Air Force flies ground forces commanders over Gaza Strip ahead of expected offensive

IDF chief to troops: We’ll hit ‘every commander, every operative’ of Hamas; another senior Hamas commander killed in Israeli strike

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to troops in southern Israel on October 15, 2023. (IDF)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to troops in southern Israel on October 15, 2023. (IDF)

The Israeli Air Force has been taking top ground forces commanders for sorties over the Gaza Strip in recent days in order to familiarize them with the territory and provide them a bird’s eye view of the territory in which the military is expected to maneuver as part of a ground incursion, The Times of Israel learned on Sunday.

Brigade and battalion commanders, many of whom have never been inside the Strip which Israel left in 2005, were shown from combat helicopters where ground troops are expected to enter and advance during the looming ground offensive.

The IDF said on Saturday it was finalizing its preparations for a “coordinated attack from the air, sea and land.”

As aircraft continued to pound Gaza terror targets, the military said Sunday night it had struck and killed a senior Hamas commander, Muataz Eid, the head of national security for the terror group’s southern district.

The military said it had struck more than 250 targets throughout the Strip over the course of the day, mostly in its north. The targets included Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad military headquarters, observation posts and several rocket launching sites.

On the ninth day of fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the IDF chief of staff told troops Sunday that the army will soon enter the Gaza Strip to decimate the Hamas terror group.

“Our responsibility now is to enter Gaza, to go to the places where Hamas is preparing, acting, planning, launching. Attack them everywhere, every commander, every operative, destroy infrastructure,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said while visiting soldiers in southern Israel. “In one word: win.”

“We’re going to do something big, important, to change the situation for a long, long time… This is a great mission, a great privilege. Do it with excellence,” he added. “The State of Israel, the residents of the south — they all place their trust in you.”

The military continued on Sunday to move closer toward a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, more than a week after a murderous Hamas rampage through southern Israel took more than 1,300 lives. As of Sunday evening, 289 soldiers and 51 police officers had been confirmed killed in the clashes.

Since October 7, the IDF has carried out heavy air bombardments across Gaza as it targets terror infrastructure. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Sunday evening that 2,670 people in the territory had been killed and 9,600 injured since the start of the war.

Since Friday the army has called on residents of the northern part of the Strip to evacuate southward. The military’s top spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, said Sunday that more than 600,000 Palestinians from Gaza City had evacuated south despite attempts by Hamas to prevent people from leaving.

The IDF has warned that it will heavily target northern Gaza in the coming days.

A truck transports a Palestinian family and their belongings to Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip October 15, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

“We are acting in accordance with international law to cause a minimum amount of harm to uninvolved citizens. I stress this to the world. This is the difference between us and our enemies,” Hagari said.

The government and army have said that they are doing all they can to bring home the 150-200 Israelis believed to be held by Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. “To the families of the hostages, I know that for you every second is an eternity, we will do everything to bring your loved ones home,” Hagari said.

The IDF has so far notified the families of 155 hostages that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip, following a painstaking identification process, Hagari said.

An IAF F-15 takes off to conduct strikes on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on October 15, 2023. (IDF)

Earlier Sunday, the chief of the Israeli Air Force said its fighter jets and drones were “aggressively” striking the Gaza Strip to clear as many threats as possible before ground forces begin their expected offensive.

“We are preparing the arena for as effective an operation as possible. Removing as many threats as possible from the ground and air,” IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar said in a call with reporters. “We will do what is necessary, aggressively, so that if it is decided to maneuver, we will allow the best ground entry that will give the troops operational freedom of action.”

Israeli soldiers and tanks at a staging area near the border with Gaza, October 14, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“The Air Force will work shoulder to shoulder with the ground forces,” he added.

Bar said the IAF was focused on fighting in the Gaza Strip, but it is “strongly and highly prepared for any development that may occur in the north as well.”

“The Air Force is deployed with all units in a state of war to respond with fire and attack as needed,” he said. The Lebanese Hezbollah terror group and allied Palestinian factions have been launching attacks on the northern border, leading to repeated exchanges of fire that have caused deaths on both sides.

On the continued fighting, Bar said: “We are hurt, but we fight. From the moment the incidents in the south began, the IDF and within it the Air Force have been working to remove any threat, both offensively and defensively.”

IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar (right) speaks with Shaldag troops in southern Israel, October 14, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees said Sunday that Israel’s strikes on Gaza had led to an “unprecedented human catastrophe” in the Palestinian territory.

“Not one drop of water, not one grain of wheat, not a litre of fuel has been allowed in the Gaza Strip for the last eight days,” Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner general of UNRWA, told journalists. “Raise the alarm that as of today, my UNRWA colleagues in Gaza are no longer able to provide humanitarian assistance as I speak.”

“In fact, Gaza is being strangled and it seems the war right now has lost its humanity,” he continued.

Israel said earlier it was resuming water supply to southern Gaza as it encourages all residents of the north to leave. It has said other humanitarian aid will not resume as long as Hamas is holding on to Israeli hostages.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Hamas to immediately and unconditionally release all hostages and on Israel to grant “rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid” into the Gaza Strip.

Palestinians flee to the southern Gaza Strip after the Israeli army issued an evacuation warning to residents of northern Gaza on Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

During Hamas’s onslaught on southern Israel last weekend, combat helicopters were among the first forces to arrive and fight the invading terrorists as well as to deploy special forces to communities and army bases that were under attack. Bar said the helicopter pilots fought “with determination” as they brought “troops to the battlefield while coming under fire.”

The IDF on Sunday also showed off a large number of weapons recovered from Hamas terrorists following their attack on southern Israel. The weapons included guns, RPGs, mines and various types of explosive devices, which were used against Israeli civilians and military sites.

The IDF said it also recovered various documents from the bodies of the terrorists, which detailed plans to carry out atrocities against civilians and soldiers, including massacres and hostage-taking.

War erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw at least 1,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing over 1,300 people and seizing 150-200 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 gunmen seized border communities were civilians — men, women, 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, in what US President Joe Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”

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