Defense minister: We're in decisive moments. It’s us or them

IDF kills 5 Hamas commanders; Gallant: Israel will win, next 75 years depend on it

Defense minister reiterates ground incursion coming, says troops ready; rockets target center, one starts fire at Petah Tikva home; Israel denies reports of fuel-for-captives deal

People search for survivors and for bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)
People search for survivors and for bodies of victims through the rubble of buildings destroyed during Israeli airstrikes, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, October 26, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday that its airstrikes in the Gaza Strip during the day had killed five senior commanders in the Hamas terror group, as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reiterated that a ground operation was looming and vowed to win the war, asserting that the country’s next 75 years largely depend on it.

The military also denied reports that Israel was set to agree for fuel to enter the besieged Palestinian enclave in exchange for the release of many hostages held by Hamas in the Strip.

The IDF has for several weeks been preparing a full-scale incursion aimed at rooting out the Gaza-ruling terror group following its murderous October 7 onslaught in southern Israel. It has pounded the Strip on an unprecedented scale in order to eliminate potential threats to ground troops once the order finally comes.

One airstrike on Thursday killed the deputy head of Hamas’s intelligence directorate, Shadi Barud, the military said. The IDF accused Barud of planning the October 7 massacre along with Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. Barud previously served as a battalion commander in the Khan Younis area and held other roles in the terror group’s intelligence directorate, and “was responsible for planning numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” the IDF said.

Another strike killed the head of Hamas’s North Khan Younis rocket array, Hassan al-Abdullah, according to the army, which added that fighter jets had struck and killed several more Hamas members and destroyed several sites belonging to the terror group throughout the day.

And in the evening, the military said it had killed three senior commanders in Hamas’s Daraj-Tuffah Battalion: the battalion’s commander, Rifaat Abbas; the deputy commander, Ibrahim Jadba; and a combat support commander, Tarek Maarouf. According to the IDF, the Daraj-Tuffah Battalion is part of Hamas’s Gaza City Brigade, which is “considered the most significant brigade of the Hamas terrorist organization.”

“The battalion’s operatives played a significant role in the invasion and murderous attack against Israel on October 7,” the IDF added.

The army published several videos showing the airstrikes that killed the senior Hamas members.

The destruction of areas of northern Gaza is visible from space in satellite images taken before and after Israeli’s airstrikes, which followed the onsalught carried out by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

In images shot Saturday by Maxar Technologies, four- and five-story buildings in the Izbat Beit Hanoun neighborhood are in various states of collapse. Huge chunks are missing from some, others are broken in half and two large complexes lie in piles of rubble.

The pattern of destruction in the Al Karameh neighborhood can be traced by a widespread pattern the color of ash.

Tightly packed streets in Beit Hanoun look obliterated, with a rare white structure standing out in the gray wasteland.

Israel says its war against Hamas is aimed at destroying the Iran-backed terror group’s infrastructure and has vowed to dismantle the organization after the October 7 massacres, while minimizing harm to Gaza’s civilians. The IDF has been calling on Palestinians to evacuate from northern Gaza southward, as it intensifies strikes in the Gaza City area.

Led by Hamas and carried out with other terror groups, the assault saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing at least 228 hostages of all ages, under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

In a primetime televised address Thursday evening, Gallant, the defense minister, promised to make “every effort” to return the hostages held by Hamas, and said: “We are in decisive moments. This is a war for our home and we will win it. It’s either us or them.”

“Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza is being carried out by air, land and sea. It is hitting bunkers, tunnels, communications, terrorists and their commanders,” he continued. “The war is precise, lethal and powerful. It is our duty to win this war. That’s the unwritten contract between the security establishment and the citizens. It is my duty as the defense minister to lead so that we win the battle, and the citizens can live here in peace and quiet.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference on October 26, 2023. (GPO/Screenshot)

Gallant said again that the planned ground offensive will occur soon. “Additional stages in the war will also come, we are creating the conditions for them and we will carry them out. I am determined… to ensure the State of Israel is victorious over this tough and evil enemy — over this epitome of evil.”

“Nothing like this has happened in Israel’s 75 years of existence,” he continued, referring to the scale of the carnage and destruction, and the number of abducted Israelis. “What will happen in the next 75 years depends largely on the achievements in this battle.”

Israeli Air Force sources says that more than 10,000 sites belonging to Hamas and other terror groups have been struck since the beginning of the war.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says the strikes have killed over 7,000 people, many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen killed in Israel and in Gaza, and the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets that have landed in the Strip since the war began. Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists inside Israel on and after October 7.

The death toll on both sides is expected to rise significantly once Israel launches its ground offensive and begins entering cities. Troops are expected to have to contend with Gaza’s network of tunnels dug by terror groups, booby traps and bombs, as they battle through tough urban environments.

The IDF deployed a limited ground incursion into Gaza in the early morning hours of Thursday, sending infantry forces and tanks up to a kilometer into the northern part of the Strip in a “targeted raid” ahead of the planned full-scale offensive.

