Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip are weakening and losing morale “in all parameters,” the commander of IDF forces in southern Israel said Friday, but added that the troops on the ground needed more time to completely root out terror tunnels burrowing into Israel.
“The spirit of the Hamas terrorists is weakening,” Southern Region Commander Maj. Gen. Shlomo “Sami” Turgeman said during a press conference with Israeli media outlets. “I see terrorists in distress, abandoned by their commanders who deserted them at the front and stayed behind… and facing them, our reserve and standing army units led by commanders at the vanguard.”
Turgeman went on to assert that the IDF was claiming significant victories against Hamas on all fronts, and was sufficiently prepared both on the defensive and the offensive side.
“Every day of combat over there is a day of accomplishments for us, both on the issue of tunnels and on the issue of enemy units,” he said.
“Up until today we have managed to locate and destroy at least half of the enemy’s attack tunnels,” he added. “Hamas has built some of these [tunnels] in five years, and some of them in four years, and in a week we were able to significantly impair this ability. Every day of combat will allow us to harm this infrastructure more and more.”
Turgeman said that the IDF was increasing the pace of its operations in order to further its military achievements before a ceasefire was announced.
“We understand that there are additional ‘clocks’ in this arena that can also affect us,” he said, referring to the international efforts to broker a ceasefire, “so we are making the most of all the time at our disposal and will take advantage of the situation to the utmost in order to free our communities from the threat of tunnels.”
Earlier Friday, a senior Hamas official told the Times of Israel that his organization was studying an American ceasefire proposal, and that the organization’s official response would be given in the coming hours, or on Saturday. Channel 2 reported that the group was ‘inclined to accept’ the offer.
Later, the Israeli cabinet was reported to have unanimously rejected ceasefire proposals presented by US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The Hamas official added that the Americans presented general guarantees via Qatar to remove the blockade of Gaza. At the same time, he emphasized that the American ceasefire proposal explicitly indicates that Israeli military operations must stop and so must the demolition of tunnels.
Israel’s cabinet was debating the American proposal from mid-Friday afternoon.
The IDF said it targeted 45 sites overnight Thursday-Friday. The targets included a command post which housed Hamas internal security offices, as well as the office of senior Hamas member Ra’at Habat, according to the IDF.