A soldier was killed and three others were hurt on Sunday, after Hamas attacked troops carrying out an operation just across the Gaza border fence, near the southern community of Kissufim.
The operation was part of the military’s ongoing searches for bodies of missing Israelis, and to clear the area for Israel’s upcoming ground offensive.
The Israel Defense Forces said an anti-tank guided missile was fired at an Israeli tank and engineering vehicle, and troops responded by shelling the terror cell. Terror group Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack.
The soldier was later named as Cpl. Tamir Barak, 19, from Nir Eliyahu. The IDF said he served in the Combat Engineering Corps.
The IDF dismissed reports, apparently based on a Hamas claim, that the incident occurred deeper in Gaza as part of a hostage rescue effort.
The attack came as the military has been ramping up its airstrikes in the northern part of the Gaza Strip on Sunday to ensure a safer entry for forces during an expected upcoming ground offensive aimed at toppling the Hamas terror group’s rule over the territory.
Also Sunday, a man in his 60s was seriously wounded as a result of a rocket impact in the southern city of Netivot after Palestinian terrorists in Gaza launched a barrage of rockets at the city and nearby towns in the south.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said the man was in moderate-to-serious condition after sustaining shrapnel injuries, and was being treated at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.
A government representative said Sunday that Gaza terror groups have fired more than 7,400 rockets into Israel since October 7, when Hamas launched its brutal attack on Israel, killing over 1,400 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes or at a music festival near the Gaza border, and taking more than 200 people hostage.
According to Government Press Office figures, the Iron Dome intercepted over 1,100 of these rockets, 550 misfired and fell inside Gaza, and more than 400 directly hit Israel. The figures did not account for several thousand rockets, many of which may have fallen in open areas, although the government did not immediately qualify the discrepancy.
Overnight, the military said it killed dozens of Hamas members in airstrikes in Gaza, including the deputy commander of Hamas’s rocket array, who is in charge of rocket fire on Israel.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli troops accidentally fired a tank shell on an Egyptian border post near the Kerem Shalom area between Egypt, Gaza and Israel, apologizing for the incident.
Egypt’s military spokesman said an unspecified number of border guards sustained “minor injuries” and that Israel “immediately expressed its regret over the unintentional incident and an investigation is underway.”
Egyptian state-run media also reported Sunday that 17 aid trucks were crossing into Gaza, amid an international effort to increase humanitarian assistance to Gazan civilians, but the United Nations said no trucks have crossed. The incident caused a kerfuffle, as international media reported seeing trucks crossing into the Palestinian enclave from Egypt, including with fuel, and Israel denying the reports.
Pushed by the US, Israel agreed to let food, medicine, water, and medical equipment into Gaza via Egypt after cutting off all supplies following the October 7 assault. Israel has repeatedly said that it will not allow any fuel to enter the enclave until all hostages being held in Gaza are released.
On Saturday, the first 20 trucks carrying aid were allowed into Gaza, following a deal brokered by US President Joe Biden last week on a solidarity visit to Israel . Distribution is overseen by the UN humanitarian agency, known as OCHA.
On Sunday, a spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees Juliette Touma said: “Until now, there is no convoy,” in reference to additional assistance.
Associated Press journalists said they saw seven fuel trucks head into Gaza, but Touma and the IDF said that those trucks were taking fuel that had been stored on the Gaza side of the crossing deeper into the territory, and that no fuel had entered from Egypt.
‘There will be no Hamas’
Meanwhile, Israeli forces were still finding Palestinian terrorists in southern Israel, having infiltrated during the Hamas terror group’s murderous invasion on October 7.
On Saturday evening, a member of Hamas’s Nukhba commando forces was captured by Israeli forces while attempting to return to the Gaza Strip. He was described by the military as being “exhausted” after spending more than two weeks hiding in Israel.
The Nukhba unit led the October 7 assault on southern Israel.
The IDF said Sunday morning that it had killed two Nukhba members in an airstrike near the Gaza border fence the previous evening. The military said other Hamas terrorists were also killed in the same strike, but did not elaborate further.
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a Sunday press conference that killing Nukhba members was a top priority, alongside senior members of the terror group.
Overnight and on Sunday morning, fighter jets struck dozens of Hamas sites in the Strip, the IDF said.
The targets hit included Hamas assets in multi-story buildings, tunnel shafts, weapons storage sites, command centers, mosques used as war rooms by the terror group, and a weapons production site, according to the IDF.
