ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Fierce battles in Gaza as troops push deeper into Khan Younis; 3 IDF officers killed

Thousands of Palestinians flee south to Rafah, as IDF accused of raiding hospital and encircling another; military says it seeks to avoid places civilians are sheltering

Palestinian families fleeing Khan Younis on the coastal road leading to Rafah, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, January 22, 2024. (AFP)
Palestinian families fleeing Khan Younis on the coastal road leading to Rafah, amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, January 22, 2024. (AFP)

A day after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed that fighting in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis would intensify, fierce battles were waged Monday as the IDF launched a new large offensive on the western party of the city, in which at least three IDF officers were killed.

Four brigades, led by the 98th Division, took part in the offensive, which began Sunday with a series of airstrikes on Hamas sites in the area. The IDF is aiming to dismantle Hamas’s military framework in the Khan Younis area with the new push.

A spokesman for the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry told Reuters Monday afternoon that at least 50 Palestinians were killed and 100 wounded in Israeli airstrikes on Khan Younis since Sunday night.

The IDF said Monday evening that some 50 Hamas operatives, including several commanders, had been killed throughout the day by ground troops of the Commando, Paratroopers, Givati and 7th brigades.

Three officers in the Paratroopers Brigade were killed and another seriously wounded in the offensive, the military announced separately. They were killed by an RPG fired at a building they were in, military sources said.

They were named as Maj. David Nati Alfasi, 27, a deputy battalion commander from Beersheba; Maj. Ilay Levy, 24, a company commander from Tel Aviv; and Cpt. Eyal Mevorach Twito, 22, a platoon commander from Beit Gamliel.

L-R: Cpt. Eyal Mevorach Twito, Maj. David Nati Alfasi, and Maj. Ilay Levy, officers in the Paratroopers Brigade, who were killed in the Gaza Strip on January 22, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Gaza health ministry spokesman, Ashraf al-Qidra, claimed in a statement to Reuters that IDF troops had stormed Al-Khair Hospital and were arresting medical staff. The IDF did not immediately respond to the claim. It has repeatedly accused Hamas of operating within hospitals and shown evidence that it used medical facilities to hide Israeli hostages.

According to media reports, Hamas’s leaders in Gaza are believed to be hiding in tunnels in Khan Younis, likely surrounded by hostages.

The Palestinian Red Crescent claimed that tanks had also surrounded another Khan Younis hospital, al-Amal, which serves as the rescue agency’s headquarters.

The Khan Younis area, unlike most parts of northern Gaza, has many civilians sheltering. The IDF said in a statement that is aware of the sites where civilians are sheltering, along with hospitals, and will seek to avoid harming them amid its operations.

The military said its soldiers had encircled the Khan Younis refugee camp (historically named, with no relation to war refugees), and were beginning to maneuver into the camp, where it said several Hamas sites are located. The offensive is likely to last several more days, and will include raids of key Hamas strongholds, outposts and infrastructure in the area.

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in an image cleared for publication on January 22, 2024. (IDF)

As fighting raged, many Palestinians once again were displaced, with thousands heading south to Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where the majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are now believed to be sheltering in public buildings and tent camps.

Lines of cars and donkey carts piled high with belongings pushed south throughout Monday as Gazans sought to flee the battles, Reuters reported.

Israeli officials have continuously vowed to continue fighting in Gaza until the Hamas terror group is toppled, though military figures have indicated that the IDF is moving to a phase of lower-intensity fighting in the Strip overall. Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza after thousands of the group’s terrorists stormed across the border on October 7, massacring around 1,200 people and taking another 253 hostage.

The Hamas-run health ministry said Monday that 25,295 Gazans had been killed so far in the war, an unverified figure that includes Hamas operatives as well as those killed in failed rocket launches. The IDF says it has killed more than 9,000 Hamas members. As of Monday, 198 Israeli soldiers had been killed in the Gaza ground offensive.

Wounded Palestinians are brought on a donkey cart to the Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, southern Gaza, on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

The IDF announced Monday that since the beginning of the war, 12,000 trucks with 1,052 tons of medical equipment have entered the Gaza Strip. In a statement, the IDF said it has facilitated the delivery of hundreds of thousands of polio, tuberculosis, rotavirus and MMR vaccines, among other aid.

The IDF said it had also coordinated with Egypt the evacuation of hundreds of wounded Palestinians from Gaza, who were taken to the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt for treatment.

On Sunday, Gallant flew over the Strip with the Israeli Air Force’s 100th Squadron, vowing that the IDF will further expand its ground offensive in Khan Younis.

“We are carrying out an intensive operation in the Khan Younis area, and it will continue to expand,” Gallant said. “The plumes of smoke from the tanks, artillery, and Air Force planes will continue to cover the skies of the Gaza Strip until we achieve our goals, chief among them the defeat of Hamas and the return of hostages to their homes.”

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Younis in south Gaza during Israeli airstrikes on January 22, 2024. (AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has demanded that Gaza be demilitarized under Israel’s full security control.

The IDF has assessed that fighting in Gaza will likely last throughout all of 2024, as Israel works to strip Hamas of its military and governing capabilities. It has also vowed to continue fighting until all remaining hostages are released from captivity.

It is believed that 132 of the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 — including at least 28 bodies — remain in Gaza after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, four were released earlier and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of 11 hostages, including three mistakenly killed by the military, have been recovered from the Strip by troops.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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