IDF says it finished razing Hamas’s main weapons manufacturing zone in central Gaza

Battles continue in northern and southern Gaza, as UN officials warn of dire humanitarian situation and accuse Israel of breaking international law

These images from a video released by the IDF on January 18, 2024, show an underground Hamas rocket manufacturing plant beneath central Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)
These images from a video released by the IDF on January 18, 2024, show an underground Hamas rocket manufacturing plant beneath central Gaza. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday it had completed demolishing Hamas’s main rocket and weapons manufacturing industrial zone in the central Gaza Strip, along with a vast tunnel network beneath it that housed some of the facilities.

The development came as the army said troops reached the southernmost point of their ground offensive in Gaza so far on Thursday as they intensified operations across the south of the Palestinian territory.

At the same time, a UN rights expert accused Israel Thursday of breaking international law with its “relentless” bombardment of Gaza.

Parts of the weapons manufacturing facility were shown to reporters, including The Times of Israel, during a media tour earlier this month on Salah a-Din road in the Bureij area.

The IDF said troops located additional sites recently, in the Maghazi area, and between Bureij and Nuseirat.

In all, the 36th Division, the Yahalom combat engineering unit, and Air Force’s Shaldag unit discovered and destroyed dozens of tunnel shafts in the area of Salah a-Din road in central Gaza, that connect to hundreds of kilometers of underground passages, according to the IDF.

Salah a-Din Road in central Gaza’s Bureij, January 8, 2024. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

One of the tunnel shafts was located in the home of a senior Hamas commander responsible for the rocket manufacturing operation.

The IDF said the tunnels led to underground sites used by Hamas to manufacture rockets and other weapons, as well as passages used by the terror group to transport munitions to all parts of Gaza.

Both above and below ground in Maghazi, Bureij and Nuseirat, the IDF said it discovered steel workshops, chemical and explosives factories, and storage sites for long-range rockets.

Meanwhile, Francesca Albanese, an Italian lawyer who is the UN special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories (and who is staunchly critical of Israel), told a Madrid news conference that Israel “has done a number of things that are highly illegal, highly unlawful” during the war.

While Israel has the right to self-defense, international humanitarian law must be respected “to protect people who are not actively involved in combat. Civilians, prisoners of war, and the sick and wounded,” she added.

This meant distinguishing between combatants and civilians and ensuring military attacks are proportionate to avoid excessive harm to civilians, Albanese said.

“Instead what has happened is over 100 days of relentless bombing — the first two weeks using 6,000 bombs per week, bombs of 2,000 pounds, in highly crowded areas,” she said. “Most hospitals have been made dysfunctional. A good number of them, the major ones, have been closed, bombed or taken over by the army. People are dying now not only because of the bombs but because there is not sufficient health infrastructure to cure them of wounds.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hamas of embedding itself in Gaza’s civilian population and using civilians as human shields, including by locating terror bases under hospitals, launching rockets from schools and shelters, building tunnel shafts under children’s bedrooms, and storing weapons in and around schools and mosques.

Captured Hamas terrorists have confirmed some of the human shield claims, explaining for example that Hamas knows Israel will not target hospitals, medical centers and facilities.

Israeli soldiers show the media an underground tunnel found below Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP/Victor R. Caivano)

A health professional who recently left Gaza after weeks working in hospitals there described overwhelmed doctors trying to save the lives of thousands of wounded people amid collapsing hospitals that have turned into impromptu refugee camps.

The World Health Organization’s Sean Casey, who left Gaza after five weeks of trying to get more staff and supplies to the territory’s 16 partially functioning hospitals, told a UN news conference that he saw “a really horrifying situation in the hospitals” as the health system collapsed day by day.

Al-Shifa Hospital, once Gaza’s leading hospital with 700 beds, has been reduced to treating only emergency trauma victims, and is filled with thousands of people who have fled their homes and are now living in operating rooms, corridors and stairs, he said.

“Literally five or six doctors or nurses” are seeing hundreds of patients a day, Casey said, most with life-threatening injuries, and there were “so many patients on the floor you could barely move without stepping on somebody’s hands or feet.”