Strikes in recent days have included targeting high-rise buildings that Hamas was allegedly using as sniper positions and anti-tank guided missile positions.
“We are not stopping our attacks on the Strip,” Hagari said, adding that dozens of Hamas members had been killed in overnight strikes.
The IDF named the slain senior commander as Mohammed Qatmash, and said he was responsible for rocket fire from the central part of the Gaza Strip and was the deputy to the head of the Hamas’s rocket array.
מטוסי קרב של צה"ל חיסלו את מחמד קטמאש, סגנו של ראש מערך הארטילריה הכלל רצועתי של ארגון הטרור חמאס, אחראי על ניהול האש והארטילריה בחטיבת מחנות המרכז.
מתוקף תפקידו, היווה חלק משמעותי בתכנון והפעלת תוכניות האש של הארגון לעבר ישראל בכלל סבבי הלחימה ברצועת עזה>> pic.twitter.com/7YgVszea9b
— צבא ההגנה לישראל (@idfonline) October 22, 2023
“As part of his role, he was a significant part of the planning and execution of the organization’s [rocket] fire plans against Israel in all rounds of fighting in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.
“We are increasing the attacks in the Gaza Strip in order to reduce the threats to our forces in preparation for the next phase of the war,” Hagari said, referring to Israel’s expected ground offensive.
“We will go to the next stage under the best conditions for the IDF and in accordance with the decision of the political echelon,” Hagari added.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday said Israel’s upcoming ground offensive in the Gaza Strip may last three months, but it will be the very last one if Israel succeeds in eliminating the Hamas terror group.
“This needs to be the last [ground] maneuver in Gaza, for the simple reason that after it there will be no Hamas. It will take a month, two months, three, but in the end, there will be no Hamas,” Gallant said at the Israeli Air Force’s command center in Tel Aviv.
“Before the enemy meets the armored and infantry forces, it will meet the bombs of the Air Force,” he continued. “I am under the impression that you know how to do it in a lethal, precise, and very high quality way, as it has been proven until now.
In his briefing Sunday, Hagari said the military has so far notified the families of 212 hostages that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip, adding that the number is not final as the military investigates new information on those missing.
The number did not include Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie — dual Israeli-American nationals kidnapped from Kibbutz Nahal Oz on October 7 — who were released by Hamas on Friday night. The exact mechanism of the transfer was not immediately clear. Hamas claimed that the release was made “for humanitarian reasons.”
The step was widely viewed in Israel as a public relations gambit, with Hamas interested in somewhat rehabilitating its image since its fighters conducted brutal massacres of Israeli civilians in the terror group’s unprecedented attack on southern communities.
A Hamas spokesperson known as Abu Obeida claimed Saturday the group had offered to release two more hostages the next day under the same procedures, but that Israel refused to accept the offer.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office later said, “We won’t respond to Hamas’s propaganda lies.”
War erupted after Hamas unleashed an onslaught of over 2,500 terrorists who invaded Israel from Gaza on October 7, killing and mutilating some 1,400 people, mostly civilians. The terrorists, who broke through the border under cover of a barrage of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities, also abducted at least 212 people of all ages, dragging them back to Gaza as hostages.
Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists, in what Biden has highlighted as “the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas and says around 1,500 of the group’s fighters were killed in clashes on Israeli territory. Hamas has continued to rain rockets on southern and central Israel from Gaza.
The military has also been responding to attacks from Lebanese terror group Hezbollah, also backed by Iran, and allied Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for several missile attacks on IDF positions and Israeli towns over the past two weeks, amid concerns in Israel of a northern front opening alongside the war with Hamas in the south. A spokesman for the IDF said Sunday that the escalating attacks risk “dragging Lebanon into a war.”
A spokesperson for the government said more than 200,000 Israelis have been displaced by the conflict. The Defense Ministry is actively taking care of 120,000 of those who have left their homes.
The bombing campaign in Gaza has killed more than 4,600 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, and reduced swaths of the densely populated territory to ruins. The Hamas-stated toll cannot be independently verified and is believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, as well as victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad misfired missile aimed at Israel, which Hamas has blamed on Israel. Israel has produced evidence showing the blast was caused by a Gazan rocket that fell short. The United States, citing its own data, has endorsed the Israeli account.
Israel has urged residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate southward before the expected ground offensive begins.
Agencies contributed to this report.