Two Israeli soldiers were killed fighting in the northern part of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, as the Israel Defense Forces announced a major operation in Jabaliya in which a top Hamas commander and dozens of terror operatives were killed.
The operation involved airstrikes and ground forces taking control of a compound that the IDF said was used by Hamas’s Central Jabaliya Battalion. Several buildings in the Jabaliya area collapsed; the IDF said they were brought down when Hamas terror tunnels beneath them collapsed following airstrikes targeting the head of the battalion and terror infrastructure.
Some 50 terrorists were killed during ground operations on Tuesday, according to the IDF.
The two soldiers were named Tuesday as Staff Sgt. Roei Wolf, 20, from Ramat Gan, and Staff Sgt. Lavi Lipshitz, 20, from Modiin, who both served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance unit.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday evening that the two soldiers died “bravely in battle” as troops worked to capture a Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya.
“This is complex close-quarters combat. In the fierce battles that took place today, we lost troops,” he said.
Hagari said troops were fighting terrorists heroically and courageously. “This is a dangerous conflict. It has a price,” he said. “It is complex, but it is essential to our capacity to achieve the aims of the war.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday evening that the IDF was making “significant” achievements during the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, but that it was also “paying a heavy price.”
“We are deploying forces on a large scale, deep in the Strip,” Gallant told troops of the Air Force’s elite Shaldag and 669 units. “There are battles against the forces that are operating [in Gaza] and the results and achievements on the battlefield are very high.”
“Unfortunately, in war, there are also prices, and the prices in the last day were heavy prices,” Gallant continued. “Despite that, we are also determined to continue and win.”
On Tuesday afternoon, huge blasts hit the Jabaliya residential area on the outskirts of Gaza City, in what the IDF later confirmed was a targeted attack on a Hamas commander and infrastructure belonging to the terror group’s Central Jabaliya Battalion.
Eyewitnesses and reporters said that the blasts in the northern part of the Gaza Strip — which Israel has urged civilians to exit — claimed a large number of lives. Palestinians said they occurred in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which is adjacent to the city of the same name.
The IDF said shortly afterward that it had killed the commander of Hamas’s Central Jabaliya Battalion, Ibrahim Biari, in an airstrike that was part of “a wide-scale strike” on Hamas operatives and infrastructure belonging to the Central Jabaliya Battalion.
The military said the strikes that killed Biari and several other terrorists caused underground terror tunnels to collapse, bringing down several nearby buildings.
מטוסי קרב של צה"ל, בהכוונה מודיעינית של שב"כ חיסלו לפני זמן קצר את אברהים ביארי, מפקד גדוד מרכז ג'באליה בארגון הטרור חמאס, שהיה ממובילי מתקפת הטרור הרצחנית ב-7 באוקטובר. בתקיפה נפגעו גם מחבלים רבים של החמאס>> pic.twitter.com/ed1F3SphNH
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) October 31, 2023
Hamas claimed multiple Israeli airstrikes had leveled several apartment blocks and the Hamas-run health ministry said 50 people were killed, a claim which could not be independently verified. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll of civilians killed in the Strip, in particular of those killed in an October 17 blast at the al-Ahli hospital, which Hamas blamed on Israel but which was caused by a failed Islamic Jihad rocket launch.
According to the IDF, the Central Jabaliya Battalion had taken control of several civilian buildings in the area, and many of those killed in the strikes were Hamas operatives.
“The strike damaged Hamas’s command and control in the area, as well as its ability to direct military activity against IDF soldiers operating throughout the Gaza Strip,” the army said in a statement. It said that “numerous” terrorists were killed along with Biari, and “underground terror infrastructure embedded beneath the buildings, used by the terrorists, also collapsed after the strike.”
According to the IDF, Biari was one of the Hamas commanders responsible for directing members of the terror group’s elite Nukhba forces to invade Israel on October 7, where over 1,400 people were massacred, most of them civilians. The IDF also reiterated its call to the residents of the area “to move south for their safety.”
Footage of the scene from Al Jazeera TV showed at least four large craters where buildings once stood, amid a large swath of rubble surrounded by partially collapsed structures. Dozens of rescue workers and bystanders were seen digging through the wreckage, searching for survivors beneath the pancaked buildings. A group of young men pulled two children from the upper floors of a damaged apartment block, cradling them as they climbed down.
Wails filled the dusty air as volunteers clawed through the concrete blocks and twisted metal, with AFP video footage showing at least 47 corpses being recovered.
One resident of the area, Ragheb Aqal, 41, likened the explosion to “an earthquake” and spoke of his horror at seeing “homes buried under the rubble and body parts and martyrs and wounded in huge numbers.”
IDF says ground forces took control of a Hamas "military stronghold" in western Jabaliya in the Gaza Strip today. During fighting in the compound, which is used by the Jabaliya Battalion, forces killed several terrorists and the Air Force struck sites and other operatives. Some… pic.twitter.com/pZ40DuvOHO
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 31, 2023
In a separate statement, relating to the same area of conflict, the IDF said that its ground troops had taken control of a Hamas “military stronghold” in western Jabaliya amid fierce fighting between ground troops and terror group operatives.
The IDF said infantry forces and tanks, led by the Givati Brigade, seized the compound. It included tunnels and rocket launching positions, as well as weapon storage sites, the IDF said.
The IDF said troops clashed with Hamas in the compound, killing “numerous” terrorists, and the Air Force struck sites and other operatives in the area. After capturing the site, troops located and later destroyed the entrances to tunnels as well as weapons.
It added that intelligence information was also obtained from the compound.
UN laments deaths of children
The UN children’s agency warned Tuesday that Gaza is turning into a “graveyard” for youth, warning of dire consequences if the situation continues.
“Our gravest fears about the reported numbers of children killed becoming dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands were realized in just a fortnight,” said UNICEF spokesman James Elder. “The numbers are appalling; reportedly more than 3,450 children killed; staggeringly this rises significantly every day. Gaza has become a graveyard for thousands of children. It’s a living hell for everyone else.”
Hamas’s reported claims about the number of children killed in the Strip cannot be independently verified.
The Egyptian, Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari foreign ministries issued statements condemning the Israeli strike on Jabaliya.
Egypt described the airstrikes as “inhumane” and as a “blatant violation of international law.” Cairo also called on the international community to intervene to stop Israeli attacks and to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans.
Jordan also condemned the Israeli airstrikes “in the strongest terms,” holding Israel responsible for the latest developments. Amman also condemned the ongoing escalation in the West Bank, and settlers’ violence against Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia expressed its “complete rejection of the Israeli occupation forces’ repeated targeting of sites crowded with civilians.”
War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing at least 245 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as terrorists seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.”
The Hamas-run health ministry has claimed more than 8,500 people have been killed in the enclave, a figure that cannot be independently verified. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and it also does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives. The terror group has pushed back against such claims, releasing an unverified list of names it says represent those killed. Some of the dead are believed to be victims of Palestinian terrorists’ own misfired rockets.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties and urging the civilian population to evacuate to southern Gaza.
Times of Israel staff and Gianluca Pacchiani contributed to this report.