Gallant: We are seeing effects of Rafah op on Hamas

IDF announces death of officer seriously wounded fighting in northern Gaza

Ground offensive toll rises to 283; military says it killed senior Hamas operative involved in smuggling arms, sourcing funds for terror group

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

IDF Maj. Gal Shabbat, 24, succumbed to wounds sustained fighting in Gaza on May 19, 2024. (Courtesy)
IDF Maj. Gal Shabbat, 24, succumbed to wounds sustained fighting in Gaza on May 19, 2024. (Courtesy)

An IDF officer seriously wounded during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip on May 15 succumbed to his wounds, the military announced Sunday, as battles raged in Jabaliya and Rafah.

The fallen soldier was named as Maj. Gal Shabbat, 24, a company commander in the Paratroopers Brigade’s 202nd Battalion, from the northern community of Katzir.

His death brought the number of troops killed in the ground offensive against Hamas and in operations along the border to 283.

The announcement of Shabbat’s death came as the army pushed ahead with its operations in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday that a senior Hamas operative in the terror group’s supply unit was killed in an airstrike in the Strip.

According to the IDF, Azmi Abu Daqqa was involved in smuggling weapons and funds for Hamas in Gaza.

The airstrike was carried out following intelligence provided by the Military Intelligence Directorate, the IDF said.

Dozens more Hamas targets were hit across Gaza over the past day, including two “tactical-level” commanders, who were preparing to attack Israeli forces in the Rafah area, the military added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, speaking to soldiers of the Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 8200, said Israel was beginning to “see the effects of the operation in Rafah” on Hamas.

“We must continue to attack where the enemy does not defend, and defend where it plans to attack,” he added in remarks provided by his office.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with soldiers of Unit 8200, at one of the unit’s bases, May 19, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The United Nations said on Saturday evening that some 800,000 people have evacuated Rafah since May 6, when the IDF initially ordered some 100,000 civilians to leave the area ahead of a “limited scope operation.”

Israel has said that Rafah, where four of Hamas’s remaining six battalions are deployed, remains a major stronghold for the terror group. It also believes that many of the remaining 124 hostages taken during the Hamas-led October 7 terror onslaught are being held in Rafah.

Dozens of tunnels used to smuggle weapons and other supplies from Egypt to Gaza’s terror groups had been discovered, the Kan public broadcaster reported Saturday night.

In testimony at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Friday, Israel’s legal representatives warned that these 50 tunnels in Rafah “could potentially be used to smuggle out of Gaza hostages.”

In December, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would need to take control of the so-called Philadelphi Corridor, which runs for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) all along the Gaza-Egypt border, to ensure that Gaza is and remains demilitarized and to prevent weapons from being smuggled through tunnels into the coastal enclave.

Volunteers prepare food for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Egypt has denied that weapons are smuggled to Gaza via tunnels, insisting that the measures it has taken in recent years — including the construction of a concrete border wall stretching six meters underground and topped with barbed wire — had put an end to the longstanding smuggling issue.

According to Egyptian officials, more than 1,500 smuggling tunnels have been destroyed over the past decade.

Once home to some 280,000 people, the population of Gaza’s southernmost city is estimated to have swelled to more than 1.5 million throughout the ongoing war, as civilians from across the Gaza Strip fled south to escape the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

The Rafah Crossing with Egypt, which has been a major conduit of humanitarian aid into the enclave, has remained shuttered since the IDF seized control of the Gazan side on May 7, as Egypt has insisted that it will not allow deliveries to resume until the crossing is back under Palestinian control.

According to Hebrew media reports, Israeli officials were set to try and persuade the US to greenlight an expanded operation in Rafah in meetings with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday, who arrived fresh from a visit to Saudi Arabia.

Washington said last week it had received assurances from Israel that it would not widen its operation before Sullivan arrived.

Meanwhile, in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, troops discovered several caches of weapons, including assault rifles, mortars, and drones, the military said Sunday.

The IDF said soldiers also discovered rocket launchers and a weapons manufacturing site in the area.

Also in Jabaliya, the military said, troops of the 636th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted a cell armed with RPGs and directed an airstrike against them.

IDF troops operate in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in a handout image published on May 19, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The fighting in “the heart of Jabaliya” is being led by the 7th Armored Brigade, with the IDF saying the tank forces are engaged in “intense” battles with Hamas in the area.

Residents have reported a heavy wave of artillery and airstrikes. Abdel-Kareem Radwan, 48, said the whole eastern side has become a battle zone where the Israeli fighter jets “strike anything that moves.”

Mahmoud Bassal, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Civil Defense, said rescuers had recovered at least 150 bodies, more than half of them women and children since Israel launched the operation in Jabaliya last week.

In central Gaza’s Nuseirat, an Israeli airstrike killed 27 people in central Gaza, including 10 women and seven children, according to records at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in nearby Deir el-Balah, which received the bodies.

A separate strike on a Nuseirat street killed five people, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service. In Deir el-Balah, a strike killed Zahed al-Houli, a senior officer in the Hamas-run police, and another man, according to the hospital.

The Civil Defense said strikes hit several homes near Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, killing at least 10 people. Rescuers’ footage showed them trying to pull the body of a woman from the rubble as explosions echoed in the background.

Palestinians look at the destruction after an Israeli strike on a building in Nuseirat Refugee Camp, Gaza Strip, May 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

War erupted when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals.

The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and eighty-three Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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