As Khan Younis battles intensify, Gallant says IDF will maintain control of Gaza

Troops destroy rocket launchers used to fire barrage at Tel Aviv on Monday; health officials report increasingly heavy fighting around the enclave’s largest functioning hospital

Displaced Palestinians flee from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Displaced Palestinians flee from Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Israel will maintain military control of the Gaza Strip once the war against Hamas is over, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told members of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

“After the war, when it’s over, I think it’s completely clear that Hamas won’t control Gaza,” Gallant told the committee during the briefing in Tel Aviv.

“When we’re talking about military freedom of operation, look what happened tonight in Jenin,” Gallant added, referring to a daring counterterror operation inside a hospital in the West Bank city, where forces killed three operatives who were allegedly planning a major attack inspired by Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

“This is a military freedom of operation at the highest level, and yet we don’t control the area in a civilian sense,” he added. “This is achievable [in Gaza as well], and it will take time.

He contended that a condition for achieving Israel’s war goals — eliminating Hamas’s military and leadership abilities, and returning all the hostages — is “unity on the national level.”

Turning his attention to the military’s current goal of exposing and destroying Hamas’s existing military infrastructure, he said that the work “is finite” and is moving forward despite significant challenges.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, left, and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee Chairman Yuli Edelstein attend a briefing at Gallant’s office in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The southern Gaza Strip, and the city of Khan Younis in particular, has become the focal point for the IDF in recent weeks as it closes in on Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar and other senior officials of the ruling terror group.

Earlier on Tuesday, the IDF said it struck the rocket launchers used by Hamas on Monday to attack Tel Aviv for the first time in close to two months.

The barrage of at least 11 projectiles was fired from southern Gaza, where the majority of the fighting is centered, and set off alarms across central Israel including in Tel Aviv and the surrounding cities of Rishon Lezion, Holon and Bat Yam.

The IDF said that it also uncovered several mortars that had been stored in the same location as the rocket launchers.

Trails of rockets fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Monday, January 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Elsewhere in southern Gaza, the IDF said it hit a site used by a Hamas anti-tank missile unit, and troops of the Paratroopers Brigade had killed several gunmen and seized weapons while the 7th Armored Brigade directed several airstrikes on Hamas operatives.

The reserve armored Kiryati Brigade was withdrawn from Gaza on Tuesday after several weeks of operating inside Khan Younis, the IDF said, adding that as part of its operational activities, the brigade had killed Hamas operatives, raided its infrastructure and made use of drones to collect intelligence.

More than 2,000 Hamas operatives have been killed above and below ground in Khan Younis since troops began operating there last month, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a briefing on Monday evening, describing the city as the “Hamas capital in the south.”

Inside the war-torn city, the Palestinian Red Crescent said on Tuesday that Israeli tanks were firing near the Al-Amal Hospital — one of the two hospitals inside the city — and at a Red Crescent office. According to the health organization, one person was killed and nine others were wounded in the incident.

Israeli soldiers operate at the entrance to a tunnel in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that fighting was intensifying around Khan Younis’s Nasser Hospital, which has become Gaza’s largest hospital still in service after Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza was evacuated and heavily damaged during fighting earlier in the war.

Al-Shifa was said to have resumed partial services earlier this month, but on Tuesday, eyewitnesses near the hospital reported fighting near the medical complex.

At a briefing in Geneva, WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier described Nasser Hospital as a “crucial symbol” and said that due to lack of supplies and space, some surgeries were being carried out on the floor.

“The situation around Nasser has only gotten worse — the shooting, fighting around, the difficulty of access for people to reach Nasser or the difficulty for leaving,” Lindmeier told a Geneva briefing.

The hospital is sheltering thousands of displaced people, as well as medics and patients receiving medical treatment, and the WHO has been attempting to provide food, fuel and aid deliveries for those trapped inside the besieged hospital.

One such food delivery was hijacked by hungry crowds on Tuesday, the WHO said, and never reached the hospital.

People at a temporary tent camp set up for Palestinians who were evacuated from their homes in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

A fuel delivery that had been earmarked for the hospital was said to have also failed to arrive after its entry was denied at an IDF checkpoint. One shipment of medical supplies did successfully reach the hospital, however.

“Denials and delays are part of a pattern which impede humanitarian supplies from reaching hospitals and could make them non-functional,” said Lindmeier.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry has said that since the start of the war, more than 26,700 people have been killed in Gaza. These figures cannot be verified by an independent source, however, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The war in Gaza began following the shock onslaught carried out by Hamas inside Israel on October 7, during which some 1,200 people were slaughtered and 253 others were seized and taken to Gaza as hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November.

Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Hamas health officials said on Tuesday that the IDF had handed over the bodies of dozens of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the Strip in recent weeks.

The bodies, which had been held in Israel, were transferred to the Gaza health authorities through the Kerem Shalom crossing and will be buried in mass graves in the city of Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip, the officials said.

Hamas did not specify how many bodies had been returned, and Israel did not immediately comment on the handover.

IDF troops operate in Gaza in this undated handout photo released January 30, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

In central and northern Gaza, where the pace of fighting has slowed in recent weeks, the IDF’s 401st Armored Brigade carried out raids inside the Shati camp in the past few days during which they killed “many terrorists” and seized weapons, the IDF said on Tuesday.

Reservists of the Fifth Brigade were said to have battled Hamas operatives elsewhere in northern Gaza at the same time.

Residents of Gaza City in the north of the enclave said on Tuesday that an Israeli tank opened fire near Al-Kuwaiti Square on the southern edge of the city where aid trucks unload their shipments, killing two people and wounding others.

The fighting was said to have caused more people to flee within Gaza City and to the south toward Deir Al-Balah in the center of the Strip.

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