3 soldiers killed in Gaza; military kills Hamas spy catcher in southern Strip

Ground operation death toll reaches 193; IDF troops destroy launchers used to fire Netivot barrage; Jordan says Khan Younis field hospital badly damaged by nearby Israeli shelling

Staff Sgt. Oriya Ayimalk Goshen (left), Sgt. Maj. (res.) Yair Katz,(center) and Master Sgt. (res.) Zechariah Pesach Haber, (right), who were announced killed in Gaza on January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Staff Sgt. Oriya Ayimalk Goshen (left), Sgt. Maj. (res.) Yair Katz,(center) and Master Sgt. (res.) Zechariah Pesach Haber, (right), who were announced killed in Gaza on January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Wednesday a soldier was killed fighting in the Gaza Strip, and another two reservists were killed a day earlier, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 193.

They were named as:

  • Master Sgt. (res.) Zechariah Pesach Haber, 32, of the 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion, from Jerusalem.
  • Sgt. Maj. (res.) Yair Katz, 34, also of the 14th Armored Brigade’s 87th Battalion, from Holon.
  • Staff Sgt. Oriya Ayimalk Goshen, 21, of the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Jerusalem.

Haber and Katz were both killed fighting in northern Gaza on Tuesday, the IDF said, adding that two other reservists were seriously injured that day — one during fighting in northern Gaza, and the second in Israel, close to the Gaza border.

Goshen was killed during a battle with Hamas terrorists in southern Gaza on Wednesday. Another two soldiers were seriously wounded in the same battle, the IDF said.

Meanwhile, the IDF said troops operating in central Gaza found and destroyed the rocket launchers used to fire dozens of rockets at the southern city of Netivot on Tuesday, the largest barrage in weeks.

Rocket launchers in central Gaza used to fire a barrage at the southern city of Netivot, in a handout image published January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade found three launchers, each capable of launching 10 rockets at a time.

Some of them were primed for further launches, the military said.

The barrage was fired from a location in the central part of the Strip from which IDF troops had recently withdrawn, Israeli military sources told The Times of Israel.

The IDF began to withdraw the 36th Division from the central Gaza Strip on Monday, as part of its plans for a long war that is expected to consist of smaller, targeted operations against Hamas once the terror group’s main fighting force is defeated.

Hamas fired dozens of rockets from an area where the 36th Division had operated previously but was not declared by the IDF as under “operational control.”

The IDF’s 99th Division still remains in other areas of central Gaza, where intense fighting is currently taking place between Israeli troops and Hamas’s operatives.

The scene of a rocket impact in the southern city of Netivot, following a barrage fired from the Gaza Strip, January 16, 2024. (Flash90)

The IDF said that recent strikes in Gaza have killed six Hamas operatives, including the southern district Hamas officer in charge of interrogating suspected spies.

The IDF identified the spy catcher as Bilal Nofal and said he was killed in an airstrike that was carried out based on information provided by the Shin Bet.

Nofal was “responsible for interrogating those suspected of spying against Hamas in southern Gaza,” the army said, adding that he had “developed the interrogation and investigative techniques” used by the terror group.

“His killing significantly impacts the ability of the terrorist organization to develop and enhance its capabilities,” the military said.

In Gaza City’s Sheikh Ijlin neighborhood, the IDF said the 179th Brigade spotted two Hamas operatives and directed an airstrike against them.

The IDF said the Navy also carried out strikes against Hamas sites on Tuesday night, aiding the ground forces in Gaza.

In southern Gaza, the IDF said the 7th Armored Brigade spotted three Hamas operatives running into a building after launching mortars at the troops. The soldiers directed an attack helicopter to strike the building, killing the three.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 17, 2024 (Israel Defense Forces)

Meanwhile, the Jordanian army said Wednesday its military field hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza was badly damaged as a result of Israeli shelling in the vicinity. In a statement, the army said it held Israel responsible for a “flagrant breach of international law.”

Asked for comment, the IDF said it was checking the reports.

Amid fierce fighting in the south of the enclave, the IDF said it recently airdropped some 16 tons of equipment to thousands of troops of the 98th Division operating in the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza.

The operation, carried out by the Technological and Logistics Directorate and Marom Brigade’s air supply unit, included a C-130J transport aircraft airdropping ammunition, fuel, water, and food for the division.

Since the beginning of the ground offensive, five airdrop operations have been carried out in Gaza, with a total of some 60 tons of equipment for the troops, according to the IDF. The military has airdropped equipment to areas in Gaza that are either too dangerous or logistically difficult to reach with convoys of trucks.

Equipment that was airdropped to troops in the Khan Younis area, in an image published January 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Monday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that the “intensive phase” of Israel’s ground offensive in northern Gaza has ended, and it will soon be over in the Khan Younis area also.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told local council heads from communities near Gaza on Tuesday that he anticipates the war against Hamas extending into 2025.

According to an unsourced Channel 12 report on the meeting, which was held at the IDF’s southern command headquarters in Beersheba and attended by other security cabinet ministers, Netanyahu disclosed the assessment in the course of a discussion in which he also reportedly agreed to revise a current Defense Ministry framework that provides financial assistance to Israeli residents who are prepared to return to evacuated communities 4-7 kilometers from the Gaza border areas.

Many of those communities were ravaged by the October 7 Hamas massacre of 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and the abduction of 240 hostages. The attacks were carried out amid brutal atrocities that included mutilation, torture, sexual assault and the setting alight of people, corpses, and homes.

Some 132 hostages remain in Gaza, not all of them alive, after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops.

The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 27 hostages– including two whose deaths were announced Tuesday — held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Israeli soldiers show journalists an underground tunnel where the IDF said it had found evidence hostages were held by terrorists in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, on January 10. 2024. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Medication for the hostages was set to begin entering Gaza on Wednesday, a day after Qatar announced that it successfully mediated an agreement between Israel and Hamas with the assistance of France.

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk said that for each box of medicine provided to the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medication would be sent for Palestinian civilians.

The agreement for medication to enter Gaza came amid the growing humanitarian crisis in the enclave. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday that the death toll in the Strip had reached at least 24,448 people.

The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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