Kerem Shalom protesters prevent some aid trucks entering Gaza

IDF pushes ahead with Gaza offensive as soldier’s death brings ground op toll to 226

Dozens of gunmen killed, including Islamic Jihad member who took part in Oct. 7 assault on Nir Oz; 80 terror suspects captured in Khan Younis; UN vest, machine gun found in home

IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 6, 2024. (IDF)
IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 6, 2024. (IDF)

An overnight airstrike in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah killed a Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist who participated in the October 7 onslaught, the Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday, as troops continued to battle Hamas operatives above and below ground in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis.

The IDF also carried out raids in the northern and central parts of the Strip, pressing ahead with its Gaza offensive even as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the region on a quest to broker a ceasefire in the four-month-old war.

The IDF said that the PIJ operative killed in the overnight airstrike had participated in the attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7, in which almost a quarter of the community was kidnapped or murdered.

On Tuesday evening, the military announced the death of an officer killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 226.

He was named as Maj. David Shakuri, 30, the deputy commander of the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion, from Rehovot.

Speaking to Ynet, his lifelong friend Ariel Bernstein eulogized him as a “quiet and humble man.”

Maj. David Shakuri. (Courtesy)

Blinken arrived in Egypt for talks after a stop in Saudi Arabia during his latest troubleshooting Middle East swing that Palestinians hope will nail down a ceasefire before IDF forces move into Gaza’s southern fringes, where over a million of Gaza’s people are sheltering.

It was the top US diplomat’s fifth trip to the region since thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed the border on October 7, killing 1,200 people, kidnapping another 253, mostly civilians, and triggering the war. It was his first visit since Washington brokered an offer, with Israeli input, for the first extended ceasefire of the conflict.

The terror group says it is still weighing the proposal.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken waves as he departs to Doha at Cairo East airport on February 6, 2024, during his Middle East tour, his fifth urgent trip to the region since the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza erupted in October. (Photo by Mark Schiefelbein / POOL/AFP)

The Egoz commando unit searched a home in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis and discovered a United Nations vest in one room and a machine gun in another, the IDF said Tuesday.

An Egoz team commander gave a video tour of the home, showing where the soldiers found the vest and gun. “You can see a clothes closet here… and here is a UN vest,” the lieutenant said.

Heading upstairs, the commander entered a bedroom that he said troops scanned, and opened another closet, pulling out the machine gun. “Right here we spotted the machine gun, a PK machine gun used by Hamas,” he said.

Israeli intelligence has allegedly shown that 12 staff members of the UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, in Gaza were involved in the brutal October 7 attacks and that hundreds more employees are directly linked to Hamas and other terror groups.

In western Khan Younis, the IDF said the 98th Division is moving to clear out new areas, both above and below ground, from Hamas operatives and infrastructure, and is encountering numerous operatives moving around in civilian clothing.

The IDF said that over the last day, troops killed dozens of operatives and captured some 80 terror suspects in western Khan Younis, including several who participated in the October 7 massacre.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Tuesday that at least 27,585 Palestinians have been killed and 66,978 wounded in Israeli strikes on Gaza since October 7. 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 10,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

During the operations, the IDF said on Tuesday that snipers of the Givati Brigade killed more than 15 operatives; troops of the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade spotted and eliminated a Hamas lookout; and troops of the Paratroopers Brigade and elite Egoz unit located a cache of weapons, including assault rifles, RPGs, and anti-tank explosive devices.

IDF troops are seen operating in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo cleared for publication on February 6, 2024. (IDF)

In northern Gaza, the IDF said, observation soldiers of the Border Defense Corps’ 414th unit spotted four Hamas operatives placing surveillance equipment in the Beit Hanoun area, in what appeared to be an attempt by the terror group to restore its capabilities. The cell was struck by an attack helicopter, the IDF said.

During raids, ambushes, and battles in northern and central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed dozens of Hamas operatives, and the 401st Armored Brigade killed some 15 operatives.

In one incident, a Navy missile boat spotted a Hamas cell close to the Nahal troops on the coast of central Gaza. The IDF said the cell was then struck by the Navy, Israeli Air Force, and the ground troops.

The 401st Brigade, with the IAF, also struck a building used by Hamas to fire at troops and store weapons, the IDF added.

Also Tuesday, the IDF released footage showing close air support provided to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis in recent days.

The first clip shows an Israeli Air Force drone identifying a Hamas operative nearing forces of the Paratroopers Brigade. In the clip, drone operators notify the soldiers of the threat, as the operative enters a building a few dozen meters away. As the operative exits the building, he is struck by the drone, with the footage showing a large explosion, indicating he was armed with explosives.

The second clip shows the moment Hamas gunmen opened fire from a building at troops of the Givati Brigade. The IDF said the soldiers directed an attack helicopter to the area, and within moments, it struck the Hamas position, killing the operatives.

Later in the day, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military had uncovered documents and other materials from a tunnel in the Gaza Strip, indicating Hamas’s direct links and coordination with Iran.

“We found official documents of Hamas from 2020, including the details of the funds transferred from Iran to Hamas and [Yahya] Sinwar, between 2014 and 2020. More than 150 million dollars were transferred from Iran to Hamas,” he said.

“This is another example of how Iran exports terror across the Middle East. This is a global problem,” Hagari said.

He said the intelligence information was given to Israel’s allies to be verified.

Hagari said that in the same underground complex, troops located a safe and additional bags containing more than NIS 20 million ($5.5 million) in cash. He added that troops have found millions more dollars in Hamas sites across the Gaza Strip.

In images released by the IDF, several envelopes of cash are addressed to Sinwar.

Cash uncovered by IDF troops in a Hamas tunnel in the Gaza Strip, in footage released by the IDF on February 6, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Meanwhile, protesters on Tuesday blocked the Kerem Shalom crossing to prevent the entry of humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Army Radio reported Tuesday evening that 132 aid trucks entered Gaza rather than the 160 that were scheduled to cross. Channel 12 news gave different figures — saying 70 trucks entered and 132 were stopped.

Channel 12 news estimated that a few hundred activists were at the crossing, despite the IDF announcing last week that it was a closed military zone, meaning it is illegal for civilians to be in the area or on nearby roads.

Police prevent activists from blocking trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip at the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza, in southern Israel, January 29, 2024. (AP/Tsafrir Abayov)

Activists, including the families of some of the hostages held by terrorists in Gaza and some far-right lawmakers, have been blocking the Kerem Shalom crossing for several days, to prevent humanitarian aid from entering the Strip.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted to reopen the crossing for the entry of aid into the Strip amid a growing humanitarian crisis there.

Ministers say the aid is necessary to enable Israel to continue operating freely against Hamas amid intense international pressure.

Also Tuesday, United Nations humanitarian monitors said Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometers (95 square miles).

The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77% of Gaza’s population, before October 7.

Children stand atop a small hill near tents at a make-shift shelter for Palestinians who fled to Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 30, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud Hams / AFP)

Early in the war, the IDF began telling Palestinians in the northern half of the territory to leave their homes to get out of the way of eventual ground combat.

Over the course of the war, evacuation orders eventually expanded to parts of the south, including the southern city of Khan Younis and surrounding areas, the current focus of Israel’s ground operation.

Tens of thousands of people have fled and continue to flee from there, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says in its latest daily report on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people is now crammed into the town of Rafah on the border with Egypt and surrounding areas, OCHA says.

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