Battles continue across Gaza, with conflict now Israel’s longest since 1948 war

Army says troops killed dozens of Hamas gunmen in Khan Younis area over past day, as Israel sets its sights on southernmost city of Rafah

Israeli troops and tanks are stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Israeli troops and tanks are stationed along the border with the Gaza Strip on February 2, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Intensive fighting continued throughout the Gaza Strip Friday as Jerusalem and international actors awaited Hamas officials’ response to a proposed ceasefire and hostage release deal.

And with Saturday set to be the 120th day of the Israel-Hamas war, a new milestone was set this week as the conflict became Israel’s longest open war since 1948’s War of Independence. Though that war, at some 20 months, is unlikely to be surpassed, the war is now longer than the First Lebanon War (1982; 116 days), and far longer than the Second Lebanon War (2006; 34 days), the Yom Kippur War (1973; 19 days) and the Six Day War (1967; six days).

There is no clear end in sight to the ongoing war, with Israel insisting that even should a deal be struck for a truce and the release of Israeli captives, such a pause would be temporary and the war will not end until Hamas is removed from power in the territory.

The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that troops killed dozens of Hamas gunmen in the Khan Younis area over the past day, raiding several Hamas sites in the area, seizing weapons and carrying out strikes on Hamas cells and buildings used by terror operatives.

Meanwhile, in central Gaza, the Navy carried out strikes along the Strip’s coast, aiding ground forces of the Nahal Brigade, which is operating in the area, the IDF said.

In northern Gaza’s Shati camp, the IDF said the 401st Armored Brigade killed more than 10 gunmen over the past day.

Troops of the 99th Division operate in central Gaza, in a handout image published February 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Separately, in an unusual incident overnight, the IDF said the Iron Dome intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” that infiltrated Israeli airspace from Gaza. An alert had sounded on the Home Front Command’s mobile app in open areas, but not in any towns.

Meanwhile, the IDF said troops fighting in Gaza had recovered documents detailing the use by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad of mosques for terror purposes.

According to a military statement, dozens of mosques across the Gaza Strip have arms dumps and tunnel entrances, and also serve as “operational gathering points.” The IDF added that documents recently found in Khan Younis show the extent of Hamas’s influence on religious leaders in Gaza and “infiltration into local religious leadership positions with the intent of promoting hate speech, instigating violence and encouraging civilians to join terrorist groups.

This image released by the Israel Defense Forces on February 2, 2024, shows what the military says was a tunnel entrance near a mosque in the northern Gaza Strip. (Israel Defense Forces)

“The exploitation of religious leaders and mosques by terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip for promoting terrorism, storing explosives and carrying out attacks represents the grave misuse of religious institutions for military operations, effectively turning worshipers into human shields,” the statement charged.

The IDF also released footage and detailed recent operations carried out by the 99th Division in the central Gaza Strip. The division’s main objective is to hold a “corridor” splitting Gaza in two, preventing Hamas operatives and weaponry from crossing from the southern part of the Strip to its north.

In one operation, carried out by the 646th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, the IDF said troops discovered a rocket manufacturing plant in the Nuseirat area. In another operation, reservists of the Yiftah Brigade raided a Hamas bank in central Gaza, where some NIS 100,000 in cash and intelligence documents were seized from an underground vault, according to the IDF.

The IDF said the division’s 179th Reserve Armored Brigade killed hundreds of Hamas gunmen in recent weeks, destroyed several major Hamas tunnels, seized weapons, and demolished the terror group’s sites.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Friday that at least 27,131 Palestinians had been killed and 66,287 had been wounded in the war since October 7. The terror group’s figures are unverified, don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, and list all the fatalities as caused by Israel, while Israel assesses many were caused by hundreds of misfired rockets or otherwise by Palestinian fire. Israel assesses it has killed 10,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza fighting, in addition to some 1,000 killed in Israel during the terror group’s October 7 invasion and onslaught.

On Thursday Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed that the Israeli military will reach and dismantle Hamas’s Rafah Brigade, just as it is currently working to do to its battalions in the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza.

Gallant stated that ongoing operations have severely weakened the terror group’s ability to wage war and that the pressure will force it to agree to release hostages it kidnapped during the October 7 attack on Israel.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) speaks to troops of the 98th Division in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, February 1, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

“Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade boasted that it would stand against the IDF, now it’s falling apart, and I am telling you here, we are completing the mission in Khan Younis and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate everyone there who is a terrorist who is trying to harm us,” Gallant said.

He said the IDF’s operations in Khan Younis were “progressing with impressive results,” and that it was “much more difficult for Hamas.”

“They don’t have weapons, they don’t have ammunition, they don’t have the ability to treat the wounded, they have 10,000 dead terrorists [throughout Gaza] and another 10,000 wounded who are not functioning,” Gallant stated.

“It’s a blow that is eroding their ability [to fight],” he said.

Gallant told the troops that their actions, both above ground and underground in Khan Younis, “bring the return of the hostages closer, because Hamas only understands strength.”

International mediators are making efforts to reach a deal between Israel and Hamas that would see at least some of the 136 hostages held in Gaza returned in exchange for a weeks-long truce and the release of Palestinian security prisoners. If an agreement is reached, it would be the first time captives are released since a week-long truce in November, when 105 captives were freed from captivity.

War erupted between Israel and Hamas with the terror group’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 250 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians.

Vowing to destroy the terror group, Israel launched a wide-scale military campaign in Gaza.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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