ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Army says it nabbed intel at Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya

IDF still surrounding Gaza City, kills ‘numerous’ terror operatives, destroys tunnels

Military says it struck ambulance carrying Hamas cell: ‘They transfer terror operatives and weapons in ambulances’; WHO ‘shocked’ as footage shows dead civilians

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

IDF forces operate in the Gaza Strip, in an image released by the military on November 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF forces operate in the Gaza Strip, in an image released by the military on November 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces pushed forward with its ground offensive in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, surrounding Gaza City, clashing with Hamas and killing “numerous” terror operatives, the army said, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant stated that troops were advancing “according to the plan.”

Conquering the city, Gaza’s largest and a stronghold of the Strip’s Hamas rulers, will be a daunting task for Israel’s military, whose aspirations of ousting 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.

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.”

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)

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.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “utterly shocked” by the deadly Israeli strike on an ambulance near Gaza’s largest hospital on Friday. “We reiterate: patients, health workers, facilities and ambulances must be protected at all times. Always,” the WHO chief wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled 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.

On Friday afternoon, the IDF said it had killed numerous terror operatives over the course of a few hours. It said in one incident, ground forces identified a cell coming out of a tunnel and directed an aircraft to strike them.

In another engagement, the IDF said numerous gunmen came out of a tunnel inside a building and opened fire at Israeli forces. The troops returned fire, killing several of them, it said.

One soldier was killed and another was seriously wounded during a clash with Hamas gunmen in Gaza on Friday, the IDF said.

IDF forces operate in the Gaza Strip, in an image released by the military on November 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The slain soldier was named as Sgt. First Class (res.) Yedidya Eliyahu, 25, of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 8170th Battalion, from Karnei Shomron.

His death brought the toll of slain soldiers since the ground offensive was launched last week to 24, and since October 7 to 341.

Speaking during a meeting with military brass at the IDF Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba, Gallant said Israeli troops operating in the Gaza Strip were advancing “according to the plan” and attacks on Hamas would only increase.

“The systematic attack on Hamas terrorists [expands] the achievements, it will continue and increase,” he added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) is seen with IDF Southern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman (right) and other officers at the Southern Command HQ in Beersheba, November 3, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Backed by punishing air power as well as naval backup, Israeli soldiers and armored columns continued their push into Gaza City after several days of fighting on the city’s outskirts, including raining large airstrikes on parts of Jabaliya, a Hamas stronghold crowded with residential high rises.

The IDF said troops in the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit had been working to demolish Hamas tunnels discovered during ground operations in northern Gaza.

“The troops uncovered tunnel shafts, rigged them with explosives, and neutralized the tunnels,” the IDF said.

Israeli soldiers inspect a tunnel entrance in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in an image released by the military on November 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in an evening press conference that the military was continuing its efforts to kill Hamas field commanders.

He said that since the beginning of the war, the IDF had killed 10 Hamas brigade and battalion commanders — and those with equivalent ranks — in airstrikes. “They are also the ones who planned the terrible massacre on October 7.”

He said the military remained focused on the Gaza Strip despite tensions in the north amid repeated attacks by Hezbollah. “The goal is to dismantle Hamas and return the hostages,” he added.

IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari gives a statement to the media in Tel Aviv on October 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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 commander of the Givati Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, Lt. Col. “Zayin” — who can only be identified by his rank and first initial in Hebrew — warned Hamas in a video statement that his unit would capture more strongholds.

“The unit went into the stronghold itself, fought tough battles with terrorists. We killed quite a few, destroyed tunnel shafts, and brought important intelligence materials,” the officer said. “We will continue to raid your strongholds and kill you inside the shafts, underground, and wherever you wait for us.”

Materials found by Israeli troops in a Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip, October 31, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Thursday that more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed since war broke out more than three weeks ago, including 3,760 children. 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 hundreds more were abducted.

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

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.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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