Gallant: Hamas collapsing in tunnels, more than 100 operatives nabbed in recent days

Defense minister’s remarks come as paratroopers advance in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, killing gunmen with sniper fire, in close-quarters combat

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

Israeli troops operate inside a Hamas tunnel in the Khan Younis area, in an image released by the IDF on January 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli troops operate inside a Hamas tunnel in the Khan Younis area, in an image released by the IDF on January 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that more than 100 Hamas operatives had been captured by Israeli troops in the Gaza Strip in recent days, including some who surrendered after hiding in tunnels.

“Hamas is collapsing into its own tunnels that it painstakingly dug. Every place it thought would be a trap for IDF soldiers becomes an area where we hit it,” Gallant said to soldiers of the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit during a visit to their base in southern Israel.

Gallant said Hamas has “hundreds of casualties underground” as a result of Yahalom’s actions.

“In the past day and a half, we have over 100 captives, some of them who came up from underground, in the Khan Younis area and also in other places, because they realize that they can’t fight against the IDF,” he said.

According to the IDF, the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 has interrogated some 2,300 Palestinian suspects in the Gaza Strip, many of whom, suspected terror operatives, have been arrested and brought to Israel for further questioning.

Meanwhile, fighting intensified in the southern Gaza Strip on Thursday, amid a major offensive led by the 98th Division against Hamas in the Khan Younis area.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with IDF soldiers on January 25, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

In their biggest operation in a month, Israeli tanks pushed through Khan Younis, where many Palestinians sheltered after leaving the north — the early focus of the war. Large numbers of Palestinians have now moved further south to Rafah, per Israeli instructions.

On Thursday afternoon, the IDF said soldiers of the division’s Paratroopers Brigade further expanded their activities in Khan Younis, releasing new footage showing Hamas operatives being killed by sniper fire and in close-quarters encounters.

The Paratroopers Brigade is operating in the Khan Younis neighborhood of al-Amal, where they have encountered numerous Hamas gunmen, raided the terror group’s sites, and seized and destroyed weapons, the IDF said.

The IDF said the soldiers located a large cache of firearms, grenades, explosive devices to be dropped from drones, and mortars during a raid on a Hamas site in the area.

In another raid, three Hamas gunmen opened fire at the troops. The IDF said the paratroopers returned fire, killing two of the operatives, while the third fled into a building.

Footage released by the IDF showed a drone sent by the brigade into the building to scan for the third gunman. The clip showed the gunman opening fire at the drone, before it cut to showing him dead after troops opened fire on him.

The IDF also released footage showing snipers of the Paratroopers Brigade killing Hamas operatives in the Khan Younis area. It said the snipers have killed dozens of Hamas gunmen so far.

At least 25,700 Gazans have been reported as killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, but the figure is unverified and is believed to include close to 10,000 Hamas operatives Israel said it has killed during fighting in the Strip, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.

Israel launched its offensive on Hamas following the terror group’s murderous rampage through communities and a music festival in southern Israel on October 7, in which it killed close to 1,200 people and took another 253 hostages, 132 of whom are believed to be still held captive in Gaza, though not all of them alive.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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