The Israel Defense Force said Thursday its troops had captured a major Hamas stronghold in west Jabaliya, just north of Gaza City, as forces pushed further into the heart of Gaza City where the terror group is believed to have its underground headquarters.
The IDF death toll since the start of the Gaza ground operation rose to 35 on Thursday, as the military said another soldier had been killed in combat.
Meanwhile, talks between Israel, the US and Qatar for a potential hostage release deal appeared to pick up steam, though Jerusalem repeatedly denied any imminent agreement and stressed again that there would be no ceasefire without the release of hostages. The White House announced, however, that Israel had agreed to broaden daily breaks in fighting in certain areas in northern Gaza to allow the safe passage of civilians, an expansion of efforts that have been ongoing this week.
Also Thursday, Palestinian Islamic Jihad released a propaganda video featuring two Israeli hostages speaking to the camera, claiming that they would release them “when the conditions allowed,” without elaborating. The clip was slammed by Israeli officials as psychological terror.
The IDF said Thursday morning that Nahal Infantry Brigade troops had battled Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in the west Jabaliya stronghold known as Outpost 17, who were both “above ground and in an underground route in the area,” for 10 hours, and that dozens of terror operatives were killed in the course of the battle.
Inside Outpost 17, the IDF uncovered “significant” Hamas battle plans, as well as weapons and tunnel shafts, one of which was located adjacent to a kindergarten and led to an “extensive underground route,” the IDF said.
On Thursday afternoon, the IDF said its 162nd Division was operating in Hamas’s “military quarter” of Gaza City, clashing frequently with terror operatives. According to the IDF, the so-called military quarter, adjacent to Shifa Hospital, is “the heart” of Hamas’s intelligence and operational activities, and sites in the area were used to plan and prepare the October 7 onslaught that killed some 1,400 people and saw the abduction of over 240 more.
More than 50 Hamas gunmen were killed during clashes in the area, the IDF said. The military said its troops uncovered intelligence materials, tunnels, weapons manufacturing plants and anti-tank missile launch positions. The quarter is home to “strategic” Hamas sites, according to the IDF, including the terror group’s intelligence and air defense headquarters, political bureau offices, and a police station.
The IDF said the largest Hamas training camp is also in the quarter, along with other military positions, weapons manufacturing plants and warehouses, command centers, offices of Hamas commanders, and underground infrastructure — all embedded “in the heart of the civilian population.”
“This is further proof of the terrorist organization’s cynical use of the residents of the Gaza Strip as a human shield for its murderous terrorist activity,” the IDF said.
On Thursday morning, the IDF announced that it had killed a senior Hamas commander responsible for the terror group’s anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) operations in central Gaza.
In a joint statement with the Shin Bet security agency, the IDF said that Ibrahim Abu-Maghsib was the head of Hamas’s ATGM array in the so-called central camps brigade, sharing video footage of the strike.
“As part of his role, he directed and carried out numerous anti-tank missile launches directed at Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers,” the statement added.
Inside Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, forces also uncovered a Hamas drone manufacturing plant and weapons depot inside a residential building located next to a school.
Footage shared by the IDF showed troops finding several Hamas drones in the building, as well as equipment used to manufacture them, and instructions to make explosive devices.
Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip have located a Hamas drone manufacturing plant and weapons depot within a residential building in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, footage released by the IDF shows. pic.twitter.com/dEzu23jsPF
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) November 9, 2023
Adjacent to the manufacturing site and weapons depot was a children’s bedroom, the IDF said, adding that several bombs were recovered from the site.
Overnight, the IDF announced the death of Master Sgt. (res.) Eliahou Benjamin Elmakayes, 29, from Jerusalem. A soldier of the Combat Engineering Corp’s 8219th Battalion, Elmakayes, an immigrant from France who had been engaged to be married, was killed during fighting in the central Gaza Strip on Wednesday, bringing the toll of slain soldiers in Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza to 34, and 352 since October 7.
On Thursday afternoon the IDF announced the death of Master Sgt. (res.) Dov Moshe Kogan, 32, a soldier of the Air Force’s elite Shaldag unit, from the northern community of Nov, taking the toll to 35.
