Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Israel Defense Forces escalated their ground operations inside Gaza Friday night after a day of intense aerial bombings targeting Hamas militants in the region.
Israeli tanks were observed taking up positions within the strip, according to multiple reports, possibly preparing for what was expected to be another incursion.
Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, spokesman for the IDF, verified that there was a substantial escalation of attacks in Gaza involving intensified airstrikes, with a specific focus on underground targets.
The BBC reported that Hamas' military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, said they were engaged in combat with the Israeli military in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, specifically near Beit Hanoun and Bureij, late Friday, but these reports were unconfirmed by Israeli officials.
The State Department has been actively monitoring the possibility of a substantial escalation in Israel's military actions in Gaza and is continuing to engage in discussions with Israeli leaders regarding a less aggressive strategy. ABC reports that officials have expressed confidence in their ability to maintain the brief periods of tranquility that have facilitated a limited inflow of aid into Gaza via the Rafah Gate, at least for the time being.
The increased tempo in IDF attacks in Gaza follows its series of infantry and tank raids in the area over the last two days.
Hagari repeated the call for Palestinians to evacuate to Gaza's south Friday afternoon amidst the increase in violence.
"We are prepared to defend in all arenas. We are acting in order to protect the security interests of the state of Israel," he said.
Gaza residents told CNN the airstrikes that hit Friday night local time in Gaza were the most intense since the beginning of the war nearly three weeks ago.
Rockets also were fired from the Gaza strip into Israel on Friday.
Israeli forces said Thursday airstrikes killed Shadi Barud, Hamas' deputy chief of intelligence. Israel said Barud planned the Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,400 people.
The IDF and Israel Security Authority said three other Hamas military leaders also were killed by intelligence-led fighter jet strikes.