As battles rage in Khan Younis, first rocket alert from Gaza in 4 days sounds in Israel

No reports of injuries or damage after siren sounds in border town; IDF says dozens of Hamas terrorists killed in past day, with most intense fighting concentrated in Khan Younis

Smoke rises after apparent Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis as seen from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, January 24, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
Smoke rises after apparent Israeli airstrikes in Khan Younis as seen from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, January 24, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces troops continued to battle Hamas terrorists in all parts of Gaza on Thursday, as air raid alarms marked the first time in almost four days that projectiles were apparently launched from the Strip toward Israel.

Sirens were activated in the evacuated border community of Netiv Ha’asara, with no reports of injuries or damage. The previous alerts near Gaza had sounded on Sunday afternoon.

Israeli troops have come under Hamas rocket and mortar fire during operations inside the Gaza Strip, which have at times also set off alarms in border communities.

The number of rocket attacks on Israeli cities has gone down significantly in recent weeks, as troops push deeper into the Strip.

The IDF said Thursday afternoon that troops of its elite Commando Brigade were establishing operational control in “the heart of” Khan Younis, amid a major offensive led by the 98th Division against Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip city.

In a statement, the IDF said the brigade was “continuing the offensive in the Khan Younis area, and is deepening the operational control of the Hamas terrorists’ stronghold.”

The IDF said that as troops advanced in the area, the commandos encountered many Hamas cells, which were “eliminated with sniper fire, guided missiles, and tank shelling.”

In what the IDF described as a special operation carried out by snipers from the brigade’s Egoz unit over the course of a number of hours, several Hamas operatives were killed after being tricked into coming out of tunnels in the Khan Younis area, according to the army.

In other incidents, Egoz troops spotted three Hamas gunmen and targeted them with an Iron Sting guided mortar, and killed four more operatives in close-quarters combat as the commandos raided a building, the IDF said.

The Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, meanwhile, raided a command center belonging to the head of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s intelligence unit and a Hamas command center in Khan Younis, the IDF said.

This image released by the IDF on January 25, 2024, shows troops of the Commando Brigade operating in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the command centers, the IDF said the troops seized weapons and military equipment, as well as maps and other “valuable” intelligence information.

Maglan commandos also killed “many terrorists during intensive battles” in the Khan Younis area, the IDF added.

Earlier Thursday, the IDF said that snipers from the 98th Division’s Paratroopers Brigade had taken out “many terrorists” in the al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Younis.

According to the army, dozens of Hamas operatives were killed in the previous 24 hours across the Strip, including 10 Hamas gunmen, some of whom were armed with RPGs, killed in two separate airstrikes in Khan Younis.

Palestinians stand amid the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 25, 2024, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

The military published footage that it said shows an attack helicopter striking a building and killing gunmen who had opened fire on reservists of the Yiftah Brigade in central Gaza.

In northern Gaza, where troops were conducting mop-up operations to locate Hamas’s remaining infrastructure, the IDF said reservists of the 5th Brigade had encountered and killed several gunmen, also locating weapons.

On Wednesday, the IDF said it was investigating a deadly strike on a United Nations shelter in southern Gaza that reportedly killed  nine people and injured 75, but noted it may have been caused by an errant Hamas rocket.

In their biggest operation in a month, Israeli tanks pushed through Khan Younis, where many Palestinians sheltered after leaving the north — the early focus of the war. Large numbers of Palestinians have now moved further south to Rafah, per Israeli instructions.

The IDF’s main target appears to be the area around Khan Younis’s long-standing refugee camp, which includes the Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals and also the UNRWA training center that was hit on Wednesday.

Protesters near the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)

Meanwhile, a small group of Israeli protesters, including relatives of hostages held in Gaza, attempted to reach the Kerem Shalom crossing in order to picket trucks going in, demanding that aid be cut off until the captives are freed.

A day earlier, protesters successfully blocked the crossing for hours, preventing the entry of 51 aid trucks.

Part of Thursday’s group was initially stopped by a roadblock but then made it through, walking several kilometers toward the crossing for the second day in a row. Other protesters were reportedly at the crossing already.

Among the approximately three dozen protesting was Danny Elgarat, a former Ashdod police commander whose brother Itzik Elgarat and brother-in-law Alex Danzig were kidnapped from Nir Oz.

“Nobody can stop us… from blocking the trucks in Gaza,” Elgarat said. “The prime minister didn’t do it, so we will do it instead of him.”

Protesters walking toward the Kerem Shalom crossing with Gaza on January 25, 2024. (Eli Katzoff/Times of Israel)

Israel has razed nearly 40 percent of the 2,824 buildings in Gaza located within a kilometer of the border, according to a Hebrew University study cited by The Wall Street Journal.

The demolition moves appeared to be part of a plan to build a kilometer-wide (0.6-mile) buffer zone inside the Strip.

Near Khan Younis, where the border zone is most densely populated, some 67 percent of buildings have been destroyed, according to the study by Prof. Adi Ben Nun, who analyzed satellite data to arrive at the figures.

Current and former officials told the Journal that some structures within the planned zone, which will vary in width depending on various factors, may be left in place.

Israeli soldiers overlook the Gaza Strip from a tank, as seen from southern Israel, January 19, 2024. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

At least 25,700 Gazans have been killed in the war, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday, an unverified figure which is believed to include close to 10,000 Hamas operatives Israel said it has killed during fighting in the Strip, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Two hundred and nineteen IDF soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive.

Israel launched its offensive on Hamas following the terror group’s murderous rampage through communities and a music festival in southern Israel on October 7, in which it killed close to 1,200 people and took another 253 hostages, 132 of whom are believed to still be held captive in Gaza.

Eli Katzoff contributed to this report.

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