Smotrich: 'Death of all our heroic soldiers won't be in vain'

IDF officer killed in Gaza fighting, raising toll of slain troops to 248

Amishar Ben David, 43, is first cousin of finance minister Smotrich; IDF says 12-story Rafah high-rise used by Hamas bombed overnight; security chiefs approve new battle plans

Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David, killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip on March 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David, killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip on March 8, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces announced the death of an officer killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 248.

He was named as Maj. (res.) Amishar Ben David, 43, head of the Commando Brigade chief’s forward command team, from the West Bank settlement of Eli and a cousin of Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

“Amishar, my beloved cousin — I will do everything and work to the best of my ability against whoever I need so that with God’s help, we will completely destroy our enemies and not stop for a moment. Your death and the death of all our heroic soldiers will not be in vain,” Smotrich said in a statement following the announcement Saturday.

Eli Mayor Ariel Elmaliach said the news of Ben David’s death was a “knife in the heart,” adding that they had attended a pre-army academy together. He praised Ben David for his service as the head of the settlement’s Magen David Adom ambulance service team.

Israel’s offensive continued on Saturday in Gaza, with the military confirming that it had struck one of the largest residential towers in southern Gaza’s Rafah overnight and saying it housed a “Hamas military asset.”

“Acts of terror against our forces and the civilian home front were planned from this asset,” the IDF said in response to a query on the matter.

Palestinians gather in front of a residential building hit in an overnight Israeli airstrike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

According to a military source, the building was used by Hamas’s so-called emergency committee.

The IDF said it warned residents of the 12-floor tower ahead of the strike, and they all evacuated in time. There were no reports of injuries.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF said the Bislamach Brigade killed more than 20 Hamas operatives, in close-quarters combat and by calling in airstrikes Friday.

In the Hamad Town residential complex in Khan Younis, the Givati Brigade raided several sites belonging to Gaza-based terror groups, where they captured operatives and seized weapons including explosive devices, the IDF said.

The IDF stated that Givati troops also directed an airstrike against a cell spotted moving toward them in the area.

In central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed some 10 operatives, including by calling in airstrikes.

In northern Gaza’s Beit Hanoun, the 414th Combat Intelligence Collection Unit spotted several gunmen near troops in the area, and called in an airstrike by a fighter jet, the IDF said.

It stated airstrikes were carried out on several “military positions” in central Gaza from which rockets were fired at Sderot recently.

Meanwhile, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar approved battle plans at the Southern Command headquarters in Beersheba earlier Saturday.

The IDF said the meeting was attended by the commander of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman along with the deputy head of the Shin Bet and other officers.

L-R: Shin Bet head Ronen Bar, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and head of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman attend a meeting at the command’s HQ in Beersheba, March 9, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas authorities reported more than 30 airstrikes overnight, including one on a building sheltering around 200 displaced people in Rafah — a claim that cannot be independently verified.

Roughly 1.5 million Palestinians have sought refuge in the city, where Belal Abu Sabla told AFP the war must “end immediately.”

“We are dying of hunger,” said the man displaced from Khan Younis, accusing Israel but also “the government in Gaza.”

“We want a solution to stop the war,” said Atallah al-Satel, also displaced from Khan Younis to Rafah. “We are just exhausted citizens.”

Despite growing international calls to avoid an operation in Rafah, Israel has vowed to complete its offensive and enter the city but has stressed it will only do so with a clear plan to evacuate civilians.

Efforts to set up a sea route for aid deliveries from Cyprus came to a head over the weekend amid mounting alarm over the spread of hunger among Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

Spanish charity Open Arms said its boat, which docked three weeks ago in Cyprus’s Larnaca port, “will be ready” to embark later Saturday to carry food aid to Gaza but awaits final authorization.

It would be the first shipment along the maritime corridor from Cyprus — the closest European Union country to Gaza — that the EU Commission hopes will open on Sunday.

Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza told AFP that Israeli authorities, who welcomed the Cypriot sea corridor initiative, were inspecting the cargo of “200 tons of basic foodstuffs, rice and flour, cans of tuna.”

Hunger is most acute in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by Israeli forces for months and suffered long cutoffs of food supply deliveries.

Smoke billows after Israeli bombardment on Khan Younis as seen from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on March 9, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that three more children died from malnutrition and dehydration, with the total number of such deaths now at 23. The figures cannot be independently verified.

In a pre-Ramadan statement Saturday, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called for the speedy distribution of aid to Gazans and for the full opening of border crossings “to end the siege of our people.”

Israel says it does not restrict humanitarian or medical aid and has blamed the lack of deliveries on the capacity of aid agencies, repeatedly saying that it is approving more aid trucks for crossing than the agencies are able to deliver. It also accuses Hamas of commandeering some aid deliveries.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said Saturday evening that according to Israeli intelligence, “Hamas is stockpiling equipment and food for its members, while the population of Gaza is having trouble getting supplies.”

The Open Arms vessel, carrying two-hundred tons of food aid to Gaza, is seen docked in the Cypriot port of Larnaca on March 9, 2024. (Iakovos Hatzistavrou / AFP)

Meanwhile, the US military also said it airdropped more than 41,000 meals into Gaza on Saturday — its fifth airdrop in a week — and Canada has said it too will join aerial aid delivery missions.

Washington also announced this week it will build a floating dock off the coast of Gaza to help boost the capability of getting aid into Gaza.

But a steady, substantial flow of relief into the Strip was “only part of the solution,” said International Committee of the Red Cross chief Mirjana Spoljaric.

The warring sides must do more to “safeguard civilian life and human dignity,” she said in a statement, decrying the “unacceptable” civilian death toll.

War erupted when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst into Israel by air, land and sea, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping another 253, mostly civilians, many amid horrific acts of brutality and sexual assault.

Vowing to destroy Hamas, Israel responded with a wide-scale ground and air campaign that the health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said has killed over 30,000 people These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 13,000 terror operatives in Gaza since the war started, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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