Army says it destroyed part of one of longest Hamas tunnel networks in north Gaza

Military says underground network connects terrorists from north to south of Strip; soldier seriously injured Friday in fighting; PM vows Rafah op ‘will happen’

A video released by the IDF on March 17, 2024, shows the destruction of part of one of the longest Hamas tunnel networks in north Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Sunday that it recently destroyed what it says is part of one of the longest Hamas tunnel networks, which connects Hamas battalions and brigades in northern and southern Gaza.

Combat engineers of the 162nd Division, along with the elite Yahalom unit, demolished around 2.5 kilometers (a little more than 1.5 miles) of the tunnel network in northern Gaza, according to the IDF.

The IDF also said Sunday that troops of the Nahal Brigade had killed some 18 Hamas operatives in the central Gaza Strip over the past day.

The gunmen were killed with sniper fire and by the troops calling in tank shelling and airstrikes.

In southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, the IDF said troops of the Givati Brigade spotted two Hamas operatives loading a motorbike with military gear and called in an airstrike. Another two gunmen approaching the troops were also killed in an airstrike, the military said.

In Khan Younis, the 7th Armored Brigade killed several more Hamas operatives and seized weapons, the IDF said.

In one incident, the IDF said the troops shelled a building from which anti-tank missiles were fired. The missile attack caused no injuries.

A soldier from the 601st Battalion was seriously injured on Friday in fighting in the central Gaza Strip, the military stated. The soldier was taken to the hospital for medical treatment, and his family was informed.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza on Sunday said that the bodies of 92 people killed in Israeli airstrikes were brought to hospitals in Gaza in the past 24 hours. Hospitals also received 130 wounded, it said. The numbers could not be independently verified.

At least 11 people from the Thabet family, including five children and one woman, were killed in an airstrike in Deir el-Balah city in central Gaza, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and an Associated Press journalist. The body of an infant lay among the dead.

Troops operating in the Gaza Strip in an undated photo released by the military for publication on March 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

A Palestinian girl, Leen Thabit, retrieving a white dress from under the rubble of a flattened house, cried as she told AFP that her cousin had been killed in the strike.

“She’s dead. Only her dress is left,” Thabit said. “What do they want from us?”

The ongoing war has driven most of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes. A quarter of Gaza’s population is starving, according to the UN.

Humanitarian aid airdrops by the US and other nations continue, while deliveries on a new sea route have begun, but aid groups say more ground routes and fewer Israeli restrictions on them are needed to meet humanitarian needs in any significant way.

Israel says there is no limit to the amount of aid that can enter the Strip and has blamed aid groups for failing to properly distribute supplies.

In the face of growing international criticism of the military campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated his determination to attack Hamas in Rafah and said that his government approved military plans for such an operation.

“We will operate in Rafah. This will take several weeks, and it will happen,” he told the weekly cabinet meeting.

Netanyahu’s office said Friday that he had approved military operational plans for an offensive in the southern Gaza city.

Palestinians transport water to a camp for displaced people in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 17, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Israel has said Rafah, where four Hamas battalions are deployed, remains Hamas’s last major stronghold in the Strip after the IDF operated in the north and center of the Palestinian enclave. It has said an offensive there is necessary to achieve the war’s goals and is not a question of “if” but “when.”

The international community has expressed concerns about the humanitarian costs of a planned assault on Rafah, where about 1.4 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Israel has promised to evacuate the civilian population before the ground incursion, but has not publicized the details of where they will be moved.

War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, slaughtering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 captives to Gaza, where more than half remain. The devastating onslaught and the resulting Israeli offensive — aimed at eliminating Hamas and returning the hostages — have sparked fears of a regional conflagration.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says 31,645 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified, and includes those killed by the terror groups’ failed rocket launches and some 13,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

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