According to the IDF, the raid — led by the Givati infantry brigade and the 162nd Armored Division  — was part of preparing the border area for the “next stages of the war.” Troops struck “numerous” terrorists, infrastructure and anti-tank guided missile launch positions, and “operated to prepare the battlefield,” the army said.

Soldiers returned to Israeli territory after the hours-long raid, the IDF added.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Thursday evening that the army would continue similar limited ground raids in Gaza, saying they would be carried out “tonight as well, and it will continue all the more forcefully in the coming days.”

He said the IDF was still carrying out “massive strikes” on the Gaza Strip, “from the air and sea,” focusing on killing senior Hamas members and those who participated in the October 7 assault.

Thursday saw multiple salvos of rockets aimed at central Israel, including the cities of Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam, Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Holon and others, as well as barrages targeting southern cities Ashdod, Ashkelon and Netivot, as well as largely evacuated Gaza border communities.

Many of the projectiles were intercepted or fell in uninhabited areas, but one damaged a building in the central city of Petah Tikva and started a fire in an eighth-floor apartment, prompting all 36 families living in the building to temporarily evacuate as officials removed the rocket, which was suspected to have not fully exploded. A woman living in the damaged apartment had headed out with her daughter minutes before the impact.

A rocket in a later barrage at central Israel landed near a highway near Rehovot, setting fire to a utility pole. There were subsequently reports of widespread power outages in the area, but medics said no one was physically injured.

Gazan terrorists have launched thousands of rockets at Israel since October 7, killing and wounding a number of people.

European Union leaders called Thursday for “humanitarian corridors and pauses” to get aid into Gaza as the United Nations warned “nowhere” in the territory is safe from Israel’s retaliation for bloody Hamas attacks.

The joint statement from EU leaders came after hours of negotiations at a summit in Brussels.

The 27-nation bloc has long been split between more pro-Palestinian members such as Ireland and Spain, and staunch backers of Israel including Germany and Austria.

“The European Council expresses its gravest concern for the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza,” the statement said.

It “calls for continued, rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and aid to reach those in need through all necessary measures including humanitarian corridors and pauses for humanitarian needs,” the statement added.

The call for a “humanitarian pause” was first recommended by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday and roughly a dozen House Democrats joined that call on Thursday.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that the full ground offensive into Gaza had been delayed by “tactical and even strategic considerations.”

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Israel had agreed to a request from the United States to temporarily delay the planned Gaza ground incursion to give Washington more time to deploy additional air defense systems to protect its troops in the region.

The US was also reportedly concerned that Israel lacks achievable military goals for its operations in Gaza, leading to fears that the IDF is not yet ready for a ground incursion.

A convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid enters the Gaza Strip from Egypt via the Rafah border crossing on October 21, 2023. (Eyad Baba/AFP)

The campaign is also understood to have been postponed to allow for extensive internationally brokered negotiations with Hamas over the potential release of hundreds of Israeli and foreign hostages it is holding. Talks have resulted in four captives being freed — mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Ra’anan on Friday night, and elderly women Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper on Monday night.

The negotiations have also resulted in a trickle of humanitarian aid entering Gaza for its besieged and devastated civilian population. Twelve aid trucks entered Gaza on Thursday, bringing food, water and medicine, according to Rafah border crossing officials and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, bringing the total number of trucks to have entered the Strip in recent days to 74.

Hebrew media reports on Thursday evening suggested that Israel was considering allowing fuel to enter Gaza via Egypt as part of a deal that would see Hamas free many captives. But Hagari, the IDF spokesman, said that “at this point, the instruction of the political echelon is that no fuel is entering. If there is a change, we will update the public.”

Hagari added that a great deal of Hamas’s ability to operate “relies on fuel,” repeating the claim that the terror group is stealing and stockpiling fuel that could go to hospitals.

An image shared by the IDF showing twelve oil tanks in which Hamas allegedly stores its reserves while the Gaza Strip is running out of fuel during the ongoing war with Israel, October 24, 2023. (IDF Arabic spokesman on X)

Hamas made an unverified claim Thursday that “almost 50” Israeli hostages held in the Gaza Strip had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. There was no independent verification, and Israel has not reacted to such claims in the past. The terror group frequently fabricates such statements and is engaged in psychological warfare against the families of the hostages as well as the general population.

“Izz ad-Din Al-Qassam Brigades estimates that the number of Zionist prisoners who were killed in the Gaza Strip as a result of Zionist strikes and massacres has reached almost 50,” the terror group said in a statement on its Telegram channel.

An IDF official said separately on Thursday that a portion of the weapons used by Hamas in its October 7 onslaught were manufactured in Iran or North Korea.

The military official made the statement during an official media tour in which it displayed a variety of weapons recovered from communities in southern Israel attacked by the terrorists.

A range of landmines, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), and homemade drones were part of the haul displayed.

Part of the arsenal included Iranian-made mortar rounds and North Korean RPGs.

“I think about five to 10 percent of the weapons here [were] made in Iran, and 10 percent [are] North Korean. The rest of it was made inside the Gaza Strip,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“I think the most surprising thing was the amount of weapons that they brought inside Israel,” the official said.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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