IDF tanks, troops briefly enter Gaza in 2nd limited overnight raid ahead of ground op

Military hits Gaza City targets during incursion; Navy commandos raid Hamas site on coast; rocket fire at center, south; at least 233 hostages were kidnapped on October 7

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

A still from video released by the IDF shows Israeli tanks rolling into Gaza on October 27, 2023. (Screen capture: IDF)
A still from video released by the IDF shows Israeli tanks rolling into Gaza on October 27, 2023. (Screen capture: IDF)

Israel sent tanks, infantry forces, and Navy commandos into Gaza for a second limited incursion overnight, the Israel Defense Forces said Friday, the second night in a row that forces briefly entered the Strip ahead of an expected full ground offensive.

The raid near the Shejaiya neighborhood in eastern Gaza City was carried out by infantry, combat engineering and armored forces, with Israeli Air Force drones and combat helicopters providing air cover, the military said.

The IDF said it carried out artillery strikes and airstrikes against sites belonging to the Hamas terror group, including anti-tank guided missile launch sites and command centers.

Several Hamas members were also hit by the forces, the IDF said, adding that all the troops left the area after several hours, and that no Israeli injuries were reported.

Additionally, the IDF said it killed the commander of Hamas’s West Khan Younis Battalion, Madhat Mubasher, in an overnight airstrike in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF said Mubasher “took part in sniper attacks and was responsible for large explosive devices [used] against IDF forces and Israeli towns.”

Also overnight, forces of the Israeli Navy’s Shayetet 13 commando unit carried out a raid in the southern Gaza Strip from the sea, the IDF said.

The forces destroyed Hamas infrastructure and operated in a compound used by the terror group’s naval commando forces, according to the IDF.

Other Navy forces participated in the mission, and all the Shayetet 13 commandos left the area and returned to Israel after the operation, the IDF added.

Hamas in a statement Friday claimed to have repelled the Israeli raid from the sea.

The IDF has for several weeks been preparing a full-scale incursion aimed at rooting out the Gaza-ruling terror group following its murderous October 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

It has pounded the Strip on an unprecedented scale in order to eliminate potential threats to ground troops once the order finally comes. The airstrikes have flattened entire neighborhoods, causing a level of destruction unseen in the last four wars between Israel and Hamas.

The IDF said Friday that over the past day, it has carried out more than 250 airstrikes against Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip, with targets including Hamas tunnels, command centers, rocket launching positions, and dozens of operatives.

The military also confirmed a Skylark 3 drone crashed in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City earlier Friday, “as a result of a technical error,” but said there was no fear of sensitive information leaking from the device.

Also Friday, the military said that at least 233 hostages were kidnapped and taken to the Gaza Strip during the devastating assault on October 7.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military has notified the families of 229 hostages that their loved ones are currently being held in the enclave.

The number does not include four released hostages — mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Ra’anan, who were freed a week ago, and elderly women Yocheved Lifshitz and Nurit Cooper, freed on Monday night.

Hagari said the number is not final as the military continues to investigate new information.

Baby strollers with pictures of Israeli children abducted by Hamas terrorists are displayed in Tel Aviv on October 27, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

However, a member of a Hamas delegation visiting Russia claimed that the terror group still does not know where all the people kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during their attack are being held.

The Hamas official, named as Abu Hamid, claimed in an interview with Russia’s semi-official Kommersant news outlet that the terror group has always been willing to release civilians, but “needs time to find them.” He additionally claimed members of various groups are holding hostages, and that a ceasefire was needed to allow Hamas to carry out its search, find the hostages and then release them.

The updated hostage figures from the military came after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday promised to make “every effort” to return the hostages as he reiterated that a ground operation was looming and vowed to win the war, asserting that the country’s next 75 years largely depend on it.

In a primetime televised address, the defense minister said: “We are in decisive moments. This is a war for our home and we will win it. It’s either us or them.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference on October 26, 2023. (GPO/Screenshot)

Gallant said again that the planned ground offensive will occur soon. “Additional stages in the war will also come, we are creating the conditions for them and we will carry them out. I am determined… to ensure the State of Israel is victorious over this tough and evil enemy — over this epitome of evil.”

