ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Ahead of slated truce, IDF says it’s destroyed 400 Hamas tunnels, continues to fight

Deaths of Cpt. Liron Snir, Staff Sgt. Eitan Dov Rosenzweig bring toll in the ground operation to 70; sources indicate that four-day pause in fighting will begin Thursday at 10 a.m.

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Explosions spread along the underground complex as the IDF blows up a tunnel network in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, in footage released on November 19, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)
Explosions spread along the underground complex as the IDF blows up a tunnel network in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza, in footage released on November 19, 2023. (Kan TV screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

Ahead of an expected pause of several days in fighting, the IDF said Wednesday morning that troops have uncovered and destroyed some 400 terror tunnel shafts in the Gaza Strip since the start of the ground offensive last month.

The military also announced the deaths of two soldier in northern Gaza, bringing the ground operation death toll to 70, while adding that troops were continuing heavy fighting against Hamas in northern Gaza before a temporary truce is slated to come into effect.

Hamas and Egyptian state media said the pause, during which Hamas is to release some 50 Israeli hostages — children, mothers and other women — and Israel is set to free some 150 Palestinian security prisoners, was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

CNN quoted an anonymous Israeli official confirming that timeline. However, another senior official told the Axios website that the timing would only be decided later in the evening. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the reported scheduling.

Meanwhile, rocket sirens sounded in Gaza border towns on several occasions on Wednesday morning and afternoon.

The IDF said Wednesday that troops of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit have played a significant role in demolishing the Hamas tunnels over the past month of fighting. The tunnel entrances have been found deep within civilian infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, hospitals and other sites.

The IDF has accused Hamas of using the Palestinian population in Gaza as human shields by deliberately placing its terror infrastructure within the civilian environment. In recent days, Israel has revealed a number of tunnel shafts in and around the Shifa Hospital complex in Gaza City, as Hamas has repeatedly denied that it operates underneath the medical center.

On Tuesday, the military said it had breached a blast door at the end of a Hamas tunnel discovered by forces last week underneath Shifa Hospital. The IDF said Wednesday that overnight, its Harel Armored Reserve Brigade struck Hamas tunnel infrastructure in northern Gaza from which operatives opened fire at troops several days ago.

The IDF announced Wednesday the deaths of two soldiers in fighting in the Strip.

Cpt. Liron Snir, 25, from the West Bank settlement of Ofra, was a team commander in the Golani Brigade’s reconnaissance unit.

This photo released by the military on November 22, 2023, shows Cpt. Liron Snir, a commander in the Golani Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion, who was killed fighting against Hamas terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

Staff Sgt. Eitan Dov Rosenzweig, 21, from the settlement of Alon Shvut, served in the Givati Brigade’s Shaked Battalion.

The IDF also said three soldiers were seriously hurt in battles in northern Gaza.

Staff Sgt. Eitan Dov Rosenzweig (Courtesy)

The military made clear on Wednesday morning that it was continuing to operate in the Gaza Strip, with ground forces clashing with Hamas operatives, and strikes being carried out against the terror group’s infrastructure, ahead of an agreed-upon four-day truce that is expected to go into effect on Thursday.

The IDF said that the 7th Armored Brigade called in a number of airstrikes overnight against Hamas sites from where gunfire was directed at troops. Troops of the Givati Infantry Brigade, meanwhile, raided Sheikh Za’id, near Jabaliya, and destroyed a number of Hamas observation posts, the military said.

The IDF said its 14th Armored Reserve Brigade raided the Beit Hanoun area, locating a weapons cache inside a home. Forces of the Paratroopers Brigade’s 202nd Battalion clashed with Hamas operatives in northern Gaza, killing several of them, it said.

The IDF said the 261st Reserve Brigade identified a building in northern Gaza with Hamas operatives and weapons inside, and destroyed it, killing those inside. The Navy also carried out strikes against Hamas sites along the coast, including a residential building from which Hamas snipers opened fire at ground forces, the IDF added.

A deal approved by Israel’s cabinet in an early-morning vote consists of a four-day truce as well as freeing 150 Palestinian security prisoners in exchange for the release of 50 Israeli hostages in Gaza. Additional days could be added to the truce in exchange for the release of a larger number of hostages.

An Israeli official told reporters on Tuesday that the deal would see a complete pause of IDF operations on the ground in the Gaza Strip and an end to Israeli air operations over the territory, except in the north, where they would only halt drone activity for six hours daily.

A day ahead of the expected start of the pause in fighting, the IDF continued to urge civilians in the city of Jabaliya and the Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, both in the north of the Strip, to move south during the daily humanitarian corridor.

The military, which has been pushing further and further into the Hamas stronghold of Jabaliya and is likely to enter Shejaiya next, said the corridor will remain open until 4 p.m. Wednesday. The army also announced that Wednesday’s tactical pause would be in the Jourat al-Lot and Batn al-Sameen neighborhoods of Khan Younis.

IDF soldiers operating in the northern Gaza Strip in a handout photo released for publication on November 22, 2023. (IDF)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that military pressure on Hamas was creating “better conditions” for the release of hostages held by the terror group in the Gaza Strip, and that such pressure would continue.

During a visit to the Gaza Strip, Halevi told troops they were doing a “great job, it really is very impressive.” However, he added that “the road is still long.”

“We are determined to follow this road and really bring maximal achievements. Also to dismantle Hamas — militarily and governmentally — also to bring security around the region, to the communities in the [area surrounding Gaza], and also to return the hostages,” Halevi said.

“All these things work together… the maneuver also creates better conditions for the return of the hostages. It deals blows to Hamas, it creates pressure, and we will continue this pressure,” he added.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks with troops in the Gaza Strip, November 21, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

When fighting resumes following the expected four-day truce, the IDF has indicated that it has no plans to allow Palestinians to move back to northern Gaza when the military expands its ground offensive into the southern part of the Strip.

The Times of Israel has learned that the IDF instead plans to direct the civilian population to areas away from the expected ground offensive in southern Gaza, in order to reduce civilian casualties.

The population may move around in southern Gaza, but not northward, according to information seen by The Times of Israel.

So far, the IDF has declared the small al-Mawasi area on the southern coast of Gaza as a “safe zone” amid the ground offensive in the north and airstrikes across the Strip.

The fighting in Gaza has been raging since 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed through the border with Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages. Israel declared war on Hamas in response, launching an aerial campaign and a subsequent ground offensive that is aimed at toppling the terror group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and securing the release of the hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that over 14,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches such as the one that hit the Al-Ahli hospital in October.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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