The Israeli army said Tuesday that its forces have completed the encirclement of the city of Jabaliya, and are ready to deepen the fighting as they sought to take control of one of the last major Hamas strongholds in the northern Gaza Strip.
Describing the battles that were being spearheaded by the Israel Defense Forces 162nd Division, the army said that it first hit Jabaliya with heavy artillery and air strikes to “prepare the ground for battle.”
Troops of the 401st Armored Brigade and the Nahal Infantry Brigade also battled Hamas operatives on the outskirts of the city, and the forces found and destroyed several rocket launchers in the area.
Three tunnel entrances, with Hamas operatives inside, were struck, the IDF added.
In the northern part of Jabaliya, troops of the 551st Reserve Brigade and other special forces worked to open up a route for the division to maneuver, the IDF said and added that the troops killed several Hamas gunmen, seized weapons, and destroyed tunnels.
The northern city of Jabaliya is considered to be a Hamas stronghold and has been a key target in the IDF’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which was launched after some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed through the border with Israel on October 7, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages.
Israel declared war on Hamas in response, launching an aerial campaign and a subsequent ground offensive that is aimed at toppling the terror group, which has ruled Gaza since 2007, and securing the release of the hostages.
Also Tuesday, the IDF announced the deaths of two more soldiers killed in fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll in the ground operation against Hamas to 68.
The soldiers were identified as Cpt. (res.) Arnon Moshe Avraham Benvenisti Vaspi, 26, from Yesud HaMa’ala, an officer in the Givati Brigade’s Reconnaissance Battalion; and Staff Sgt. Ilya Senkin, 20, from Nof Hagalil, a soldier in the Givati Brigade’s Rotem Battalion.
Two reservists and three soldiers were also seriously wounded in the fighting.
The ground operation has concentrated on northern Gaza but is expected to expand to the Strip’s south in the future stages of the war.
Jabaliya, four kilometers north of Gaza City, has an estimated population of 172,200 people and is home to the Indonesian Hospital. Earlier this month, the IDF said that it had compiled intelligence documents showing the presence of a tunnel network underneath the hospital, as well as aerial imagery showing rocket launchers a few dozen meters from the complex.
Fighting outside of the Indonesian Hospital has intensified in recent days, and 12 people were allegedly killed in a strike against the hospital overnight on Sunday.
However, the claim could not be verified and the IDF did not comment on the allegations.
The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip said on Tuesday that hundreds of patients and displaced people were still trapped inside the hospital complex with dwindling supplies after 200 people were evacuated the day before.
Meanwhile, Israel carried out airstrikes against 250 Hamas targets in the past day across Gaza, the IDF said earlier on Tuesday and added that it had destroyed the Hamas rocket launcher used to fire at central Israel on Monday.
The launcher was said to have been positioned adjacent to a residential building, and after the strike, women and children sheltering there fled the area.
Meanwhile, amid the ground operation, the IDF stated that reservists of the Harel Brigade found a cache of weapons at the home of a member of Hamas’s Nukhba forces, and the 14th Brigade found an anti-tank missile hidden under an infant’s bed, in the northern Gaza Strip.
The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that over 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.
As of Tuesday, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA has estimated that some 160,000 people remain in shelters in northern Gaza, despite the United Nations agency being unable to provide care for them and Israel’s repeated calls for them to evacuate to a safe zone in the south via humanitarian corridors operated by the IDF.
Some 1.7 million Palestinians, about three-fourths of Gaza’s population, have fled their homes, many packing into UN-run schools and other facilities across the enclave’s south.
As shelters have overflowed, people have been forced to sleep on the streets outside, with little protection against winter rains that have hit the region in recent days.
The UN has warned that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are running critically short of food and water and said the amount of fuel being provided is only half of the daily minimum requirement. Israel says Hamas has plundered Gaza’s resources, including fuel, and has expressed concern this will continue and let the terror group continue powering its rockets and tunnel network.
Israel has resisted calls for a ceasefire unless a significant number of some 240 hostages abducted on October 7, including all women and children, are released in exchange. There has also been concern that an extended pause in the fighting would allow Hamas and other terror groups to regroup and prepare for the next stage of fighting, impeding the IDF’s ability to operate.
However, in recent days, both Israel and Hamas have indicated that a potential hostage deal is close to being agreed upon, which could see the release of some 50 people, primarily women and children.
The details of the potential deal are unclear but are thought to include a short ceasefire inside Gaza and the potential release of Palestinian prisoners held inside Israel, also primarily women and children.