ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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PM speaks with Biden as US calls for humanitarian pause

Ground forces push further into Gaza City, ‘deepening pressure’ on Hamas, IDF says

Fighting reported near Shifa Hospital; IDF: Strikes on field commanders ‘significantly harm’ group’s ability to counterattack; IDF chief: Israel can ‘reach anywhere in Mideast’

IDF ground forces operate in the northern Gaza Strip, in this photo released for publication on November 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF ground forces operate in the northern Gaza Strip, in this photo released for publication on November 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces on Monday pushed further into the Gaza Strip and were reportedly nearing the enclave’s main Shifa Hospital — which Jerusalem says is located above Hamas’s command center — as they continued to target Hamas’s underground tunnel network and military capabilities, after launching intensive strikes against the terror group the night before.

In a daily briefing, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said ground forces were “deepening the pressure on Gaza City,” where Hamas’s main stronghold is believed to be, after they managed to isolate and surround the northern Strip.

He said the IDF killed several Hamas field commanders during overnight airstrikes and operations, which “significantly harms Hamas’s ability to carry out counterattacks.”

On Hamas’s tunnel network, Hagari said combat engineering forces were demolishing each and every tunnel they come across using “different and diverse devices.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also touted the IDF’s operations in Gaza over the past day, calling them “very impressive.” Gallant said he approved additional military plans for the ground operation.

“The combination between the air force and ground forces shakes the Gaza Strip,” Gallant said in a video statement.

Commenting on the Hamas field commanders that Israel has killed in airstrikes, Gallant said “some of them were the ones we eliminated a day or two ago and they were replaced by others, and they were also eliminated.”

Gallant said Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “hides in his bunker and lets the field commanders die.”

“Our commanders go at the front of the force, lead and achieve,” Gallant added.

Smoke billows following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 6, 2023, during the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Said Khatib/AFP)

According to the military, Israeli forces operating in northern Gaza located several rocket launchers and more than 50 rockets, located in a compound used by a youth movement and in a mosque.

The IDF published a video of the commander of the Nahal Brigade’s 50th Battalion, Lt. Col. Tomer Sayag, showing dozens of rocket launchers his forces found inside a building used by the Palestinian Scout Association.

Sayag said the empty rocket launchers were aimed at Ashkelon or central Israeli cities. The rocket launchers were later destroyed, the IDF said.

Outside, some 50 rockets bearing the logo of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group were found in an underground storage site.

Separately, the IDF released a video of the 460th Armored Brigade locating a number of empty underground rocket launchers adjacent to a mosque in northern Gaza. The video showed the launchers’ electrical wiring running inside the mosque, from which they are activated.

The military also said the head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, entered the Gaza Strip Monday with ground forces to carry out an assessment.

The IDF said the assessment, with the head of the Combat Engineering Corps, Brig. Gen. Ido Mizrahi, and other officers, dealt with the issue of Hamas tunnels.

In Gaza, the general manager of hospitals in the Strip claimed that the roof of a building at Shifa Hospital, the enclave’s largest, was damaged by an Israeli strike, resulting in deaths and injuries.

Speaking on Al Jazeera, Mohamed Zaqout claimed the strike killed displaced people who were sheltering on the top floor. Solar panels on the roof were destroyed in the attack, he said. Israel later denied that claim.

On Monday night, heavy fighting was reported in the area of the hospital, including IDF use of flares.

On Sunday, the IDF released new intel showing Hamas using hospitals to carry out its operations. The military has previously accused Hamas of having its main base of operations under Shifa, as well as hoarding fuel for terror purposes.

A senior Hamas official denied such charges to reporters in Beirut on Monday. Osama Hamdan claimed that a hole shown in a photo presented by the IDF spokesman is used for storing fuel.

People gather around an ambulance damaged in an Israeli airstrike in front of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 3, 2023. The IDF said it struck an ambulance that was being used by a Hamas cell, and killed several Hamas operatives. (MOMEN AL-HALABI / AFP)

As the fighting raged in Gaza, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi visited the Israeli Air Force’s fleet of F-35I fighter jets, saying that Israel “knows how to reach anywhere in the Middle East,” an apparent warning to Iran and its proxies.

“We are already a month into the war, hitting Hamas very, very hard, hitting the leadership of Hamas, hitting the commanders, hitting the terrorists, destroying Hamas’s infrastructure in Gaza, and we are also constantly ready for other areas,” Halevi told soldiers at the Nevatim airbase. “This [air] base knows how to reach anywhere in the Middle East.”

Halevi told the soldiers that he recently saw an F-35I jet providing air support to troops some 200 meters (some 656 feet) away in the Gaza Strip.

“We never did anything like this. With very heavy munitions, a very good connection between what the [ground] force needs and what the plane knows to give,” he said. “This connection of air and land together, we always knew it was strong, we see now that it is much stronger than we knew.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to soldiers at the Nevatim airbase, November 6, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Also Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again spoke by phone with US President Joe Biden, with a spokesperson for the latter saying the two discussed the potential for humanitarian pauses in war.

The US believes such pauses would help enable civilians to reach safer locations in Gaza, ensure humanitarian aid is reaching civilians in need, and enable potential hostage releases, said White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

“We consider ourselves at the beginning of this conversation, not at the end of it, so you can expect that we’re going to continue to advocate for temporary localized pauses,” the NSC spokesperson added, while clarifying that the US still does not support a more permanent ceasefire because such a move would benefit Hamas.

Pressed on whether US diplomacy is still effective, given that both Israel and US allies in the region have refused to back humanitarian pauses, Kirby rejected the premise and noted that Jerusalem initially rejected allowing any aid into Gaza before coming around on the issue and okaying the entry of assistance from Egypt after significant US pressure.

Kirby said Biden also raised the need to “hold extremist settlers accountable” for their violence in the West Bank… “while reducing threats from terrorist groups that are operating there.”

The two leaders will speak again in the coming day.

According to Channel 12 news, Israel is bracing for pressure from the US on the issue of humanitarian pauses to become an outright demand in the next week to 10 days. The TV network quoted Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer as saying in internal discussions that if Israel does not heed the pressure, the political price will be steep.

US President Joe Biden (left) with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Haim Zach / GPO)

Earlier Monday, the IDF opened a humanitarian corridor for four hours for Palestinians to evacuate from northern Gaza and reiterated its longstanding insistence that civilians move south, where the military’s operations are more limited.

The humanitarian corridor was also opened on Sunday for several hours, despite coming under attack by Hamas on Saturday.

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of attempting to prevent Palestinians from evacuating northern Gaza, including firing on them and bombing evacuation routes, due to its desire to keep civilians around its centers of activity as human shields, or as fodder to help build international pressure for a ceasefire, which has grown as the civilian toll has mounted.

Israel declared war on Hamas after some 3,000 terrorists breached the Gaza border on October 7, slaughtering around 1,400 people — mainly civilians — in communities in southern Israel. They also took at least 240 hostages to the Strip, including at least 30 babies and children.

Gaza health authorities, controlled by Hamas, said Monday that more than 10,000 people, including many women and children, have been killed in the fighting. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and in Gaza, and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip.

Israel says its offensive in Gaza is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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