Israeli soldiers rolled into Gaza City on Thursday, marking the start of a “significant stage” of Israel’s ground operation into the Gaza Strip, military officials said. Gaza City is the strip’s most populous city, with nearly 600,000 residents and, according to Israeli officials, is also the home base of Hamas. In a statement, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Israeli forces approached Gaza City from the north while exchanging fire with Hamas. Halevi said about 130 Hamas militants were killed by Israeli ground forces on Thursday and that armored divisions had reached Gaza City. Israeli officials say 19 of its soldiers have been killed since the beginning of its ground operation late last week, the Times of Israel reported Thursday, including one senior officer. Gaza City has been bombarded by Israeli airstrikes for more than three weeks, beginning Oct. 7 after Hamas rushed the Israeli border and erupted the region into chaos. Israel ordered the city’s residents to evacuate, but many civilians have still been struck by airstrikes at refugee camps.