Four troops killed in booby-trapped building as fighting rages in Rafah, central Gaza

Seven others injured, including five seriously in explosion; IDF says tunnel shaft uncovered below the southern Gaza home indicates it belonged to Hamas operative

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

IDF soldiers (clockwise from top left) Staff Sgt. Eitan Karlsbrun, Maj. Tal Pshebilski Shaulov, Sgt. Yair Levin and Sgt. Almog Shalom, killed fighting in Rafah on June 10, 2024. (IDF)
IDF soldiers (clockwise from top left) Staff Sgt. Eitan Karlsbrun, Maj. Tal Pshebilski Shaulov, Sgt. Yair Levin and Sgt. Almog Shalom, killed fighting in Rafah on June 10, 2024. (IDF)

Four soldiers were killed and another seven were wounded in the Gaza Strip when a booby-trapped building collapsed on them, Israel said Tuesday as troops continued to battle Hamas in the south and center of the Palestinian enclave.

The slain soldiers were named as Maj. Tal Pshebilski Shaulov, 24, from Gedera; Staff Sgt. Eitan Karlsbrun, 20, from Modiin; Sgt. Almog Shalom, 19, from Hamadia; and Sgt. Yair Levin, 19, from Givat Harel.

Their deaths brought the number of troops killed during Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza and amid operations along the border to 300. The toll includes a police officer killed on Saturday during an operation to rescue four hostages.

All four soldiers served in the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance unit. Shalom and Levin were still in their training period, and Shaulov was their company commander. Levin is the grandson of former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin.

According to an initial Israel Defense Forces probe, the troops had thrown an explosive device inside a suspicious home in Rafah’s Shaboura neighborhood, in an attempt to trigger any possible traps, and entered only after there was no immediate blast.

As two of the troops entered the three-story building, it exploded, causing part of it to collapse on them and another soldier, who was later saved by rescue forces.

In addition to the four troops killed, another seven soldiers were injured in the explosion, including five seriously, the IDF said.

The IDF said that it later found a tunnel shaft inside the home, indicating that the building likely belonged to a Hamas operative.

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on June 11, 2024. (IDF)

Elsewhere in Rafah, the IDF said on Tuesday that troops of the Givati Brigade had killed a cell of gunmen in a “close-range encounter,” and had, amid several raids in the city, located intelligence documents and equipment which were then brought back to Israel for investigation.

Separately, the IDF said that a Hamas sniper in the Rafah area was killed in a drone strike after being identified by troops.

On Monday morning, residents of Rafah reported that tanks had reached the edge of Shaboura, a densely populated neighborhood in the heart of the city.

The military said that the Israeli Air Force had struck some 35 targets across the Gaza Strip over the last day. The targets included buildings used by terror groups, weapon depots, rocket launching sites, sniper positions, and other infrastructure, as well as cells of terror operatives.

In the Netzarim Corridor in central Gaza, the military said a cell of terror operatives had been taken out in an additional drone strike.

The battles took place days after four hostages were rescued in a daring raid on two buildings in the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza. Residents on Monday said they were still clearing debris after heavy battles that broke out during the hostage rescue.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claimed that 274 people were killed in the operation, though the figures could not be verified and include both combatants and civilians. Israeli forces said they were aware of fewer than 100 Palestinians killed there and did not know how many were combatants.

Palestinians inspect the damage and debris a day after an operation by the Israeli special forces in the Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on June 9, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas (Eyad BABA / AFP)

The UN’s human rights office said Tuesday that both Israel and Hamas could be guilty of war crimes over the death toll during the rescue operation.

“Hundreds of Palestinians, many of them civilians, were reportedly killed and injured,” said Jeremy Laurence, spokesperson for the UN human rights office. “Furthermore, by holding hostages in such densely populated areas, the armed groups doing so are putting the lives of Palestinian civilians, as well as the hostages themselves, at added risk from the hostilities. All these actions, by both parties, may amount to war crimes.”

Meanwhile, after participating in Saturday’s hostage rescue operation in Nuseirat, the IDF’s 98th Division was withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, the military said.

In the days ahead of the mission to rescue four Israeli hostages, the division began a new offensive in east Bureij and east Deir al-Balah — east and southeast of Nuseirat, where the hostages were extricated from.

Amid the offensive, the IDF said the division’s forces killed around 100 terror operatives and struck more than 100 sites, including tunnels and rocket launchers, as well as locating weapons.

Two attack tunnels belonging to Hamas, each around a kilometer long, were demolished by combat engineers amid the operation, the military said.

During the hostage rescue, troops of the division aided in extracting special forces, along with the rescued hostages, from Nuseirat.

Speaking to troops after being pulled out of Gaza, the commander of the 98th Division, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus, said, “there are still 120 more hostages in Gaza, and we will not stop until we bring them home.”

Commander of the IDF’s 98th Division, Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfus speaks to troops after withdrawing from the central Gaza Strip, in a handout image published June 11, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We are also obligated to destroy the enemy above and below ground. This is what we have done for eight months, and that’s how we will continue,” he added.

The war in Gaza erupted after the October 7 massacre in southern Israel, during which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 251 hostages, most of them civilians.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip says that more than 37,000 people have been killed in the Palestinian enclave since October 7, although this number cannot be verified and does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, of whom Israel says it has killed some 15,000 in battle.

The IDF has also said that some 1,000 terrorists were killed inside Israel on October 7.

IDF troops seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on June 11, 2024. (IDF)

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and destroy its military and governing capabilities to ensure it no longer poses a threat to Israel, but is also involved in indirect talks with the terror group aimed at an extended truce and the release of the 116 hostages believed to still be held by the group, dozens of whom are thought dead.

The fighting occurred as United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in the region to push for a proposed deal between Israel and Hamas to halt the war and free hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

Blinken emphasized in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the importance of a post-war plan for Gaza as well as the need to prevent the conflict from spreading, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

During a meeting with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant Monday, Blinken “discussed the proposal to achieve a ceasefire in Gaza as part of a hostage deal, secure the release of all hostages, and surge humanitarian assistance throughout Gaza,” the State Department said.

Blinken commended Israel’s willingness to move ahead with a new deal and stressed to Gallant that the onus is on Hamas to accept it, his office said in a readout of the meeting.

The proposal, which was revealed by US President Joe Biden and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council Monday, would include the release of all hostages, an extended truce in Gaza, and a surge of humanitarian aid to the war-battered enclave.

Blinken said Tuesday that he viewed Hamas’s welcoming of a UN Security Council motion backing the deal as a “positive sign,” though the group has thus far signaled reticence toward the proposal.

The deal would be the second such agreement since the outbreak of war, after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November.

Four hostages were released prior to that, and seven have been rescued alive. Troops have also recovered the bodies of 19 hostages, including three mistakenly killed by the military.

The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 41 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person has been listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas has also been holding two Israeli civilians who entered the Strip in 2014 and 2015, as well as the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in 2014.

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.

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