Additionally, four paratroopers were seriously wounded in separate clashes in Gaza.
As Israel’s ground forces continue to forge a path through the northern Gaza Strip, where fighting rages, the IDF again opened an evacuation corridor for civilians to escape southward.
Arabic-language spokesman Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Israel would open Salah-al-Din Street for southward traffic between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Previous days saw the corridor open for only four hours.
He added that on Wednesday some 50,000 Gazans took advantage of the safe route to head to southern Gaza.
“Do not listen to what some Hamas leaders say from their hotels abroad or from the underground places they have arranged for themselves and their family members,” Adraee warned. “For your safety, take advantage of the [opening of Salah a-Din] to move south, beyond Wadi Gaza.”
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Thursday evening that a further 50,000 had traveled southward on Thursday, since they “see that Hamas has lost control” in northern Gaza, and the south is safer and has more humanitarian aid.
US and Israeli officials confirmed Thursday evening that the IDF will be “formalizing and expanding” the pauses that they’ve already been implementing over the past several days.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have heeded Israeli urging in recent weeks to flee south to get out of the way of the ground assault.
“We didn’t have food or drinking water… They struck the bakeries. There is no life in Gaza,” said Abeer Akila, a woman fleeing south with her family.
Majed Haroun, a teacher who remained in Gaza City, said women and children who lost families go door to door begging for food.
“No words can describe what we are experiencing,” he said.
Israeli forces advancing from the northwest along the Mediterranean coast have been clashing with fighters inside Shati, a dense neighborhood adjacent to Gaza City’s center, two residents told The Associated Press on Thursday.
The past nights saw heavy strikes of Shati.
Broken palm trees, distorted road signs and twisted lampposts marked the ruins of what was once north Gaza’s main arterial route, an AFP journalist saw while embedded with Israeli soldiers.
Israeli flags were flying over buildings at beach resorts in northern Gaza and there was little sign of any human presence amid the destruction.
Even as the IDF closes in on Hamas hot spots in northern Gaza, a rare delivery of emergency medical supplies reached Al-Shifa Hospital, the UN confirmed overnight.
Israel has presented evidence in recent weeks that Hamas’s main command center is located underneath Shifa and accused the terror group of using the hospital and its occupants — with 1,500 beds and some 4,000 staff — as human shields.
Eyewitness accounts from inside Gaza City recount seeing and hearing Israeli ground forces as they continue to close in from multiple directions. Other reports have said that fighting took place just one kilometer from the perimeter of the hospital.
“At dawn, a shell landed very close to the hospital, but thank God only a few people had minor injuries,” Shifa director-general Mohammed Abu Selmia said. “The conditions here are disastrous in every sense of the word.”
“We’re short on medicine and equipment, and the doctors and nurses are exhausted… We’re unable to do much for the patients.“
In a joint statement, the UN and the World Health Organization confirmed that the supplies had reached Gaza’s largest hospital, but said that “the quantities we delivered are far from sufficient to respond to the immense needs in the Gaza Strip.”
The international bodies described conditions at the hospital as “disastrous,” with “almost two patients for every bed” as “the number of wounded increases by the hour.”
Doctors were being forced to treat wounded and sick patients in corridors, on the floor and outdoors, “while patients are undergoing immense and unnecessary pain as medicines and anesthetics are running out,” they continued.
At the same time, tens of thousands of displaced people have sought shelter in the hospital’s parking lots and yards since October 7.
Palestinian and international aid officials have been warning since the start of the war that food, medicine and fuel were on the verge of running out.
An Israeli military official on Thursday denied there is a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, even as he acknowledged the enclave faces several challenges amid the ongoing war.
“We know the civil situation in the Gaza Strip is not an easy one,” said Colonel Moshe Tetro, head of coordination and liaison at COGAT, the Israeli Defense Ministry body handling civil affairs in Gaza. “But I can say that there is no humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip,” he told reporters.
Israel alleges that Hamas has stockpiled thousands of liters of fuel and other supplies that it is withholding from civilians.
