IDF intelligence chief says war still 'has months to go'

Bodies of 3 hostages recovered by IDF, as three more soldiers killed in Gaza

Remains of soldiers Nik Beizer and Ron Sherman and civilian Elia Toledano returned to Israel; Oz Shmuel Aradi, Shay Uriel Pizem and Tomer Shlomo Myara die in battle

  • Left to right: Elia Toledano, Cpl. Nik Beizer, Sgt. Ron Sherman, taken hostage by Hamas on October 7. Their bodies were recovered by the IDF and returned to Israel on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)
    Left to right: Elia Toledano, Cpl. Nik Beizer, Sgt. Ron Sherman, taken hostage by Hamas on October 7. Their bodies were recovered by the IDF and returned to Israel on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)
  • IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on December 15, 2023: L-R: Sgt. Oz Shmuel Aradi, Sgt. First Class (res.) Shay Uriel Pizem, Master Sgt. (res.) Tomer Shlomo Myara. (Courtesy)
    IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on December 15, 2023: L-R: Sgt. Oz Shmuel Aradi, Sgt. First Class (res.) Shay Uriel Pizem, Master Sgt. (res.) Tomer Shlomo Myara. (Courtesy)

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Friday that troops operating in Gaza had recovered the bodies of two soldiers and one civilian hostage who were taken captive by Hamas terrorists on October 7. The military also announced the deaths of three more soldiers as heavy fighting continued in the Strip.

The returned soldiers were named as Cpl. Nik Beizer, 19, and Sgt. Ron Sherman, 19. The civilian was identified as Elia Toledano, a 28-year-old French-Israeli citizen.

Both Beizer and Sherman were working at the IDF’s Gaza District Coordination and Liaison near the Erez border crossing, which coordinates permits and the passage of goods through the crossing into Gaza.

Beizer began his army service on April 30, and on October 7 was taken captive by Hamas terrorists when they launched an assault on the base near the Erez Crossing.

“That’s the irony,” Beizer’s mother Katy Beizer had said previously. “Everyone at this base is taking care of the Palestinians, working so that Gazans can live their lives.”

Beizer wasn’t supposed to be at the base that weekend but had swapped shifts with a friend who wanted the weekend off.

Sherman last spoke to his mother on the morning of October 7, when the base near Erez was attacked by Hamas terrorists.

“They got cut off,” Shalhev Kimchi, his aunt, said previously in a video made by Bring Them Home, the organization helping tell the stories of those who went missing in the Hamas terror onslaught.

When Sherman’s phone call with his mother was cut off, he switched to WhatsApp text messages.

“He told her he loves her,” said his aunt. “That’s it, Mom, they’re here, it’s over, I love you.”

However, some four or five hours later, said Kimchi, they found Hamas videos of Sherman, “whole and healthy,” she said, but bound in the back of a pickup truck.

Toledano, the civilian hostage whose body was recovered, had been taken by terrorists from the Supernova music festival near Kibbutz Re’im on October 7, where more than 360 people were killed.

His body was retrieved from Gaza during operational activity carried out by the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 and the 551st Brigade.

The area of ​​the Supernova festival where hundreds of Israelis were killed and kidnapped by Hamas terrorists in the October 7 terror onslaught, October 12, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

After his body was brought back to Israel, it was identified by medical and rabbinical authorities and his family was notified. No details as to his cause of death were immediately provided.

In a statement posted on X, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said her country is “deeply saddened to hear the Israeli armed forces announce the death of our compatriot Elia Toledano, a Hamas hostage whose body was found in Gaza.”

“We share the grief of his family and loved ones. The release of all hostages is our priority,” she added.

The IDF, meanwhile, announced the deaths of three more soldiers fighting in Gaza on Thursday and Friday, pushing the toll of fallen troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 119.

IDF soldiers killed in the Gaza Strip on December 15, 2023: L-R: Sgt. Oz Shmuel Aradi, Sgt. First Class (res.) Shay Uriel Pizem, Master Sgt. (res.) Tomer Shlomo Myara. (Courtesy)

Sgt. Oz Shmuel Aradi, a 19-year-old soldier with the Combat Engineering Corps’ 603rd Battalion, from Kibbutz Hatzor near Ashdod, was killed in action in southern Gaza yesterday.