Following Hamas’s surprise attacks into the country’s south on October 7, Israel has repeatedly accused the Islamic terror group of using Gaza’s hospitals as cover for military activities. It singled out Al-Shifa in Gaza City, saying Hamas had hidden command centers and bunkers underneath the hospital’s sprawling grounds. In late November, the Israeli military unveiled what it said was a Hamas military facility under the hospital.

Victory will take time

Speaking at a press conference in Tel Aviv Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that the war on Hamas “is continuing on all fronts, and the war will continue on all fronts until all the aims we set are achieved.”

“Victory will take many more long months,” he continued, “but we are determined to achieve it.”

He rejected the idea that Israel cannot win, which he claimed was being circulated by Israeli media, including “in the TV studios.” His government, he promised, “will not compromise on anything less than total victory over Hamas.”

On the rule of Gaza after the war, he said he “would be happy to find Gazans” to run civil affairs in the Strip, and states in the region to help with Gaza’s rehabilitation, but said this was unlikely to happen until Hamas is defeated, because potential alternatives will be afraid to “get a bullet in the head” from the terror group’s gunmen.

Earlier in the day, the IDF denied claims that it shelled a Jordanian field hospital in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, as troops continued to battle Hamas operatives in the area.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference on January 18, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

On Wednesday, the Jordanian military claimed its military field hospital had been badly damaged as a result of Israeli shelling in the vicinity, but the aerial imagery shared by the IDF showed all of the tents intact.

In response to a query on the matter, the IDF’s Spokesperson’s Unit told The Times of Israel that the military “did not attack the Jordanian hospital in Khan Younis,” but that troops were engaged in a gun battle with Hamas operatives in a nearby area.

“There are claims that a medical staff member of the hospital was injured as a result of the shooting. As of now, it is not possible to verify that the injury is the result of IDF troops firing,” the IDF said, adding that before troops entered the area, they were briefed on the hospital and were told that it was “a sensitive place and it is very important for the IDF not to endanger it and its people.”

The IDF also noted that “coordination was carried out between the relevant parties” ahead of the army’s operations near the hospital on Wednesday, in which it instructed the hospital staff to seek shelter.

“The hospital is not damaged and continues to function and provide medical care to those who need it,” the IDF said.

In the south of the Strip, the Hamas-run health ministry said that 16 people, half of them children, were killed in an IDF airstrike on a home in Rafah. There was no immediate comment from the IDF on the reported strike.

The reports came as Qatar confirmed that a shipment of medicines, some intended to be given to dozens of hostages with chronic illnesses held by Hamas, had entered the Strip.

“Over the past few hours, medicine & aid entered the Gaza Strip, in implementation of the agreement announced yesterday for the benefit of civilians in the Strip, including hostages,” Majed Al Ansari, a spokesperson for Doha’s foreign ministry posted on X, formerly Twitter, adding that mediation was continuing “at the political and humanitarian levels.”

A senior Hamas official said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes of medicine were being sent in for Palestinians.

Medical aid for Gaza sent by Qatar on January 17, 2024. (Qatar Foreign Ministry)

The agreement for medication to enter Gaza came amid the growing humanitarian crisis in the enclave. The Gaza health ministry, run by Hamas, said Thursday that the death toll in the Strip had reached at least 24,620 people, though figures from the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of the terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 9,000 operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

There was no word on whether the medicines, which were to be transferred by the Red Cross, had been distributed to the hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released before that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 27 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Israeli communities were ravaged by Hamas on October 7, when terrorists burst through the border, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting around 240 hostages.

IDF troops operate in the Gaza Strip in this handout photo released for publication on January 18, 2024. (IDF)

Vowing to destroy the terror group, Israel launched a wide-scale air and ground campaign in Gaza, which has continued for over 100 days. Fighting intensified on Thursday, with IDF troops operating in the Khan Younis killing some 40 Hamas operatives over the past day, according to the military.

Troops of the Givati Brigade also raided the “Shuhada Outpost,” a main stronghold belonging to Hamas’s South Khan Younis Battalion and the offices of the Hamas battalion commander, seizing many firearms and recovering intelligence documents.

More limited fighting continued in northern Gaza as well, with the army saying it killed several gunmen in tank and air strikes in areas where it says it has established “operational control.”

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