IDF kills top Hamas intel officer in airstrike; crowds enjoy the beach in central Gaza

Footage of Gazans relaxing on beach in Deir al-Balah sparks criticism in Israel that government not applying enough pressure on Hamas as hostages languish; IDF finishes Beit Hanoun op

Palestinians play volleyball on a beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)
Palestinians play volleyball on a beach in Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Photo by AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces carried out waves of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip in recent days, hitting dozens of terror targets and killing a senior Hamas official, the IDF said Thursday as ground forces wrapped up a raid on the Beit Hanoun area.

The strikes came as footage emerged of thousands of Gazans enjoying a day on the beach, sparking criticism in Israel that the government was not maintaining enough pressure on the enclave while 133 hostages languish in Hamas captivity.

The military and Shin Bet announced Thursday morning that the head of interrogations in Hamas’s internal security in northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun was killed in an airstrike this week.

Yousef Shabat also served as an officer in the intelligence division of Hamas’s military wing in its Beit Hanoun Battalion, according to the IDF.

“This elimination significantly damages the organization’s investigations department,” the joint statement said.

Also in Beit Hanoun, the military said it wrapped up a pinpoint operation against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, aimed at detaining members of the terror groups.

Two Palestinian boys look at a huge crater following an overnight Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 18, 2024 (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

In a statement, the IDF said troops, led by the Gaza Division’s Northern Brigade, raided two school buildings in the town, following intelligence that Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives were gathered there and were “using the civilians sheltering there as a human shield.”

Before the troops entered the buildings they called on the civilians to evacuate, the IDF said.

“The troops arrested a number of terrorists from the terrorist organizations in a targeted and precise manner while avoiding harming the civilian population,” the statement said.

Several “terrorists who tried to harm the forces” were killed during the raid, the IDF added.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military for publication on April 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Also in northern Gaza, the IDF said fighter jets struck a mortar launcher in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood that was used to launch projectiles at troops operating in the Gaza Strip.

Throughout the Gaza Strip over the past two days, the military said, the air force struck dozens of targets, including rocket launchers primed for attacks on Israel.

The primed rocket launchers were destroyed in the central Gaza Strip, where the IDF was carrying out a separate operation against Hamas. According to Army Radio, the operation had concluded by Wednesday night.

During the operation on the outskirts of the Nuseirat camp, the military said troops killed numerous gunmen and destroyed sites used by terror groups over the past day, including by calling in airstrikes.

One airstrike was carried out against a cell that was operating an armed drone, according to the IDF.

The army also said that troops of the Nahal Brigade used a drone to kill a gunman and killed another with sniper fire.

Other targets hit by the IAF in the past day included underground rocket launch positions, booby-trapped buildings, structures where operatives were gathered, observation posts, underground sites, and other infrastructure, the IDF added.

In another incident, the IDF said it carried out an airstrike on a vehicle with at least 10 gunmen in it, killing them. It said the strike followed “accurate intelligence” on the operatives.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military for publication on April 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF launched its offensive in Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught, which saw the terror group infiltrate Israel, killing nearly 1,200 people and kidnapping 253.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and sixty IDF soldiers have been killed in the offensive.

According to humanitarian organizations and the UN, the war has caused a humanitarian crisis in Gaza, pushing the population close to famine.

Palestinians enjoy the beach in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 17, 2024 (AFP)

Deir al-Balah beach scenes

Notably, video and images that surfaced Wednesday showed masses of Palestinians in central Gaza frolicking at the beach, providing a jarring counterpoint to the scenes of fighting, rubble and death that have come out of the Strip since war erupted over six months ago.

The scenes were filmed in Deir al-Balah, an area that the IDF has not yet operated in on the ground amid the war. It is some 10 kilometers south of an east-west corridor that is the only part of Gaza still actively occupied by Israeli troops.

Online, some Israel advocates latched onto the footage as evidence that claims of famine or genocide are overblown. Others used it to criticize the government.

Lawmaker Ze’ev Elkin of the New Hope Party, which recently left the coalition, wrote on X: “If this is how you run a war, it’s no wonder Hamas doesn’t feel pressured and is unwilling to agree to a hostage deal and Iran attacks Israel with hundreds of missiles.”

Temperatures in the area soared to 36°C (96°F) on Wednesday, according to nearby Israeli meteorological readings.

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