IDF razes tunnel where 5 hostages found dead, says Hamas HQ under north Gaza crushed

Bodies of 3 soldiers and 2 civilians recovered earlier this month from large network beneath Jabaliya; army defends ground op as only way to defeat Hamas, amid mounting death toll

A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023, shows Israeli soldiers taking a position near the Palestinian enclave amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Menahem KAHANA/AFP)
A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023, shows Israeli soldiers taking a position near the Palestinian enclave amid continuing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Menahem KAHANA/AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces revealed Sunday that it found a large Hamas tunnel network beneath the Jabaliya refugee camp near Gaza City, where the bodies of five Israeli hostages were recovered earlier this month.

The latest revelation regarding Gaza’s web of subterranean hiding spots and fortifications came as the military said it had completed the dismantling of the terror group’s underground command center in the northern Strip, with fighting shifting southward 79 days into a punishing offensive sparked by Hamas’s brutal October 7 assault on southern Israel.

Some 1,200 people in Israel, most of them civilians, were massacred by thousands of armed terrorists who rampaged through Israeli communities that day. Another approximately 240 people were kidnapped, including women, children and the elderly.

The IDF said troops had been deployed to probe a possible tunnel located under Jabaliya earlier this month, eventually finding and recovering the remains of three soldiers and two civilians.

They were named as Warrant Officer Ziv Dado, 36, Cpl. Nik Beizer, 19, and Sgt. Ron Sherman, 19, as well as civilians Elia Toledano, 28, and Eden Zacharia, 27.

The first two bodies, of Dado and Zacharia, were found on December 13, and three days later, the other three, Beizer, Sherman, and Toledano, were located in a different area of the tunnel network.

Eden Zacharia and IDF Warrant Officer Ziv Dado. (Courtesy/IDF)

The IDF initially located tunnel shafts after deploying troops based on the intelligence that there were two bodies of hostages being held in Jabaliya, a once-densely populated neighborhood and refugee camp abutting Gaza City in northern Gaza.

The shafts, investigated by troops, including the elite Yahalom combat engineering unit, revealed a massive tunnel network with two levels and an elevator heading down dozens of meters to a large hall and command center, the IDF said.

Left to right: Elia Toledano, Cpl. Nik Baizer, Sgt. Ron Sherman, taken hostage by Hamas on Oct 7. Their bodies were recovered by the IDF and returned to Israel on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

Branches of the network stretched under a nearby school and hospital, according to the military. One tunnel included a shaft leading directly to the home of the former commander of Hamas’s northern Gaza brigade, Ahmed Ghandour, who was killed in an Israeli airstrike weeks ago.

Weapons and infrastructure used to manufacture weapons were also found in the tunnel, the IDF said.

The entire network was spread over an area about a square kilometer in size, according to military assessments.

The massive tunnel network was destroyed several days ago by the IDF after it completed its scans of the area.

The subterranean fortifications were the latest of a series of major underground complexes uncovered by the IDF in northern Gaza, over the last several weeks.

In a terse statement, the IDF said it had “completed the dismantling of Hamas’s subterranean command complex in northern Gaza.”

A screenshot from a video of a large Hamas tunnel network found in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp and revealed by the IDF on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday, the IDF revealed another large Hamas tunnel network, in the southern part of Gaza City, which it said was hundreds of meters long and included command rooms, storage, and large resting areas with electricity, communication lines, and water.

On Wednesday, the army announced that it had discovered and blown up another large network under Gaza City’s upscale Rimal neighborhood. It said shafts led directly from Hamas leaders’ homes and offices to a complex series of tunnels, including some with blast doors and stores of food.

Earlier this month, the army said it uncovered a massive tunnel near the Erez border crossing in far north Gaza, which stretched at least four kilometers (2.5 miles) and was wide enough for a car to drive through.

The destruction of the tunnels was the latest sign of the IDF’s hold on much of northern Gaza, with fighting moving into the central and southern regions of the Strip.

IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the Gaza City neighborhoods of Daraj and Tuffah appeared to be the last terrorist redoubts in the northern sector of the Strip.

“We have a lot more work and goals to achieve in the south. The Khan Younis area is the second largest [in Gaza] and that’s where we are focusing,” he said.

With reports indicating that the US will soon ramp up pressure for Israel to shift the operation into a less intense mode of fighting, Hagari said Israel was in the fight for the long haul.

Smoke rises following an Israeli bombardment in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

“Dismantling Hamas, taking Khan Younis and other Hamas strongholds in the south will take time,” he said. “We’re determined to do it and we’re prepared to do it. We’ve built a staged plan to do so.”

The gains against Hamas have come with an increasingly heavy price. Over the weekend, the military announced that 15 soldiers had been killed bringing the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 154.

As funerals were held nationwide for 14 soldiers killed Friday and Saturday, the army announced the killing Maj. (res.) Aryeh Rein, 39, of the 14th Reserve Armored Brigade’s 79th Battalion, from Mishmarot. Rein was killed by an anti-tank guided missile on Sunday in northern Gaza.

Maj. (res.) Aryeh Rein, an IDF soldier killed in the Gaza Strip on December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hagari defended the ground offensive as the only way to actually take down Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for 16 years, noting that forces on the ground were needed to seek out and destroy tunnels like those used during the October 7 attacks, as well as Hamas’s arsenal of weapons.

“There’s no way to dismantle Hamas without a ground operation,” he said. “Doing this means launching a ground offensive. It’s the only way to flush the terrorists out [of the tunnels].”

He warned that even after the military operation in the northern Strip concludes, there will be “terror nests” in the area.

“We have ratcheted up the strength [of the offensive] and we will continue to ratchet it up,” he added.

Black smoke rises from a building near Palestine Square in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood, December 19, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

Gaza’s Hamas-controlled health authorities claim Israel’s bombing campaign and fighting on the ground have killed over 20,000 people in Gaza, though the figures cannot be verified and Hamas has been accused of inflating casualty figures in the past. Hamas does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, though they claim that the dead include thousands of women and children.

The IDF says it has killed some 8,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza and another 1,000 terrorists during and immediately after the October 7 attacks.

The army told Reuters it was investigating after 68 people were reported killed by Hamas in an airstrike in the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, in what would be among the deadliest strikes of the war, though the claim could not be verified.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said online that it had transported five fatalities and eight people injured in the camp.

The IDF says it is committed to minimizing harm to civilians; Israel largely blames Hamas for noncombatant deaths, noting that the terror group has deeply embedded its military infrastructure amid civilian areas.

Hamas weapons discovered by IDF troops in a school in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The army said Sunday it found a large weapon store hidden in a school that was serving as a shelter in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, after battling Hamas gunmen there. It said it killed several combatants and arrested dozens.

“After we evacuated the [civilian] population, we found in the complex many weapons, hidden between the civilians’ equipment,” said a Shayetet 13 deputy company commander in a video, showing assault rifles, grenades, and other explosive devices found in the school.

Hamas weapons discovered by IDF troops in a school in Gaza City’s Sheikh Radwan neighborhood, December 24, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF said dozens of Hamas fighters who surrendered were taken to Israel for questioning.

The army said it found a second cache of weapons in a building where civilians were sheltering in northern Gaza, located near a school, mosque, and clinic.

Inside, troops found “explosive belts adapted for children,” dozens of mortars, hundreds of grenades, and intelligence documents.

Air, sea, and ground forces struck some 200 targets in the Gaza Strip over the past day, the IDF said. In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF said troops raided a Hamas command center, locating weapons, including dozens of grenades and explosive devices.

On the Israeli side of the border, sporadic rocket fire set off alarms in largely evacuated Israeli communities near the Strip throughout the day. There were no reports of damage or injuries in the attacks.

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