IDF says it hit 450 Gaza sites in a day; 2 soldiers killed; rockets target Tel Aviv

Army says it struck military compounds, observation posts, weapons depots; finds weapons in university; Palestinians report dozens killed; rockets fired at Sderot, Tel Aviv

A soldier operating in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo released by the Israeli military on December 8, 2023. (IDF)
A soldier operating in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo released by the Israeli military on December 8, 2023. (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday it had carried out strikes on more than 450 targets in the Gaza Strip over the past day, as ground operations continued.

The sites included military compounds, observation posts, and weapons depots.

Friday morning saw four rockets fired out of Gaza at Sderot, with two knocked out of the sky by the Iron Dome air defense system. The others landed in open areas. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Hamas said shortly after noon it had fired rockets at Tel Aviv. No sirens sounded in the central city, although residents report hearing large blasts, as the projectiles apparently landed in the sea. Around 2:30 p.m. it fired another salvo, this time triggering sirens as Iron Dome intercepted the incoming projectiles. Shrapnel from a rocket fell on a parked vehicle in the coastal city. There were no reports of injuries.

Troops of the 7th Armored Brigade directed several Israeli Air Force drones to carry out strikes against Hamas operatives in the Khan Younis area, the military said. According to the IDF, the series of strikes lasted some two hours, and “numerous” Hamas operatives were killed.

The Israeli Navy has also been carrying out strikes in Gaza over the past day, using guided munitions and shells. The IDF said the Navy hit sites belonging to the Hamas naval forces in central and southern Gaza.

The IDF said troops of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 749th Reserve Battalion destroyed buildings containing Hamas infrastructure at Gaza City’s Al-Azhar University.

According to the IDF, on the university campus, troops found a tunnel entrance that leads to a school around a kilometer away. The forces found explosive devices, parts of rockets, launchers and other equipment in the area.

“The findings show that the Hamas terror organization used the university building for the purpose of fighting against our forces,” the IDF said.

The IDF also announced the deaths of two reserves soldiers killed Thursday while fighting in Gaza, raising the military death toll of the ground offensive against Hamas since late October to 91. They were Sgt. Maj. (res.) Kobi Dvash, 41, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 271st Battalion, from Tiberias; and Master Sgt. (res.) Eyal Meir Berkowitz, 28, of the 551st Brigade’s 699th Battalion, from Jerusalem. Dvash was killed in southern Gaza, while Berkowitz was killed in the Strip’s north. In addition, an officer from the Oketz canine special forces unit was seriously wounded during fighting in northern Gaza.

The Ynet news site reported that one of the soldiers killed in recent days died after an Israeli helicopter gunship mistakenly fired on a building while IDF troops were inside. According to the report, ground troops had requested air support after a group of Hamas operatives were identified nearby, but an Apache combat helicopter dispatched to fire on the gunmen struck the wrong building, due to “the deployment of incorrect fire from the ground” by the soldiers. The IDF said the incident was under investigation.

Master Sgt. (res.) Eyal Meir Berkowitz, 28 (L) and Sgt. Maj. (res.) Kobi Dvash, 41, killed while fighting in Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Courtesy)

Ynet said there have been similar such cases, but none of them with fatalities, though dozens have been killed or injured in other types of so-called friendly fire in the Gaza Strip amid the ground offensive.

Israeli forces have encircled Gaza’s major urban centers as they seek to destroy Hamas over its unprecedented attack on October 7, when terrorists broke through Gaza’s border to kill around 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and seize some 240 hostages.

Smoke rising among destroyed buildings in northern Gaza. Photo taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 8, 2023. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Early Friday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported another 40 dead in strikes near Gaza City and “dozens” more in Jabaliya and Khan Younis. It said the total death toll stood at over 17,000, mostly women and minors. The figures and their breakdown cannot be verified, but the total number is largely in line with an assessment by Israel, which said it believes more than 5,000 of those killed are Hamas operatives.

The Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer, one of the leaders of a young generation of authors in Gaza, was killed in an Israeli strike, his friends said overnight.

In a Thursday phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Joe Biden “emphasized the critical need to protect civilians and to separate the civilian population from Hamas,” the White House said in a statement.

Biden also called for “corridors that allow people to move safely from defined areas of hostilities.”

File: Palestinians gather at a tent camp in Rafah, southern Gaza, Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 (AP/Fatima Shbair)

Several clips and photos that circulated on social media Thursday showed dozens of Palestinians rounded up by troops in Gaza after apparently surrendering.