Also Thursday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant repeated in a press statement that Israel will not stop the fighting against the Hamas terror group in Gaza until all the captives held in the Strip are returned.
He noted the dozens of kids abducted and held by “animals,” vowing: “We won’t stop the fighting until we get them back. What father stops looking for their children? I see them as my own kids.”
Gallant claimed that Hamas members hiding in tunnels under Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital are hearing the IDF’s operations in the area, feeling them draw near, “and shaking with fear.”
He noted the challenge of dealing safely with the issue of the need to enter the tunnels or destroy them while not harming hostages who may be there, saying the military is developing new methods and working on solutions, adding that this “will improve in the coming days.”
He again vowed Israel will get to all the terrorists who took part in the October 7 Hamas massacres in southern Israel, saying this could take a month, a year, or even years if needed.
Turning to the northern front, Gallant said Hezbollah has been “trying to harm us as well, suffering blow after blow.”
He warned that the Air Force pilots are ready and waiting orders, with an “eye to the north.”
Calling the war “the most justified that Israel has ever fought” in its 75 years of independence, he said it is a fight “against evil, against those who wanted to publicly display the murders [on October 7] to drive us out of our land.” He said he has spoken with fighters who told him they’ll do “everything” to achieve victory.
He hailed the importance of the IDF reserves, as well as the military industry employees and others working for Israel’s security establishment in the ongoing war.
He vowed Israel will rebuild and restore the communities near Gaza ravaged on October 7 and evacuated days later.
“Thousands of volunteers from all strata of society are helping the farmers near Gaza,” he said. “They know that agriculture, settlement and security are one and the same. Therefore,” he promised, “we will rebuild the communities, we will seed the fields and we will return to life — to the routine of life” in those areas ravaged by the Hamas massacres.”
One reporter noted that IDF soldiers were seen calling out in Hebrew to people evacuating northern Gaza via the humanitarian corridor today, apparently out of concern that hostages were being moved by their Hamas captors.
Gallant said the IDF is employing unspecified methods to ensure Hamas fighters and Israeli hostages are not among the tens of thousands of people evacuating. “We take everything into account. First, we want all the Palestinian [noncombatants] to leave Gaza City. That is important so that we have freedom of action [against Hamas]. We don’t want to harm them. Those who don’t head south are placing themselves in danger.
“We have methods… to ensure that those who leave are those who are supposed to leave, and that we get our hands on all the rest.”
Separately Thursday, President Isaac Herzog met at the renamed “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv with families of Israelis held hostage in Gaza.
“We are here… to embrace, to strengthen and to pray with the families of the hostages,” he said.
“Israel is doing everything in its power, and it is missing no opportunity to reach the moment when we will bring the hostage home,” he promised. “This is the holiest mission we have, along with defeating Hamas in the war being fought by the best of our soldiers in Gaza.
“We are dealing with a bitter, cruel enemy,” he said. “It knows no God.”
“There will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages,” Herzog vowed.
Meanwhile, the deputy spokesperson for the US State Department said Thursday that Washington has so far found no evidence for claims by UN officials that Israel has been committing war crimes in its war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.
“I’m not going to get into the specifics of those rigorous processes,” Vedant Patel said of the State Department’s procedures, in response to a reporter’s question.
“These are internal deliberative processes that are par for the course as we talk about the ways in which we go about this, but there is a rigorous process in place and we have not come to that conclusion in this specific case.”
The Hamas terror group launched a shock onslaught on October 7, killing some 1,400 people in Israel — mostly civilians — and taking at least 240 men, women and children to Gaza as hostages. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and remove it from power in the Strip but has also had to contend with rocket fire from Lebanon and deadly attacks along its border with that country.
The October 7 Hamas attack came with a barrage of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli population centers. Hamas and other terror groups have continued raining rockets on Israel, causing more deaths and damage. Over 200,000 Israelis have been displaced by the attacks.
The Hamas-run health ministry claims that more than 10,500 Gazans have been killed since the start of the war, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes terror operatives and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches at Israel.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.