ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Sniper rifle, ammo found hidden in a teddy bear in a school

IDF attacked from UN school in Gaza; 5 soldiers, hostage Sahar Baruch killed

Hamas again fires rockets at Israel from within the humanitarian zone, some target Tel Aviv, others fall short in Gaza; IDF toll in ground op at 97

Troops of the Nahal Infantry Brigade's 931st Battalion battle Hamas operatives in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in a handout image published December 9, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the Nahal Infantry Brigade's 931st Battalion battle Hamas operatives in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in a handout image published December 9, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces fought a string of battles with Hamas terrorists in northern Gaza on Saturday as they pressed ahead with the ground offensive, with troops being attacked in at least two instances from within schools, the military said.

Saturday evening saw the Israel Defense Forces announce the deaths of five soldiers, one of whom succumbed to wounds suffered on October 7 and four of whom were killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip over the weekend.

One of the soldiers killed in combat was the nephew of former IDF chief of staff and current war cabinet observer minister Gadi Eisenkot, who also lost his son in the fighting several days ago. The toll of slain soldiers during the ground offensive against Hamas has risen to 97.

Another 12 soldiers from several units were seriously wounded in fighting over the weekend.

On Friday, the IDF announced that two soldiers were seriously wounded in a failed attempt to rescue further hostages.

Following the breakdown of the truce, the IDF resumed its ground offensive in Gaza aimed at destroying Hamas and securing the return of all the hostages. Troops have continued to tighten their hold on northern Gaza cities, but also pushed into Khan Younis in southern Gaza with recent days seeing some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

Amid the continued fighting, Kibbutz Be’eri announced that its resident Sahar Baruch, who was kidnapped and taken hostage in Gaza on October 7, had been murdered while in captivity.

The statement did not detail how and when the 25-year-old died, but it came a day after Hamas released a propaganda video purporting to show his body.

“We demand the return of his body as part of any hostage deal. We won’t stop until everyone is home,” said a statement from the kibbutz, one of the worst-hit of the many communities targeted in the October 7 assault on southern Israel, when terrorists stormed across the border, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians in their homes and at a music festival, and taking some 240 hostages.

It is believed that 138 hostages remain in Gaza, although in recent days the IDF has confirmed the deaths of 18 of the hostages held by Hamas, due to new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

A further 105 civilian hostages were released from Hamas captivity in Gaza during a weeklong truce: 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals and one Filipino. In exchange, Israel released 240 Palestinian security prisoners, all women and minors. Earlier, four hostages were released, one hostage was rescued, and two bodies were recovered.

This handout photo from the Israel Defense Forces on December 9, 2023, shows Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF also said that Hamas has continued to fire rockets from a “humanitarian zone” established in southern Gaza’s al-Mawasi area. It said that yesterday at 6 p.m. “Hamas terrorists launched numerous rockets into Israel from the designated humanitarian zone.”

That rocket fire targeted Tel Aviv.

Another four rockets were fired from the al-Mawasi area at 1:56 p.m. and 2:16 p.m., but “landed in the Gaza Strip and endangered many citizens in Gaza,” the IDF said. “This is further proof that Hamas exploits the IDF’s humanitarian zone for terrorist activity.”

The IDF published an illustrative graphic showing the locations of the rocket launches from al-Mawasi, as well as an image showing a rocket launcher.

An image distributed by the IDF explaining Hamas rocket launches from humanitarian zones in south Gaza, released December 9, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

The humanitarian zone in al-Mawasi is an area designated by the IDF as safe for civilians within the Gaza Strip.

The army also said it carried out a series of airstrikes across the Strip against Hamas targets.

Residents reported airstrikes and shelling in Gaza’s north and south Saturday, including the city of Rafah, which lies near the Egyptian border.

The overall Palestinian death toll in Gaza has surpassed 17,400, the majority of them women and children, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-controlled territory, whose counts do not differentiate between civilians and combatants, nor between those killed by IDF action and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired at Israel that have fallen short inside Gaza. Israel has said that it believes it has killed at least 7,000 terrorists so far.

Firefights battle flames in a building hit by an Israeli strike in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on December 9, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Israel holds Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, accusing the terrorists of using civilians as human shields, and says it’s made considerable efforts with its evacuation orders to get civilians out of harm’s way.

Southern Gaza assault

In the south, the IDF said its 98th Division continued to battle Hamas in Khan Younis, with the Air Force carrying out strikes on the terror group’s sites. According to the IDF, troops of the Golani Infantry Brigade’s 12th Battalion raided a mosque in the Khan Younis area where Hamas operatives were. It said a bomb was detonated near the forces, and the troops directed an attack helicopter to strike Hamas operatives on the roof of the mosque, a number of others who came out of a tunnel, and more gunmen who were spotted in the area.

Later, an IAF fighter jet destroyed the mosque along with the tunnel infrastructure under it, the IDF said.

