Fighting will continue in Rafah until Hamas is defeated there, says IDF general

Soldier killed Sunday in Gaza’s southernmost city; first day of IDF’s ‘strategic pauses’ in Strip comes as Palestinians mark Eid al-Adha and fighting appears to abate

Chief of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, is seen in southern Gaza's Rafah on June 12, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Chief of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, is seen in southern Gaza's Rafah on June 12, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Meeting with commanders serving in Rafah on Sunday, IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman said that fighting in the southernmost city in Gaza would continue until Hamas was defeated there.

During his meeting in the city, to discuss operational achievements and developments, Finkelman referred to the deadly explosion in Rafah a day earlier in which eight troops were killed inside a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle.

“We are here after a painful incident that occurred yesterday,” Finkelman said, “we lost fighters and we lost commanders during the attack. These are our best sons.”

Despite the heavy losses, he added, “our imperative is to continue moving forward. You are attacking [Hamas’s] Rafah Brigade, and we will continue until we defeat it.”

Finkelman concluded that now, the most important thing for the IDF to do is press on with the fighting while thoroughly investigating the incident and learning for the future.

Earlier Sunday, the IDF announced the death of another soldier killed in Rafah that day. He was named as Staff Sgt. Tzur Abraham, 22, of the Nahal Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Modiin. He was slated to be buried in his hometown late Sunday evening.

Staff Sgt. Tzur Abraham who was killed in Gaza on June 16, 2024. (IDF)

In the same incident, a reservist officer serving as a field interrogator with the Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 was seriously wounded, and another two soldiers were moderately hurt, the military said.

Abraham’s death brings the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas and in operations on the Gaza border to 312. The toll includes a police officer killed in a hostage rescue mission. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor was also killed in the Strip.

Despite the ongoing battles, Gaza saw its first day of relative calm in months on Sunday, after the IDF said it would “pause” fighting daily around a southern route to facilitate aid flows.

The pause “for humanitarian purposes will take place from 8:00 am (0500 GMT) until 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) every day until further notice along the road that leads from the Kerem Shalom crossing to the Salah al-Din road and then northwards,” a military statement said.

A map released by the army showed the declared humanitarian route extending until Rafah’s European Hospital, about 10 kilometers (six miles) from Kerem Shalom. The IDF stressed in a statement that there was “no cessation of hostilities in the southern Gaza Strip.”

Troops of the Commando Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

AFP correspondents in Gaza’s north and center reported no fighting on Sunday morning, though they reported some shelling and at least one strike in Rafah and an air strike in central Gaza during the early evening.

“Since this morning, we’ve felt a sudden calm with no gunfire or bombings… It’s strange,” said 30-year-old Haitham al-Ghura from Gaza City.

The announcement came as Muslims the world over mark Eid al-Adha, or the feast of the sacrifice.

“This Eid is completely different,” said Umm Muhammad al-Katri in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp.

“We’ve lost many people. There’s a lot of destruction. We don’t have the joy we usually have,” she told AFP. Instead of a cheerful holiday spirit, “I came to the Eid prayers mourning. I’ve lost my son.”

Troops of the Givati Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military said the pause was already in effect as part of efforts to “increase the volumes of humanitarian aid” following discussions with the United Nations and other organizations.

COGAT, the Defense Ministry body which coordinates activity in the West Bank and Gaza, said in a report on Sunday that more than 1,000 aid trucks are waiting to be collected from the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing, and that only 92 were collected by UN aid agencies throughout the day.

The war in Gaza broke out on October 7 with Hamas’s unprecedented attack on Israel in which terrorists murdered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 251 hostages. In response, Israel launched a military offensive with the declared objectives of dismantling Hamas and bringing the hostages home.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. The toll, which cannot be verified and does not differentiate between terrorists and civilians, includes some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle.

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