“Nothing like this has happened in Israel’s 75 years of existence,” he continued, referring to the scale of the carnage and destruction, and the number of abducted Israelis. “What will happen in the next 75 years depends largely on the achievements in this battle.”

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that Israel had agreed to a request from the United States to temporarily delay the planned Gaza ground incursion to give Washington more time to deploy additional air defense systems to protect its troops in the region.

The US was also reportedly concerned that Israel lacks achievable military goals for its operations in Gaza, leading to fears that the IDF is not yet ready for a ground incursion.

The campaign is also understood to have been postponed to allow for extensive internationally brokered negotiations with Hamas over the potential release of hundreds of Israeli and foreign hostages it is holding.

The negotiations have also resulted in a trickle of humanitarian aid entering Gaza for its besieged and devastated civilian population.

Led by Hamas and carried out with other terror groups, the October 7 assault saw some 2,500 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing more than 230 hostages of all ages, under the cover of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.

Israel says its war against Hamas is aimed at destroying the Iran-backed terror group’s infrastructure and has vowed to dismantle the organization after the massacres while minimizing harm to Gaza’s civilians. The IDF has been calling on Palestinians to evacuate from northern Gaza southward, as it intensifies strikes in the Gaza City area.

Palestinians inspect the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes on Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, Oct. 26, 2023. (AP/Mohammed Dahman)

An airstrike on Thursday killed the deputy head of Hamas’s intelligence directorate, Shadi Barud, the military said.

The IDF accused Barud of planning the October 7 massacre along with Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar. Barud previously served as a battalion commander in the Khan Younis area and held other roles in the terror group’s intelligence directorate, and “was responsible for planning numerous terror attacks against Israeli civilians,” the IDF said.

Another strike killed the head of Hamas’s North Khan Younis rocket array, Hassan al-Abdullah, according to the army, which added that fighter jets had struck and killed several more Hamas members and destroyed several sites belonging to the terror group throughout the day.

And in the evening, the military said it had killed three senior commanders in Hamas’s Daraj-Tuffah Battalion: the battalion’s commander, Rifaat Abbas; the deputy commander, Ibrahim Jadba; and a combat support commander, Tarek Maarouf. According to the IDF, the Daraj-Tuffah Battalion is part of Hamas’s Gaza City Brigade, which is “considered the most significant brigade of the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Israeli Air Force sources say that more than 10,000 sites belonging to Hamas and other terror groups have been struck since the beginning of the war.

Destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz seen on October 19, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says the strikes have killed over 7,000 people, many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen killed in Israel and in Gaza, and the victims of what Israel says are hundreds of errant Palestinian rockets that have landed in the Strip since the war began. Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists inside Israel on and after October 7.

On Thursday, Hamas released a list of almost 7,000 names of people it said had been killed in Israeli strikes, after US President Joe Biden cast doubt on the toll issued by the terror group-controlled Gaza health ministry. That list too could not be independently verified.

The death toll on both sides is expected to rise significantly once Israel launches its ground offensive and begins entering Gazan cities. Troops are expected to have to contend with Gaza’s network of tunnels dug by terror groups, booby traps and bombs, as they battle through tough urban environments.

Friday also additional barrages of rocket fire from Gaza toward central and southern Israel.

A fire sparked after a rocket fired from Gaza hit a utility next to a highway near Rehovot, October 26, 2023. (Courtesy)

One rocket struck the top two floors of an apartment building in Tel Aviv, injuring four people. Each of them was evacuated to nearby hospitals — two men, 53 and 20, were moderately wounded from shrapnel and two men, 78 and 52, were lightly wounded from smoke inhalation.

The Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades claimed responsibility for the barrages, saying in a statement that they were “in response to Zionist massacres against civilians,” it said.

Thursday also saw multiple salvos of rockets aimed at central Israel, including the cities of Tel Aviv, Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam, Givatayim, Ramat Gan, Holon and others, as well as barrages targeting southern cities Ashdod, Ashkelon and Netivot, as well as Gaza border towns.

Gazan terrorists have launched thousands of rockets at Israel since October 7, killing and wounding dozens, and sending hundreds of thousands running for shelter, and the education of hundreds of thousands of children disrupted as schools remain shut or in a limited format.

Michael Bachner, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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