Sgt. First Class (res.) Shay Uriel Pizem, 23, a tank commander in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 9th Battalion, from Ein HaNatziv, was killed in battle on Friday morning.

Master Sgt. (res.) Tomer Shlomo Myara, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 710th Battalion, from Netanya was killed Friday in northern Gaza.

In addition, four reservist soldiers were seriously injured in fighting yesterday across the Palestinian enclave according to the military.

It is believed that 132 hostages 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 been recovered, and the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 20 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

‘The campaign has months to go’

On Friday, troops of the 188th Armored Brigade, operating in Gaza captured and destroyed the command center for Hamas’s Shejaiya battalion, in the north of the Strip, the IDF said in a statement.

The soldiers killed gunmen and destroyed a tunnel shaft at the scene, as a gunman inside attempted to throw an explosive device at the forces. The operation was backed up by tank fire, artillery fire and air force strikes, according to the army.

The military also said forces of the 7th Armored Brigade operating in Khan Younis in the south tackled terror infrastructure, including numerous tunnel shafts, and killed “many” gunmen there. They also located a tunnel within which were motorcycles used by terrorists during the October 7 attack on Israel.

Also in Khan Younis, troops of the Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit were fighting Hamas deep within the city, including at one of the homes of the terror group’s Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar.

“In one of the battles, the troops operated above the ruins of one of his houses where he had lived in recent years, which was attacked from the air at the beginning of the war,” the IDF said, releasing a video from the fighting.

It said the commando forces killed several Hamas operatives during the operations in Khan Younis. In one of the incidents, the IDF says the soldiers identified a Hamas cell coming out of a tunnel and aiming RPGs at them. The gunmen were killed before they managed to open fire, according to the IDF.

The IDF said the Maglan soldiers located a long-range rocket launcher, and several “significant” tunnel shafts.

The troops also raided the home of the head of Hamas’s rocket array in its northern Khan Younis battalion, and seized weapons and intelligence materials, it added.

In a visit with troops in Gaza, IDF intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva said that Israel “must continue to pressure the enemy, continue to kill the enemy, continue to destroy the enemy. The campaign has multiple theaters and has months to go.”

Head of the IDF Intelligence Directorate Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva holds an operational assessment in the Gaza Strip, December 15, 2023 (IDF)

While in the field, Haliva held an operational assessment along with several top officers in the field, including division and brigade commanders.

“The maneuvering [military] machine, with its many parts — the air force, which is doing incredible work, the navy, the intelligence — is a fearsome military mechanism,” he told the senior officials.

Also Friday, the IDF announced that it had completed a series of airstrikes against sites used by Hamas’s internal security on the Gaza-Egypt border.

In a statement, it said the strikes, carried out by fighter jets, attack helicopters, and drones, targeted military compounds, guard posts, observation posts, weapons depots, and command centers belonging to Hamas’s internal security forces.

“The sites that were hit in the Rafah area, where Hamas terrorists operated, aided the smuggling efforts led by the Hamas terror organization and included weapons that endanger IDF soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip and the citizens of Israel,” the IDF said.

It said the strikes “deal a blow” to Hamas’s ability to smuggle more weapons into the Strip.

It added that Hamas’s internal security apparatus “robs humanitarian resources entering the Gaza Strip, aids in the smuggling of additional weapons, and its operatives are complicit in Hamas’s activities against IDF forces in the Gaza Strip.”

Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza was triggered by the Hamas terror onslaught on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists poured into Israel from the land, air and sea, launching the deadliest attack in Israel’s history.

The terrorists rampaged across more than 20 communities in southern Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages.

In response, Israel launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation through which it has vowed to eliminate Hamas, ending the terror group’s 16-year rule in the Gaza Strip, and return all the hostages.

People look for survivors in the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 14, 2023, amid continuing war with Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza has claimed that more than 18,700 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war. However, the number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include some 7,000 Hamas and Hamas-affiliated terror operatives as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

The health ministry early Friday said that dozens of people had been killed or injured in Israeli strikes on Khan Younis in southern Gaza, while witnesses said several people had been killed in airstrikes on Nuseirat in central Gaza.

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