The Israeli military on Monday said that its ground forces conducted raids into Gaza overnight in areas where Palestinian militants were allegedly assembling to ambush its forces.

“During the night there were raids by tank and infantry forces,” Israel’s chief military Spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said, according to Reuters. “These raids are raids that kill squads of terrorists who are preparing for our next stage in the war.”

Hagari said these raids were carried out deep inside Gaza and were intended to help understand where “the terrorists are assembling, the terrorists are getting organised in anticipation of the next stages of the war”.

On October 7, Hamas launched a multi-pronged attack on Israel. In response, Israel declared a siege on Gaza and has been conducting airstrikes on the narrow strip of land. It also stopped water, fuel and power supplies to the region’s 2.3 million residents.

At least 4,600 persons have been killed in Israeli strikes on Gaza in the past two weeks, Palestinian authorities said. Israel said on October 20 that 1,400 persons died in attacks on the country from Gaza.

The raids come amid reports that Israel may launch a full-scale ground offensive into Gaza to destroy Hamas’ military infrastructure. Israel forces have gathered around Gaza over the past week.

“You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told the troops on Friday. “The command will come.”

The Israeli comments about the raids came after Hamas claimed on Sunday that its fighters had engaged with what it described as an armoured force infiltrating the southern region of Gaza Strip and destroyed some Israeli military equipment, Reuters reported.

“Fighters engaged with the infiltrating force, destroying two bulldozers and a tank and forced the force to withdraw, before they returned safely to base,” Hamas said in a statement, according to Reuters.

The militant group added that the raids took place east of Khan Younis city.

Tel Aviv did not comment on these alleged losses.

Hamas holding 222 hostages, says Israeli military

Hagari also said that the confirmed number of hostages taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack has risen to 222.

“[The] raids also locate and search for anything we can get in terms of intelligence on the missing and the hostages,” Israel’s chief military spokesperson added.

The number does not include two captives, American-Israeli mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan, who were released by Hamas on “humanitarian grounds” on Friday. They are the only ones to have been freed so far.

On Sunday, The New York Times reported quoting unidentified United States officials that the Joe Biden administration has advised Israel to delay the ground invasion of Gaza to buy time for hostage negotiations and to allow more humanitarian aid to reach the region.

This came a day after the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened to allow some aid into the besieged region for the first time since Israel laid a siege on the territory on October 9.