7 soldiers killed in Gaza fighting, ground op toll up to 82

IDF: Troops fight in center of Khan Younis, raid Hamas general security HQ in Jabaliya

Top general cites heaviest battles since ground op began; Air Force hits elite Hamas Nukhba unit in joint operation with paratroopers; targets hit on Gaza coast

IDF soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo published by the military on December 5, 2023. (IDF)
IDF soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo published by the military on December 5, 2023. (IDF)

The Israel Defense Forces said it pushed deeper into Jabaliya in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, with the 551st Reserve Brigade and the Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit raiding Hamas’s general security headquarters in the area.

The military also pushed ahead with expanding its ground offensive into Khan Younis, where it believes much of the Hamas leadership is hiding and many of the hostages may be held.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the IDF said troops had reached the center of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza. Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the southern command, said troops were involved in the heaviest fighting seen since the start of the ground invasion over a month ago.

“We are in the heart of Jabaliya, in the heart of Shejaiya and from this evening, also in the heart of Khan Younis,” he said in a statement, referencing Hamas strongholds near Gaza City in the north of the Strip.

“This is the most intense day [of battles] since the start of the [ground] maneuver, in terms of terrorists killed, the number of engagements and the use of fire from the ground and the air,” he said.

IDF chief of staff Herzi Halevi said later Tuesday in comments to reporters that “after 60 days since the beginning of the war, our forces are surrounding the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza. At the same time, we are working to deepen the achievement in the northern part of the Strip. Anyone who thought that the IDF would not know how to resume the fighting after the truce was mistaken. Hamas is feeling this strongly.”

File: Head of the IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, speaks to troops near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has vowed to topple Hamas after the October 7 massacres, in which Palestinian terrorists stormed across the border from Gaza and slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took around 240 hostages.

Palestinian terrorists continued to fire rockets at Israeli communities on Tuesday morning, with sirens sounding in the largely evacuated Israeli communities near the Gaza border, as well as the southern city of Beersheba, some 40 kilometers away. No injuries or damage were reported in the attacks.

Throughout Monday and early Tuesday, IDF troops were operating in Jabaliya to destroy Hamas assets. Soldiers located rockets and other weapons, and directed airstrikes at Hamas operatives.

According to the IDF, the 162nd Division began to operate deeper in Jabaliya after completing the encirclement of its refugee camp in recent days.

IDF tanks operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo published by the military on December 5, 2023. (IDF)

In a joint operation carried out with the Shin Bet, IDF reservists of the 551st Brigade and Shayetet 13 commandos raided the Hamas general security headquarters in Jabaliya, and found weapons, various equipment, and intelligence, the military said.

The Israeli Air Force continued to carry out strikes in Gaza, with the IDF saying that on Monday it struck a group of elite Hamas Nukhba operatives during a joint operation with the Paratroopers Brigade. The paratroopers also found a cache of rockets, according to the IDF.

The Israeli Navy also carried out dozens of strikes along the Gaza coast, aiding the ground forces, the IDF added.

On Tuesday, the IDF announced the deaths of five troops killed fighting Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip a day earlier, and another two soldiers killed Tuesday, raising the death toll since Israel’s ground offensive began in late October to 82.

Four of the soldiers killed Monday served in the 188th Armored Brigade’s 53rd Battalion: Cpt. Eitan Fisch, 23, from Peduel; Cpt. Yahel Gazit, 24, from Rakefet; Staff Sgt. Tuval Yaakov Tsanani, 20, from Kiryat Gat; and Sgt. Yakir Yedidya Schenkolewski, 21, from Migdal Oz.

The fifth soldier was named as Master Sgt. (res.) Gil Daniels, 34, of the 261st Brigade’s 6261st Battalion, from Ashdod.

This composite photo (L-R) shows Cpt. Yahel Gazit, Master Sgt. (res.) Gil Daniels, Cpt. Eitan Fisch, Sgt. Yakir Yedidya Schenkolewski, and Staff Sgt. Tuval Yaakov Tsanani, who the Israel Defense Forces announced on December 5, 2023, were killed fighting against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

The two soldiers killed Tuesday were named as Master Sgt. (res.) Matan Damari, 31, a squad commander in the 215th Artillery Regiment’s reconnaissance company, from Dimona; and Master Sgt. (res.) Ilay Eliyahu Cohen, 23, of the 551st Brigade’s 7008th Battalion, from Beit Nehemia.

Master Sgt. (res.) Matan Damari (left) and Master Sgt. (res.) Ilay Eliyahu Cohen (courtesy)

Meanwhile, Israel late Monday denied that it told the UN health agency WHO to empty an aid warehouse in southern Gaza before ground operations in the area render it unusable.

“The truth is that we didn’t ask you to evacuate the warehouses and we also made it clear (and in writing) to the relevant #UN representatives,” the Defense Ministry body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, COGAT, said in a post on X.

COGAT was responding to a Monday post on X from WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus: “Today, WHO received notification from the Israel Defense Forces that we should remove our supplies from our medical warehouse in southern Gaza within 24 hours, as ground operations will put it beyond use.”

“We appeal to Israel to withdraw the order, and take every possible measure to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals and humanitarian facilities,” he said.

Palestinians storm a UN-run aid supply center that distributes food to displaced families in the Gaza Strip, Deir al-Balah on October 28, 2023. (Mohammed Abed / AFP)

The rising death toll and unfolding humanitarian crisis in Gaza have sparked outrage in much of the world. The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says Israel’s military campaign, in response to the terror group’s murderous attacks on October 7, has killed around 15,900 people so far, most of them women and children. These figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, and people killed as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

Senior Israeli military officials were quoted Tuesday as saying that approximately two civilians have been killed for every dead Hamas fighter in the Gaza Strip.

The unnamed officials added that the IDF was deploying high-tech mapping software in an effort to reduce noncombatant deaths.

Asked about media reports that 5,000 Hamas fighters had been killed, one of the senior officials told reporters at a briefing, “The numbers are more or less right,” adding, “Hopefully, it [the ratio of civilian to combatant fatalities] will be much lower” in the coming phase of the war.

Key ally the United States has cautioned Israel to do more to avoid civilian casualties as operations shift to the south, where many Gazans are seeking refuge after fleeing the devastated north.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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