IDF announces soldier killed in battle with Hamas in Gaza City’s Zeitoun

Death of Staff Sgt. Ariel Tsym, 20, brings toll of troops killed in ground operation to 272; military orders more Rafah residents to evacuate as it presses ahead with offensive

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

Staff Sgt. Ariel Tsym of the Nahal Brigade's 931st Battalion, who the IDF says was killed battling Hamas in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood on May 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Staff Sgt. Ariel Tsym of the Nahal Brigade's 931st Battalion, who the IDF says was killed battling Hamas in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood on May 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces announced Saturday the death of a soldier killed during fighting in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood the previous day, raising to five the number of troops who were slain Friday during battles in the area.

He was named as Staff Sgt. Ariel Tsym, 20, of the Nahal Brigade’s 931st Battalion, from Modiin.

Tsym was killed during a gun battle with Hamas operatives in Zeitoun, according to an initial IDF probe. The incident happened not long after four troops were killed by an explosive device in the same area in the northern Gaza Strip.

His death brought the toll of slain troops in the IDF’s ground offensive in Gaza and operations on the border with the Palestinian enclave to 272.

The IDF has returned several times to the Zeitoun neighborhood since the war’s outbreak, as Hamas has managed to regroup in areas previously cleared by the army.

Troops of the 99th Division launched the pinpoint raid in Zeitoun in recent days. The IDF said dozens of gunmen have been killed and many weapons have been captured during the ongoing raid in the neighborhood. In one incident, troops located a cache of weapons at a health clinic, underlining Israel’s repeated accusation that terror group Hamas uses civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for its fighters.

One of the gunmen killed was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist who participated in the October 7 onslaught led by Hamas that opened the ongoing war. He was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Zeitoun, the military said Saturday, publishing footage of the strike. It did not name him.

The military also said it was moving into other areas of northern Gaza where it asserted that Hamas had re-established itself. Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, the IDF’s Arabic-language spokesman, told Palestinians in Jabaliya and Beit Lahiya and surrounding areas to leave their homes and head to shelters in the west of Gaza City, warning that people were in “a dangerous combat zone” and that Israel would strike with “great force.”

Palestinian media outlets later reported a series of strikes in Jabaliya.

Operations in the northern Gaza Strip came as the IDF pressed ahead with a controversial offensive in the southern city of Rafah.

Israel ordered new evacuations in Rafah, instructing tens of thousands more people to move as it prepares to expand its military operation closer to the heavily populated central area, in defiance of growing pressure from close ally the United States and others.

In Rafah, troops killed several more Hamas gunmen in the eastern part of the city, and located several tunnels, the IDF said.

Also over the past day, the military said airstrikes were carried out against dozens of sites belonging to terror groups, including rocket launchers, observation posts, and other infrastructure.

Israel ordered civilians out of the eastern outskirts of Rafah earlier this week. In the initial evacuation zone and other areas of Rafah, around 300,000 Palestinians have evacuated to a designated “humanitarian zone,” according to IDF assessments.

Thick, black smoke rises from a fire in a building caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 10, 2024. (AFP)

Around a million more Palestinians, who fled other parts of Gaza during the war, remain in the city itself, and they have not been called to evacuate yet. The operation remains limited in scope amid negotiations via mediators to secure the release of hostages who were abducted from Israel during the Hamas October 7 assault.

Israel has now evacuated the eastern third of Rafah. The United Nations and others have warned that Israel’s planned full-scale Rafah invasion would cripple humanitarian operations and cause a disastrous surge in civilian casualties.

Israel says it has made plans to evacuate civilians from areas of combat, and that it must tackle Hamas’s remaining battalions in Rafah to fully defeat the group in the enclave.

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 attacks, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, amid acts of brutality and sexual assault.

The ensuing war has killed over 34,800 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, though data issued by the Hamas-run authorities cannot be independently verified, and is believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

Israel has said it has killed some 15,000 terror operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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