Israel is fighting in the heart of Gaza City for the first time in decades, a senior military commander has said.

Major General Yaron Finkelman, the head of the Southern command, said Israeli forces had infiltrated the northern city after surrounding it in recent days as part of a ground offensive aimed at eradicating Hamas from the enclave.

“For the first time in decades, the IDF is fighting in the heart of Gaza City, in the heart of terror,” Gen Finkelman said.

“We’re continuing with all our might, with the goal of defeating the despicable Hamas group … We won’t rest, we won’t stop, until we fulfil our mission — until victory.”

Gaza City was home to a third of the enclave’s 2.3 million people prior to Israel’s offensive, though hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have fled south as a result of an evacuation order issued by the Israeli military.

Gen Finkelman’s remarks came after former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak warned that the country only has a matter of weeks to defeat Hamas due to shifting Western opinion on Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

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