Meanwhile, the elite Maglan unit identified three Hamas operatives coming out of a tunnel shaft in central Khan Younis and firing RPGs at the troops, the IDF said. Troops returned fire, killing the gunmen.

The Maglan troops also dirvected drone strikes on additional Hamas operatives and tunnel shafts in the area, according to the IDF.

The IDF said the elite Duvdevan unit located a Hamas command room being used by operatives to ambush the troops. The soldiers carried out an assault on the building, along with an IAF fighter jet carrying out strikes on another Hamas cell in the area.

Troops of the Givati Infantry Brigade killed a number of Hamas operatives and located numerous tunnel shafts in southern Gaza. The army said the forces destroyed Hamas infrastructure and directed airstrikes on hideouts used by operatives.

The military announced the deaths of five soldiers, four of whom were killed in the fighting in the south: Master Sgt. (res.) Liav Atiya, 25, of the 55th Brigade’s 6623rd Battalion, from Beersheba; Master Sgt. (res.) Omri Ben Shachar, 25, of the 55th Brigade’s 6623rd Battalion, from Givatayim; Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dean Jr Haim, 25, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 603rd Battalion, from Ramat Gan; and Sgt. Maor Cohen Eisenkot, 19, of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, from Eilat.

(L-R) Omri Ben Shachar, Liav Atiya and Maor Cohen Eisenkot, whom the Israel Defense Forces announced on December 9, 2023, were killed as part of the war against Hamas. (Israel Defense Forces)

The fifth soldier was Staff Sgt. Haim Meir Edan, 20, of the Golani Brigade’s 12th Battalion, from Rehovot. Edan was wounded on October 7 and succumbed to his wound Saturday.

The army also published video of what it said showed Hamas terrorists apparently taking supplies from Gazan civilians in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood. The IDF’s Arabic-language spokesperson said the Hamas operatives took the supplies and loaded them onto their vehicle, beat the civilians, and then drove to a location known to be linked to the terror group.

Northern Gaza operation

Footage released by the IDF Saturday afternoon showed troops of Nahal Infantry Brigade’s 931st Battalion battling Hamas operatives in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya. The army said forces received intelligence of Hamas members and weaponry in nearby buildings and led an assault on them.

“The terrorists prepared an ambush in the area and were prepared to attack our forces when they would have moved through the main road. The forces arrived through one of the alleys, behind the enemy, surprised them and fired at the terrorists,” the IDF said.

The 931st Battalion encountered and killed other Hamas operatives during battles in Jabaliya over the past day, the IDF said. Several more gunmen were killed in airstrikes and tank shelling.

Another video released by the IDF showed troops of the Combat Engineering Corps’ elite Yahalom unit battling Hamas operatives at a home in Jabaliya.

The IDF said Yahalom forces received intelligence of Hamas operatives in the area who were planning to attack the troops. It said the forces set out to attack the Hamas sites, and identified suspicious movement in one of the buildings.

The video showed the troops opening fire and hurling grenades into the building. The forces then entered the home and killed two Hamas gunmen.

Overnight the military said there had again been fierce clashes in the north, with the fighting showing how deeply entrenched the terrorists are inside the civilian fabric of Gaza.

At least two of the clashes took place inside a mosque and schools, including one run by the United Nations.

The IDF said Saturday that troops of the Kfir Infantry Brigade encountered a Hamas cell in a school in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood. The troops killed the gunmen and later found weapons and military equipment inside the classrooms.

Troops of the Armored Corps operating with the Paratroopers Brigade found and destroyed a tunnel shaft in Shejaiya, which the IDF says was part of a “wide” tunnel network. Another tunnel shaft in the area had an elevator, according to the IDF.

An Israeli fighter jet releases flares as it flies over the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Dec. 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

The IDF said troops of the Golani Brigade identified a number of Hamas operatives with anti-tank missiles approaching them in Shejaiya.

The soldiers called in an airstrike, and a combat helicopter killed the operatives, the IDF said.

This handout photo from the Israel Defense Forces on December 9, 2023, shows Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

In Beit Hanoun, the IDF said the 5th Reserve Infantry Brigade came under fire by Hamas operatives shooting from a mosque and a UNRWA school.

The army also released footage showing soldiers finding a sniper rifle and ammunition hidden inside a large teddy bear during searches of a school in the Gaza Strip.

In another nearby school, the IDF said the troops found weapons hidden inside bags bearing the UNRWA logo.

Troops this week also captured the Gaza Strip’s “Palestine Square,” where Hamas had paraded some Israeli hostages during their release amid a ceasefire late last month.

The Israeli flag flies in Gaza City’s Palestine Square, in footage broadcast by Channel 12 on December 9, 2023 (Screenshot used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The IDF has taken several media outlets to the area in recent days, with new footage coming out this evening showing an Israeli flag waving at the center of the square. Another clip published online Friday showed troops lighting Hanukkah candles at the square with a giant menorah.

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