IDF finds, razes Hamas tunnel located 1.5 KM from border

Fierce battles rage in Khan Younis as IDF says it’s ‘increasing pressure’ on Hamas

Egypt accuses Israel of holding up entry of aid, while UN mission to assess feasibility of letting civilians return to northern Gaza delayed due to Israeli security concerns

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published January 24, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published January 24, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops carried on fierce battles around Khan Younis on Wednesday, days into the IDF’s offensive in the largest city in southern Gaza, killing scores of Hamas gunmen as displaced Palestinians in the area continued to head further south.

In a statement Wednesday morning, the IDF said its 98th Division is continuing the large-scale offensive against Hamas in the area of Khan Younis, which it said is “increasing the pressure” on Hamas, while eliminating “many terror cells” with sniper fire, tank shelling and airstrikes.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday that 210 people had been killed in the Strip in the past 24 hours, as the IDF said it continues to battle and kill armed Hamas gunmen and “terror cells.” Palestinian officials accused Israel of encircling two hospitals in the city, preventing patients from entering the facilities.

The IDF did not immediately respond to the claim, but it has repeatedly accused Hamas of utilizing hospitals as command centers as well as holding hostages in them.

The military said troops from its Commando Brigade carried out raids on Hamas sites in the Khan Younis camp, where they encountered many operatives, including squads preparing to fire anti-tank missiles.

Also amid the operations in Khan Younis, the IDF said the Givati Brigade directed airstrikes on two cells of Hamas gunmen; the 7th Armored Brigade raided a number of Hamas sites, where troops killed several operatives and seized weapons used by the terror group; and the Paratroopers Brigade killed “a large number of terrorists” in a series of attacks.

A day earlier, the military announced the deaths of 24 IDF soldiers in the Strip, three of whom were killed in Khan Younis and 21 in a building collapse in central Gaza following an explosion.

In central Gaza, the IDF said later Wednesday that ith demolished a Hamas tunnel that was located just one and a half kilometers from the Israeli border.

The tunnel, found by reservists of the 646th Brigade and combat engineers of the elite Yahalom unit, connects north and southern Gaza, according to the IDF.

The IDF said the tunnel was one kilometer long, 20 meters deep, and was built around 1.5 kilometers from the border. It was later destroyed by combat engineers.

During the operation, the 646th Brigade also located rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and other military equipment used by Hamas.

As displaced Gaza continued to crowd into the southernmost city of Rafah, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said Wednesday that the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip is open 24/7, but Israeli procedures were obstructing the entry of aid, adding: “This is part of how they exert pressure on the issue of releasing the hostages.”

COGAT, the Defense Ministry’s liaison office with the Palestinians, said there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter the Strip, but it must be checked for security reasons: “Our inspection process is efficient, with us scaling up our capacities to maximize inspection capabilities,” COGAT said.

At least 25,700 Gazans have been killed so far in the war, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Wednesday, an unverified figure which is believed to include close to 10,000 Hamas operatives Israel said it has killed during fighting in the Strip. Two hundred and nineteen IDF soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive.

People ferry water at a makeshift tent camp for displaced Palestinians in Rafah near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, on January 24, 2024. (AFP)

Israel launched its offensive on Hamas following the terror group’s murderous rampage through communities and a music festival in southern Israel, in which it killed close to 1,200 people and took another 253 hostage, 132 of whom are believed to still be held captive in Gaza.

On Wednesday afternoon, the IDF released footage of the Givati Brigade’s operations in Khan Younis over the past day, during which it said troops killed numerous Hamas operatives and raided the terror group’s sites. The military said Givati soldiers killed several Hamas gunmen during clashes in the area, as well as with tank shelling and airstrikes.

Givati troops also raided several Hamas outposts in the Khan Younis area, locating caches of weapons used by the terror group’s operatives, the IDF said. The Air Force carried out a wide wave of airstrikes on Hamas targets in the area before the Givati soldiers moved in, the IDF said, as “the precise strikes prepare the conditions in the field for the ground forces.”

Residents of the area reported fierce gunbattles in the west of the city, while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said it was fighting Israeli forces in the west, south and east of Khan Younis.

Meanwhile, in central Gaza, the IDF said that reservists of its Yiftah Brigade spotted a Hamas gunman observing the troops from a building. The soldiers shelled the building, killing the operative. In northern Gaza, the IDF said the 215th Artillery Regiment directed several airstrikes, killing “many terrorists.”

Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military on January 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

While fighting in northern Gaza has been less intensive in recent weeks, a UN mission tasked with assessing conditions in northern Gaza has yet to begin amid Israeli concerns that the area is not yet safe, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel on Tuesday.

The US is looking for Palestinians to be allowed to return to northern Gaza after the IDF ordered its one million residents to evacuate at the beginning of the war. The safety concern voiced by Israel also appears to be an implicit acknowledgement that it does not have complete control of northern Gaza, even after ending what it called high-intensity fighting in the area earlier this month.

A US official said that the Biden administration trusts the Israeli assessment, but is also cognizant that Jerusalem may try and drag its feet in allowing the UN team to complete its mission. The official acknowledged that Israel is in no rush to allow Palestinians to return to northern Gaza, given that it has not yet determined who will be in charge of running civil affairs in that area, where Hamas is said to have largely lost its hold.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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