The men, suspected of involvement with Hamas and other terror groups, were seen stripped down to their underwear, blindfolded, and with their hands tied behind their backs, being held by Israeli troops in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya area.

In one clip, a group was seen being transported in the back of Israeli military vehicles.

In response to a question on the matter, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari appeared to confirm in his evening briefing that the men had surrendered to the army.

Palestinian men said to have surrendered to the IDF in the Jabaliya area of northern Gaza on December 7, 2023. (Social media: used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

“Jabaliya and Shejaiya are ‘centers of gravity’… for terrorists, and we are fighting them. They are hiding underground and come out, and we fight them,” he said. “Whoever is left in those areas, they come out from tunnel shafts, and some from buildings, and we investigate who is linked to Hamas, and who isn’t. We arrest them all and interrogate them.”

The vast majority of the civilian population departed the north of the Strip weeks ago, as Israel warned residents to head south as it focused its ground offensive on the north.

In the past week, it has expanded its operations to Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where Hamas’s leadership is suspected to be hiding.

This picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 8, 2023, shows an Israeli army helicopter firing on a target in northern Gaza. (Jack Guez / AFP)

The fighting has pushed Gazans south, turning Rafah near the Egyptian border into a vast camp for many of the 1.9 million displaced by the conflict — 80 percent of Gaza’s population.

But airstrikes have hit Rafah too, including eight overnight. AFP journalists saw around 20 corpses in white body bags, including a child, at its Nasser hospital, while men gathered nearby to pray.

Israel says it is making an effort to avoid harm to civilians while fighting a terror group embedded within the civilian population. It has long accused Gaza-based terror groups of using Palestinians in the Strip as human shields, operating from sites including schools and hospitals which are supposed to be protected.

On Thursday it published footage it said showed rockets fired at Israel on Wednesday were launched from within humanitarian zones set up in southern Gaza to allow civilians a haven.

It said two separate rocket attacks including a large barrage aimed at the Negev metropolis Beersheba were fired from the vicinity of areas that are supposed to be free of hostilities, putting civilians at risk.

The significant civilian casualties in the conflict have sparked global concern, heightened by dire shortages amid an Israeli siege that has seen only limited access to food, water, fuel and medicines.

Some residents have accused Hamas of stealing the aid that does arrive. Israel also maintains that Hamas is stockpiling supplies and keeping them from an increasingly desperate civilian population.

The Israeli government has responded angrily to United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres invoking the rarely used Article 99 of the world body’s charter, calling on the Security Council to push for a ceasefire.

The United Arab Emirates has prepared a draft resolution that will be put to a vote at the Security Council on Friday, said the delegation from Ecuador, which chairs the council this month.

The latest version of this document seen Thursday by AFP calls the humanitarian situation in Gaza “catastrophic” and “demands an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

Fewer than 70 trucks of humanitarian aid entered Gaza Thursday, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said, revealing a figure far below what the US and international aid groups have been seeking.

File: Palestinians flee the Israeli ground offensive in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023. (AP/Mohammed Dahman, File)

Two hundred aid trucks entered Gaza each day during the truce, but since it expired last Friday the daily number of trucks hasn’t ever been more than half that figure, and on Thursday it fell to 69 trucks.

In a bid to facilitate an increase in the number of aid trucks that can enter Gaza each day, Israel will open the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Gaza for the inspection of humanitarian aid trucks in the coming days for the first time since the outbreak of the war, a senior Israeli official said Thursday.

Israel currently inspects the trucks at the smaller Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt before they are sent to Rafah. While Israel will use the Kerem Shalom facilities to inspect the trucks, they will still need to enter Gaza through Rafah.

Israel on Wednesday also approved a “minimal” increase in fuel supplies to the Gaza Strip to prevent a humanitarian crisis, amid mounting pressure from Washington to ramp up aid to Gaza and to take further steps to avoid mass civilian casualties.

Israel has restricted fuel shipments into Gaza since the outbreak of the war over concerns that the crucial resource will fall into the hands of Hamas for military purposes. Humanitarian officials say the fuel shortages have crippled the health care system and hindered deliveries of basic humanitarian supplies.

Channel 12 news cited unsourced “estimates” that the war cabinet will gradually increase the daily amount from the current 60,000 liters to three times that amount, 180,000 liters, in accordance with the US demand.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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