Dozens of tanks roll into southern Gaza as rockets target central Israel, Beersheba

IDF forces head toward Khan Younis with Strip’s main north-south road declared ‘battle zone’; troops still operating in Gaza’s north, where Gallant vows military will ‘break’ Hamas

IDF tanks roll near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 3, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
IDF tanks roll near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 3, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and the Hamas terror group. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Dozens of Israeli tanks entered the southern part of the Gaza Strip on Monday and were seen operating near Khan Younis, as the military pushed ahead with expanding its ground offensive into the area, where it believes Hamas leadership is hiding. Armored personnel carriers and bulldozers were also seen by witnesses.

Meanwhile, Palestinian terrorists fired rockets at central Israel, as well as southern towns and the city of Beersheba.

Some of the Israel Defense Forces tanks were seen on the southern part of Salah al-Din road, the Strip’s main north-south highway, which the army’s Arabic-language Spokesman declared to be a “battle zone.”

“The fighting and military advance of the IDF in the Khan Younis area does not allow the movement of civilians through the Salah al-Din axis in the areas north and east of the city,” Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee said on X, announcing a new humanitarian corridor in southern Gaza.

He said the IDF would facilitate the movement of civilians via a bypass route to the west of Khan Younis.

“Passage from the Rafah and Khan Younis areas toward Deir al-Balah and the camps of central Gaza will be available through the following routes: al-Rashid coastal road and al-Shuhada Street in Deir al-Balah,” he said.

Israel has vowed to topple Hamas after the October 7 massacres, in which Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border from Gaza and slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages.

On Monday morning, the IDF said the Air Force had carried out strikes against some 200 Hamas targets in Gaza overnight, including cars ferrying missiles and mortars for Hamas operatives, an anti-tank missile launch position, Hamas operatives and weapons depots.

The ground operation was continuing in northern Gaza as well. The military said its Negev Brigade had destroyed Hamas infrastructure inside a school in Beit Hanoun that was used by operatives to attack troops. Inside the school complex, forces found two tunnel entrances, including one that was booby-trapped, and other weapons.

The Navy also carried out strikes overnight, targeting Hamas observation posts and other infrastructure along Gaza’s coast, according to the military.

Later Monday, footage leaked online showed IDF forces demolishing Hamas’s main courthouse in the Strip in a controlled blast. The lavish building in the central Gaza Strip, known as the Justice Palace, was captured by troops last month.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant observed the northern Gaza Strip’s city of Jabaliya and Shejaiya neighborhood from the Israeli border, saying IDF troops would remain there until Hamas’s infrastructure is completely destroyed, while threatening the terror group in southern Gaza as well.

“Golani troops have returned to Shejaiya to bring things full circle,” he said, referring to tough battles led by the brigade in the Gaza City neighborhood in 2014. “This time they will not leave it until all the terror infrastructure located there is eliminated.

“The army is operating at its best, the chief of staff is managing things fearlessly and with great success. This action that is happening now, in the north of the Gaza Strip, will soon lead to the breaking of [Hamas in] the entire area of ​​Gaza City and northern Gaza,” he said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant observes the northern Gaza Strip from the border, December 4, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“At the same time, the IDF has begun to work in southern Gaza. The fate of the terrorists in the Hamas battalions there will be the same as those in the north, and worse,” Gallant warned. “We will continue until victory and until all goals are achieved — the elimination of Hamas and the return of the hostages to Israel.”

The IDF said Monday that for the first time since 2005, the IDF’s Kfir Infantry Brigade was operating in Gaza, in its first-ever wartime ground maneuver. It said in a statement that the brigade’s forces discovered some 30 Hamas tunnel shafts and directed around 100 artillery strikes against the terror group’s sites.

On Monday morning, the IDF announced the deaths of three troops in the fighting a day before, bringing the military’s death toll since Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza began in late October to 75.

Separately, the family of Yonatan Samarno, 21, who had previously been thought to be held hostage in Gaza, was informed that he had been killed and that his body was being held by Hamas. The IDF has been employing intelligence and other gathered data to determine the fate of some of the Israelis who remain missing following October 7.

One of those was Col. Asaf Hamami, 41, the commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, who was declared Saturday to have been killed on the day of the attacks. Monday saw thousands of people, including senior military officers and Gallant, attend Hamami’s funeral in Tel Aviv.

Family and friends of Col. Asaf Hamami mourn during his funeral in Kiryat Shaul Cemetery in Tel Aviv, December 4, 2023, (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Sunday night, the IDF released footage of a Gaza airstrike it said killed the commander of Hamas’s Shati battalion, Haitham Hawajri, who had been responsible for sending some of the Hamas terrorists into Israel during the October 7 massacre, and led the fighting against troops in Gaza City’s Shati camp during the war.

According to the IDF, Hawajri and his battalion were responsible for securing Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, where the military says the terror group had a base.

“As part of his role, Hawajri was responsible for significant terror activity against the citizens of the State of Israel,” the IDF added in a statement.

Hamas claims the Israeli military campaign has killed more than 15,500 people, mostly civilians. The numbers have not been independently verified and are believed to include combatants as well as Palestinian civilians killed by errant rockets launched by terror groups.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis were again sent fleeing to bomb shelters on several occasions on Monday, as Gazan terror groups kept up rocket launches at population centers.

Warning sirens sounded at 2 p.m. in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv and in nearby Kiryat Ono, Yehud-Monosson, Savyon and Or Yehuda. Projectiles targeted Ashkelon an hour earlier, and at 5 p.m., alarms sounded in Beersheba and nearby communities for the first time since November 11.

This picture taken from the southern Gaza Strip shows a salvo of rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists toward Israeli cities on December 4, 2023, amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Short-range rockets continued to pummel largely evacuated Israeli communities near the Gaza border throughout the day.

No injuries or damage were reported in any of the attacks, with the Iron Dome air defense system intercepting some of them and others likely falling in unpopulated areas.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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