IDF: Troops attacked by Hamas gunmen coming out of tunnels

IDF carries out ‘targeted’ incursion into south Gaza as troops push deeper into Strip

Troops map buildings, clear area of explosive devices ahead of future stages of war; IAF says it strikes ambulance used by Hamas cell; Haniyeh home targeted; rocket fire at south

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

IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a picture released November 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a picture released November 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Saturday it carried out a limited raid in the southern Gaza Strip overnight, as troops continued to push forward with their offensive against the Hamas terror group in the northern part of the enclave.

While the military has focused its activities in northern Gaza, it has also carried out limited raids in the southern Strip to prepare the area for future stages of the war.

The IDF said the operation, carried out by combat engineering forces and tanks, led by the Gaza Division, was to map out buildings and to clear the area of planted explosive devices.

It said that during the operation, troops encountered a Hamas cell that came out of a tunnel. Troops shelled the operatives, killing them, the IDF said.

Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza reported Israeli airstrikes overnight and into Saturday across the enclave, including the southern part of the Strip.

AP reported that Israeli military strikes killed multiple civilians at a UN shelter and hospital in the main combat zone in northern Gaza. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees said two strikes hit a UN school-turned-shelter just north of Gaza City, killing several people in tents in the schoolyard and women who were baking bread inside the building.

It was not clear how the news agency determined the strike was Israeli (Palestinian rocket misfires have also caused multiple civilian casualties in Gaza).

The IDF did not immediately comment, but generally says it targets Hamas terror infrastructure — a vast network of posts, command centers, weapons caches and tunnels — which is embedded within the civilian population. The army has urged residents of northern Gaza to move south as it intensifies its activity in the Gaza City area.

An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled to the south from Gaza City and other northern areas following repeated Israeli calls to evacuate, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, including many who left and later returned because Israel is also carrying out some airstrikes in the south.

Palestinians search through the rubble of a collapsed building looking for survivors following an apparent strike by the Israeli military on Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on November 4, 2023. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

Palestinian media reported that Israel also bombed a house belonging to Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh in the Al-Shathi neighborhood of the city.

The reports said that a missile was fired at the home. There were no immediate reports of casualties in the strike, and no comment from the IDF.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a televised speech in which he called for a ‘political solution’ to the ongoing conflict with Israel, November 1, 2023. (Screenshot, Hamas Telegram channel)

While Haniyeh lives in exile in Qatar, the home was being used by two of his sons, senior Hamas official Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press.

Earlier in the war, Palestinian media reported that 14 of Haniyeh’s relatives were killed in an Israeli airstrike on another family home in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood.

At the same time as the aerial bombardment, the IDF pushed forward with its ground offensive in the northern part of the enclave, with infantry and tanks encountering numerous attempts by Hamas operatives to come out of tunnels to attack troops.

The forces killed several gunmen and located the tunnels, which will be later destroyed, the IDF said.

IDF troops operating in the Gaza Strip in a picture released November 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

In one encounter, the IDF said ground forces fought off a group of 15 Hamas operatives, killing several of them, and shelling their observation posts.

The IDF did not immediately provide new information on potential casualties.

Since the start of the ground offensive last week, 24 soldiers have been killed. A total of 341 troops have been killed since October 7.

Conquering Gaza City, the enclave’s largest city and a stronghold of the Strip’s Hamas rulers, will be a daunting task for Israel’s military, whose mission to oust the terror group will force soldiers to fight through the crowded urban labyrinth thought awash with bombs and booby traps and undercut by a vast network of tunnels the terror group’s operatives will use to ambush troops.

Palestinians look at the destruction after apparent Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis, Nov. 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

On Friday evening the IDF confirmed it carried out an airstrike on an ambulance in northern Gaza which it said was identified as being used by a Hamas cell, close to a battle zone.

Hospital directors of three hospitals asserted strikes hit just as staff were trying to evacuate wounded to the south. Footage showed the aftermath outside Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa, where more than a dozen bloodied bodies of men, women and young children were strewn next to damaged cars and ambulances.

“A number of Hamas terrorist operatives were killed in the strike,” the IDF said, adding that it would release further information soon. It said that “more detailed information” on the strike had already been shared with allies.

“We have information which demonstrates that Hamas’s method of operation is to transfer terror operatives and weapons in ambulances,” the IDF said. “We emphasize that this area is a battle zone. Civilians in the area are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southwards for their own safety.”

The military has said Hamas’s main base of operations is located within and under Shifa Hospital, and that it similarly uses other hospitals for cover.

People gather around an ambulance damaged in an Israeli airstrike in front of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 3, 2023. The IDF said it struck an ambulance that was being used by a Hamas cell, and killed several Hamas operatives. (Momen Al-Halabi/AFP)

A senior Biden administration official said Friday that Hamas tried to sneak its fighters out of the Gaza Strip in ambulances that evacuated dozens of wounded Palestinians to Egypt earlier this week.

Hamas had compiled a list of the seriously wounded that it wanted to evacuate from Gaza for treatment in Egypt, along with thousands of foreign nationals looking to flee the enclave.

The list was then vetted by Egypt and the United States, which found that a third of the names on it were of Hamas fighters, the administration official said, adding that the list was rejected and none of the 76 wounded Palestinians who were ultimately evacuated in ambulances out of Gaza were members of the terror group.

Meanwhile, two senior Israeli officials told The Times of Israel that Israeli inspectors examining trucks of aid to Gaza earlier this week uncovered several oxygen concentrators meant to aerate the tunnels operated by terror organizations in Gaza.

“These weren’t for use in the hospitals, but below them. That’s why they were smuggled among boxes of cookies,” one of the senior Israeli officials said, adding that the entire truck in which the oxygen concentrators were found was barred from entering Gaza.

The army on Friday also revealed that it had obtained a vast amount of intelligence information from a Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya captured by troops of the Givati Infantry Brigade on Tuesday.

The large military compound served Hamas’s elite Nukhba forces and the terror group’s Jabaliya area intelligence unit, according to the IDF. The military said around 50 Hamas terrorists were killed during the assault on the stronghold. Two Israeli soldiers were also killed amid the fighting.

The IDF said that it recovered Hamas battle plans, maps, command and control charts, communication devices, and the personal details of commanders and operatives of the terror group.

The materials were being researched by the 162nd Division’s intelligence unit and other officials, and will “be used by the IDF in the future fighting,” the military said.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Friday that more than 9,200 Palestinians have been killed since Hamas sparked war with its murderous assault. Hamas figures cannot be independently confirmed, and the terror group has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll. The figures do not differentiate between terrorists and civilians nor between those killed in Israeli strikes and those killed by the hundreds of terror group rockets that have fallen short inside the Strip.

Israel declared war, with the aim of eradicating Hamas, following the terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were brutally murdered in their homes and at a music festival, and over 240 more were abducted, including some 30 babies and children.

Twenty-nine days after Hamas terrorists carried out the rampage, plunging the region into war, Palestinian terror groups continued to fire rockets at communities in southern Israel on Saturday.

A picture taken from Israel’s southern city of Sderot shows rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel as smoke rises from Israeli strikes on October 28, 2023. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

A rocket launched Friday evening landed in the courtyard of a daycare center in Sderot, causing slight damage to the building, which was closed at the time. Sderot largely emptied out after the October 7 onslaught.

And four rockets were intercepted over Tel Aviv and central Israel by the Iron Dome missile defense system, authorities said. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

There was also rocket fire from Lebanon on Saturday, amid repeated rocket and missile attacks by Hezbollah and allied Palestinian terror factions from southern Lebanon on northern Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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