IDF launches ‘targeted operation’ in central Gaza’s Nuseirat after heavy bombardment

Military: Strikes on dozens of targets based on intelligence of ‘terror infrastructure’ in area largely passed over by soldiers until now; troops also find several rocket launchers

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

IDF soldiers operate in the central Gaza Strip in an undated handout photo published April 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF soldiers operate in the central Gaza Strip in an undated handout photo published April 10, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said Thursday it launched a “targeted operation” against Hamas in the central Gaza Strip overnight, pushing into an area on the outskirts of the Nuseirat refugee camp largely left untouched by troops until now.

Heavy airstrikes and artillery shelling pounded parts of the camp before troops moved into the area, which sits adjacent to the lone corridor where Israeli soldiers remain in Gaza.

Palestinians said a strike on a residential building killed at least five people, and other apartment towers were also struck.

The Israel Defense Forces said the air force and artillery troops carried out strikes against dozens of Hamas targets, including tunnel infrastructure.  The navy also carried out artillery strikes near the coast to support ground troops, the IDF said.

The operation followed intelligence indicating “the presence of terror infrastructure and many terrorists in the area,” the army said.

Soldiers engaged with armed fighters during the night, including a gunman who emerged from a tunnel and was hit with an airstrike, according to the IDF. Troops also located several rocket launchers in the area.

Hamas-linked media reported heavy fighting in the area was continuing Thursday.

There were also reports of airstrikes in other parts of the Strip, particularly the south, with the Palestinian Maan News Agency reporting that 122 people were killed in Gaza over the previous 24 hours.

Israel has not previously operated on the ground in Nuseirat, though last month Hamas’s third-in-command, Marwan Issa, was killed in an airstrike in the area.

The operation occurred as Israel has appeared to dial back the use of ground troops and shift from a wide-scale offensive to pinpoint operations. This was in line with US demands for changes to the way fighting is taking place amid international concern over the deaths of civilians in the Strip and claims of near-famine conditions.

Just one brigade — comprising several thousand troops — remains in the Strip, where it is holding an east-west corridor that essentially splits the enclave into two.

At the height of the IDF’s offensive against Hamas, it had multiple divisions — with roughly 30,000-40,000 troops — in the Strip.

Israeli officials have said that 18 of Hamas’s 24 original battalions in the Gaza Strip have been dismantled, meaning they do not function as an organized military unit, although smaller cells still exist.

Four Hamas battalions remain virtually untouched in southern Gaza’s Rafah, and another two are in the central part of the Strip, according to Israeli assessments.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly said he approved the military’s plans for an operation in Rafah, although he has not given the green light to carry them out.

The planned Rafah offensive has caused intense consternation in the international community, including in the US and Egypt, due to the southern Gaza City now hosting more than a million Palestinians displaced from elsewhere in the Strip. Israel has said it is making plans to evacuate and protect civilians from Rafah as part of its offensive plans.

Palestinians search for survivors in the rubble of a building in the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip on October 31, 2023 (Photo by Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

The war erupted when thousands of Hamas terrorists poured across the border with Israel in a mass assault on October 7 during which they killed almost 1.200 people and abducted 253.

Israel responded with a military offensive to destroy Hamas and free the hostages, half of whom remain in captivity in Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 33,000 people have been killed in the fighting, an unverified figure that includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. The IDF says it killed 1,000 Hamas and other terrorists inside Israel on and immediately after October 7.

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