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Israel stepped up ground strikes against Gaza and cut off communications in a “new phase” of its war against Hamas over the weekend, as a mounting death toll set off renewed protests around the world, CBS News reported.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that Israel had sent ground forces into Hamas-controlled Gaza and increased attacks from land, air and sea. He added that he expected to increase the military’s advance in preparation for a broader ground invasion.

Netanyahu framed the fighting as a war for Israel’s very existence, saying “‘Never again’ is now.”

The conflict began earlier this month when Hamas – designated as a terror group by the US and the European Union – launched a surprise attack into southern Israel from Gaza, breaching Israeli defenses and attacking civilians in nearby towns and cities, and launching rockets from the enclave. More than 1,400 people were killed and around 230 others were kidnapped by Hamas.

Hamas has continued to fire thousands of rockets from Gaza, many of which have been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.

In response, Israel has launched airstrikes on the area that have killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 20,000, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. Over the weekend, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) confirmed the strikes have killed two key Hamas leaders: Asem Abu Rakaba, the head of Hamas’ air force, and Ratib Abu Tzahiban, the head of the navy.

At the same time, the IDF has conducted a series of ground raids in Gaza, with officials saying the primary goal is to destroy Hamas.

Even so, the fighting has raised fears about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, with 2.3 million people cut off from the outside world. Israeli strikes have caused blackouts that have severed communication and Internet access in the enclave, disrupting vital services, such as ambulances and aid organizations’ work. Services were partially restored on Sunday following US pressure on Israel to do so, the Washington Post reported.

Israel, meanwhile, agreed to allow up to 100 trucks carrying aid into Gaza daily, the newspaper added. The prewar daily was 450.

The international community, including the United Nations, has expressed concerns about the situation, with the UN human rights office warning that “war crimes” are being committed in the conflict.

Over the weekend, thousands marched in London, Paris, Rome and across the Muslim world, often in defiance of bans, in support of Palestinians or just appealing for a ceasefire.

On Friday, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution calling for a humanitarian truce, but the US voted against it after an amendment that would have condemned Hamas’ terror attack on Israel and demanded the release of hostages was defeated.

Meanwhile, families of the hostages held by Hamas are increasing the pressure on Netanyahu to take action to rescue the captives, in response to unverified claims that Israeli airstrikes have already led to the death of more than 50 of the captives.

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