Troops demolish Hamas's general security HQ in Jabaliya

As fighting rages in Rafah and Jabaliya, IDF announces deaths of 2 soldiers

Fallen soldiers named as Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach and Staff Sgt. Sahar Sudaei; IDF jets strike rocket launchers used to fire volley at central Israel from Rafah

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

Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach, 20, left, and Staff Sgt. Sahar Sudaei, 20. (Israel Defense Forces)
Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach, 20, left, and Staff Sgt. Sahar Sudaei, 20. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday announced the deaths of two soldiers during fighting in Gaza, as it continued major military operations in the northern Strip’s Jabaliya as well as in Rafah in the south.

Staff Sgt. Betzalel Zvi Kovach, 20, of the Kfir Brigade’s Netzah Yehuda Battalion, from Jerusalem, succumbed to his wounds on Sunday after he was seriously wounded during fighting in northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun on May 22. Another three soldiers were killed that day in the town in northern Gaza, two in a Hamas sniper attack and one by an explosive device in a building.

Staff Sgt. Sahar Sudaei, 20 of the Givati Brigade’s Rotem Battalion, from Tel Aviv, was killed in northern Gaza on Sunday, the military announced later in the day. In a separate incident on Sunday, a reservist of the LOTAR Eilat unit was seriously wounded in the southern Gaza Strip, the IDF added.

The deaths of the two soldiers bring the death toll of the ground offensive against Hamas and operations along the border to 288. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

During operations in Rafah, the IDF said it destroyed a rocket launcher used by Hamas to fire a barrage of eight long-range projectiles at central Israel earlier Sunday.

A fighter jet hit the site, which the IDF said was located near two mosques. IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari in a press conference said the site was some 800 meters from where Israeli troops were operating.

“As the IDF forces approached [the area of the launch], Hamas fired the rockets from within the [civilian] population. We see this pattern in many places where we operate. Hamas fears [losing] these munitions and rockets, and it fires them when it sees IDF troops approaching,” Hagari said.

“This is further proof that the Hamas terror organization places its assets near civilian facilities and infrastructure while using the Gaza population as a human shield,” the military added.

The IDF published footage of the strike.

The military also said that troops from the Givati Brigade located an underground weapons depot last week in Rafah.

The site was found during a raid on a building suspected of being used by Hamas as a meeting point. The IDF said the troops killed several gunmen near the building and then located the weapon depot inside.

In recent days, some 30 gunmen were killed by Givati troops in Rafah, the IDF added.

Weapons found in an underground weapons depot in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in an image released May 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF operation in Rafah, which the military asserts is Hamas’s last major stronghold, has fueled further international criticism of Israel over the war in Gaza, with the International Court of Justice issuing a significant but somewhat ambiguous ruling instructing Israel to stop military activities that could result in the destruction of the civilian population sheltering there.

Israeli officials said they consider the ICJ order to allow room for some operations in Rafah, rejecting interpretations that the court ruling required Israel to halt the offensive altogether.

Israeli tanks have probed around the edges of Rafah, near the crossing point from Gaza into Egypt, and have entered some of its eastern districts, residents say, but have not yet entered the city in force since the start of operations in the city earlier this month.

Rafah resident Moaz Abu Taha, 29, told AFP of “constant bombardment from land and air, which has destroyed many houses.”

Gaza’s civil defense agency said it had retrieved six bodies after a house was targeted in eastern Rafah.

‘High intensity’ fighting ongoing in Jabaliya

Among recent IDF operations in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, troops demolished Hamas’s general security headquarters, raided the home of Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s northern Gaza brigade commander, and battled dozens of gunmen, the military said.

The IDF said soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade led an assault in the Jabaliya market area in recent days, killing some 100 gunmen in dozens of close-quarters encounters in the area’s narrow alleys, and by directing airstrikes and tank shelling.

It described the fighting in Jabaliya as “high intensity.”

Soldiers of the Paratroopers Brigade operate in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in an image cleared for publication on May 26, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Several booby-trapped buildings were also neutralized by troops in the area, the IDF said. In a video released by the military, an explosive device is seen planted in a store in the market area.

In the latest raid on Hamas’s general security headquarters, the army said the paratroopers discovered documents and Hamas infrastructure at the headquarters. The headquarters had already been raided by the IDF in December, although it was not completely demolished at the time.

During the raid on the PIJ commander’s home, forces located a cache of weapons and “many intelligence documents.” Several more caches of weapons were located in the Jabaliya market area, the military added.

The military released footage from the fighting in Jabaliya, some of the captured weapons, the bomb found in the market, and the demolition of the Hamas headquarters.

The IDF pushed into Jabaliya earlier this month for the third time during the war, in an operation focused on killing Hamas cells that regrouped in the city’s historic refugee camp, an area that the military had not reached previously.

The fighting has been described by the IDF and some officers as “intense” and the “most violent” of the war, with many engagements, both above ground and with Hamas operatives using tunnels. The IDF has also recovered the bodies of seven slain hostages from tunnels in Jabaliya.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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