on October 7,” the army said, adding she had been “medically checked” and was “doing well”. Netanyahu’s office published a photo of her surrounded by family members. The military “has expanded its ground entry into the Gaza Strip, it is doing it in measured, very powerful steps, making systematic progress one step at a time”, Netanyahu said in his video statement in Hebrew. The intensifying campaign since the Hamas attacks has sharply heightened fears for the 2.4 million civilians trapped inside Gaza, where the Hamas-controlled health ministry says more than 8,300 have died. Concern has surged about the widening humanitarian crisis and the fate of hospitals in the war zone where, the World Health Organisation warns, many patients cannot be safely moved despite Israel’s evacuation order. Netanyahu vowed to “crush” Hamas after its gunmen killed 1,400 people and took more than 230 hostages, according to the latest Israeli figures. The attack set off the bloodiest-ever Gaza war, marked by weeks of withering aerial bombardment and three continuous nights of ground operations centred on northern Gaza, which Israel has told civilians to evacuate. In heavy clashes overnight, the Israeli army said it had killed dozens of militants hiding “inside buildings and tunnels”, and a warplane struck a building “with over 20 Hamas terrorist operatives inside”. – ‘Cruel psychological propaganda’ – Columns of Israeli tanks and armoured bulldozers were seen churning through the sand, and snipers took positions inside emptied residential buildings, in footage released by the army. Dozens of tanks advanced for more than an hour into the southern fringes of Gaza City and blocked the main north-south highway, “firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it”, an eyewitness told AFP by phone. Air strikes also cratered the road and brought down buildings, residents said, before the tanks withdrew from the area. The Israeli ground forces were supported by heavy fire from the air and artillery, with the army striking more than 600 targets within 24 hours, up sharply from 450 a day earlier. Hamas said it had fired anti-tank missiles at two Israeli armoured vehicles. It also charged Israel was trying to present a “false image that its soldiers are present in the Gaza Strip interior, even though blows delivered by the resistance have prevented them”. Hamas also released a video of what it said were three women hostages, seated against a tile wall, although the time and place of the recording could not be verified. One called in an agitated tone for Netanyahu to agree to Hamas’ proposed exchange of the hostages for Palestinian prisoners. Netanyahu decried the clip as “cruel psychological propaganda”. He named the three as Yelena Trupanob, Daniel Aloni and Rimon Kirsht, and vowed “to bring all the abducted and missing people home”. The more than 230 hostages — aged between a few months and above 80 — are believed to be held in a network of underground tunnels where Hamas has hid its military infrastructure from Israeli surveillance and air attacks. – Spiralling crisis – Israel’s foreign ministry confirmed the death of one of those missing — German-Israeli Shani Louk, 23, who was captured by Hamas when fighters stormed a music festival in the Israeli desert. “Our hearts are broken,” it wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “Shani who was kidnapped from a music festival and tortured and paraded around Gaza by Hamas terrorists, experienced unfathomable horrors. May her memory be a blessing.” Fear and desperation have spiralled in Gaza, under weeks of siege that have cut off water, food, fuel and other essentials to the long-blockaded territory. The United Nations reported Sunday that civil order was starting to break down after “thousands of people” ransacked aid warehouses. Donkey carts were lining up to load water, as safe drinking water has become scarce, in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. According to the UN, all 10 hospitals in northern Gaza have received evacuation orders — despite sheltering thousands of patients and about 117,000 of the displaced. Among those being treated are intensive care patients, infants and elderly people on life support systems. World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said calls to evacuate Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City were “deeply concerning”. “We reiterate — it’s impossible to evacuate hospitals full of patients without endangering their lives,” he wrote on X. Mohamed al-Talmas, who has taken shelter in Gaza’s biggest hospital Al-Shifa, said “the ground shook” there with intense Israeli raids. Israel describes Al-Shifa hospital as a de facto Hamas “command centre” and headquarters. – ‘Collective punishment’ – UN chief Antonio Guterres has said the situation in Gaza is getting “more desperate by the hour” and warned against the “collective punishment” of Palestinians. US President Joe Biden stressed to Netanyahu that, while Israel has the right to defend itself, it must do so “in a manner consistent with international humanitarian law that prioritises the protection of civilians”. Limited aid has entered Gaza from Egypt under a US-brokered deal, but its volume, 117 trucks so far, has fallen far short of the hundreds of trucks a day aid agencies say are needed. Anti-Israel anger has flared across the region and beyond. In Russia’s Muslim-majority Dagestan, police said they had arrested 60 people after on Sunday a crowd stormed an airport to attack Jewish passengers coming from Tel Aviv. Washington has warned Israel’s enemies — in particular Iran-allied “axis of resistance” groups — not to become more fully involved after a series of attacks across the Middle East. The Israeli army has traded cross-border fire with Hezbollah in Lebanon and struck targets in Syria, including on Monday when it said it was responding to launches “toward Israeli territory”. Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Najib Mikati, told AFP that “I am doing my duty to prevent Lebanon from entering the war”. Violence has also surged in the occupied West Bank where health officials say about 120 Palestinians have been killed since the Gaza war started. Germany on Monday called on Israel to protect Palestinians in the West Bank from attacks by “extremist” Israeli settlers. In annexed east Jerusalem on Monday, police said a knife-wielding Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli police officer before the attacker was shot dead.