IDF says 140 gunmen killed in the op to date

IDF: ‘Very significant’ Hamas commanders among 650 nabbed at Gaza’s Shifa hospital

Top PIJ operatives also captured in ongoing raid at Strip’s largest medical complex; military releases drone footage of Hamas gunman waiting to ambush troops in Khan Younis

This photo collage released by the IDF on March 21, 2024 shows what it says is some of 358 confirmed terror operatives captured by troops at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. The IDF later admitted that due to 'human error' some of those in the picture had not yet been nabbed. (Israel Defense Forces)
This photo collage released by the IDF on March 21, 2024 shows what it says is some of 358 confirmed terror operatives captured by troops at Gaza City's Shifa Hospital. The IDF later admitted that due to 'human error' some of those in the picture had not yet been nabbed. (Israel Defense Forces)

Troops have captured some 650 terror suspects, including several “very significant” senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders, during an ongoing operation at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security agency said Thursday, as talks continued in Qatar to secure an extended truce and hostage deal.

According to the IDF, at least 358 of the detainees were confirmed to be members of terror groups.

The IDF said that Islamic Jihad operatives holed up at the medical center surrendered to troops, including Hussam Salameh, the commander of PIJ’s observation and intelligence unit in Gaza City, and his brother, Wissam Salameh, head of the terror group’s propaganda unit in Gaza City.

In an evening press conference, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari detailed additional senior PIJ operatives who were captured by troops at Shifa, including the commander of the terror group’s Shejaiya Battalion, the deputy commander of PIJ’s Northern Gaza Brigade, and a PIJ commander charged with the terror group’s tunnels in northern Gaza.

Also captured at Shifa were three senior officers in Hamas’s so-called West Bank headquarters, which is tasked with advancing attacks against Israel from the West Bank, the army said.

The Shin Bet named them as Amr Asida, the head of the Nablus unit; Mahmoud Qawasmeh, one of the planners of the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens; and Hamdallah Hassan Ali, who was also involved in directing recent attacks in the West Bank.

Hagari said there were additional “very significant” senior Hamas commanders who were captured by troops at Shifa, but that their identities could not immediately be disclosed due to their ongoing interrogations.

IDF troops operate at Shifa Hospital in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image published by the military on March 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

He added that there was still a group of terror operatives holed up at Shifa’s emergency room, and the IDF was working to evacuate civilians from the area first before battling them.

The IDF also released a collage image of what it said were some of the detained terror operatives, although it later admitted that due to “human error” some of those in the picture had not yet been nabbed, but were believed to be holed up at Shifa.

The Shifa operation, now in its fourth day, began as Israel sent a delegation to Doha for negotiations of a truce and the release of 134 hostages held in Gaza — not all of them alive — since Hamas’s brutal October 7 onslaught.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Thursday after assessing the Shifa operation that it was “very important for pressuring Hamas, it’s very important for pressuring the negotiations.”

This infographic released by the Israel Defense Forces on March 21, 2024, shows senior Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders who were captured during an Israeli operation at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday, Qatar-based Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh charged that the operation had revealed an “endeavor to undermine ongoing negotiations in Doha.”

Hamas accused Israel of killing “dozens of displaced people, patients and medical staff” during the raid at Shifa, though on Wednesday IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said that “until now, no civilians, doctors, medical teams — none have been hurt.”

The detained terror suspects were taken to Israel for further interrogation by the Shin Bet.

According to the IDF, troops have so far killed more than 140 gunmen in the raid, which began early Monday and is being carried out by the 401st Armored Brigade, the Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit, and other forces.

During scans of the hospital, the only partially working medical facility in the north of the Strip, the IDF said soldiers seized weapons and intelligence documents “that contribute to the continued fighting.”

The fighting at Shifa was ongoing and expected to last several more days until all terror operatives in the area were captured or killed, according to military officials.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari speaks outside Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital on March 20, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday hailed the ongoing raid, which he said “surprised the terrorists.”

“Nobody expected us to do what we did. There was an assault on a location that half a year ago took us a month to reach; now we did it in a flash,” Gallant said to soldiers of the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit, adding that terror operatives still holed up at the hospital “are considering their future: surrender or death.”

In southern Gaza, meanwhile, the IDF on Thursday released footage captured by a drone showing a Hamas gunman waiting to ambush troops inside a building in the Hamad Town residential complex in Khan Younis, in an operation that was wrapped up earlier this week.

The gunman, after being spotted, was killed by troops of the elite Egoz commando unit, the IDF said.

Over five months of war have created critical food shortages among Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians that in some areas now exceed famine levels, according to the United Nations.

The head of the World Health Organization said on Thursday that only an expansion of land crossings into Gaza could help prevent famine in the densely populated enclave.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said children in Gaza are dying from the effects of malnutrition and disease, and from a lack of adequate water and sanitation.

“Once again, we ask Israel to open more crossings and accelerate the entry and delivery of water, food, medical supplies and other humanitarian aid into and within Gaza,” he said.

UN aid agencies have said “overwhelming obstacles” to moving aid to the north of Gaza will only be overcome with a ceasefire and the opening of border crossings closed by Israel after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Humanitarian aid parcels attached to parachutes are airdropped from a military aircraft over the Gaza Strip on March 21, 2024. (AFP)

Israel says it puts no limit on humanitarian aid for Gaza and blames slow aid delivery on a lack of capacity or inefficiency among UN agencies.

An Israel official told The Times of Israel that some 200 aid trucks were expected to enter Gaza on Thursday, in addition to 77 aid packages airdropped by Jordan.

On Wednesday night, 15 trucks filled with aid successfully made their way from the southern Gaza Strip to the north, where it has been more difficult to get food.

Tedros said the WHO was particularly concerned about the military operations inside and around the Shifa Hospital complex.

“A planned mission to Al Shifa today had to be canceled due to lack of security… Once again, we call for healthcare to be protected and not militarized.”

International law states that the use of a healthcare facility by an armed party for belligerent acts in a conflict makes that site a legitimate military target.

People fleeing the Shifa hospital compound and its vicinity in Gaza City reach the central part of the Gaza Strip on March 21, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza, aiming to destroy the terror group and return the hostages. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that at least 31,988 people have been killed in fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Over half of the hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November, and four hostages were released prior to that. Three hostages have been rescued by troops alive, and the bodies of 11 hostages have also been recovered, including three mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 33 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 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.

Agencies and Lazar Berman contributed to this report. 

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