Soldier slain in north Gaza as IDF battles Hamas in war’s ‘most violent’ fighting yet

Terror operatives launch massive numbers of RPGs at Israeli tanks in Jabaliya camp, an area troops did not reach in initial ground offensive

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

Troops of the 7th Armored Brigade operate in northern Gaza's Jabaliya, in a handout image published May 17, 2024. Inset: Sgt. Ben Avishay, killed in northern Gaza on May 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Troops of the 7th Armored Brigade operate in northern Gaza's Jabaliya, in a handout image published May 17, 2024. Inset: Sgt. Ben Avishay, killed in northern Gaza on May 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli soldier was killed during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, the military announced, as troops pushed deeper into Jabaliya and expanded “operational control” in the area over the past day.

Officers described the fighting in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya as some of the most intense amid the ongoing war, with Hamas operatives launching massive numbers of RPGs at tanks and armored vehicles.

The slain soldier was Sgt. Ben Avishay, 20, of the Paratroopers Brigade’s signals company, from Nahariya.

Amid the operation in Jabaliya, being carried out by the 98th Division, the Israel Defense Forces said its fighter jets and drones struck a weapons depot and killed several gunmen who had launched mortars at troops in the area.

Late Saturday, tanks of the 7th Armored Brigade rolled into Jabaliya, an area that the military had previously operated in and claimed to have dismantled Hamas’s local battalions. The latest operation, however, was focused on areas deep in the Jabaliya refugee camp, which the IDF did not reach during the initial ground offensive.

The IDF has so far reported killing more than 200 gunmen in the area — at least 60 of whom were killed by the 7th Brigade — and it estimated there may be several hundred more.

The fighting was described as “intense” and the “most violent” amid the war, with many engagements, both above ground and by operatives using tunnels. The Jabaliya camp also has many narrow alleys, making it challenging for tanks to operate there.

The operatives were mostly launching RPGs at tanks, but also setting up explosive devices. The 7th Brigade’s Merkava tanks, with the TROPHY active defense system, were largely managing to withstand the RPG attacks, with only a few cases of troops being injured, according to the military.

Troops of the 7th Armored Brigade operate in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in a handout image published May 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Friday morning, a soldier of the 460th Armored Brigade’s 9227th Battalion was seriously wounded during a battle with terror operatives in Jabaliya, the military announced

He was taken to a hospital in Israel.

Hamas operatives have also been launching attacks from within or near humanitarian shelters in Jabaliya, according to the army. The shelters have since been evacuated of civilians.

The IDF said troops of the 101st Paratroopers Battalion, operating alongside the tank forces, located a rocket depot adjacent to one of the shelters. Dozens of long-range rockets and rocket parts were found at the site, it says.

At the adjacent shelter, some 20 suspected terror operatives were detained by troops, the IDF added. Some 40 suspects total were captured in Jabaliya in recent days.

A cache of rockets is found by IDF troops in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, in a handout image released May 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Meanwhile, on Friday, one rocket fired from the Gaza Strip at the southern city of Sderot was intercepted by the Iron Dome, according to the IDF.

Palestinian terrorists have been repeatedly attacking Sderot in recent days, as the IDF pushed into Jabaliya, where residents told Reuters that Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabaliya and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

Meanwhile, in southern Gaza’s Rafah, the 162nd Division’s 401st Armored Brigade located and destroyed a rocket launching position, according to the military. The IDF said the site was used to fire long-range rockets at Israel.

Israel says four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are now in Rafah along with hostages abducted during the terror group’s October 7 massacre, but it faces international pressure not to invade the city, where hundreds of thousands of displaced Palestinian civilians are sheltering amid the ongoing war. Two more Hamas battalions remain in central Gaza, in the Nuseirat and Deir al-Balah camps.

The United Nations says that over 600,000 Gazans have evacuated the city since the IDF began operations there last week by taking over the Palestinian side of the Rafah Border Crossing.

Also Friday, the military said it demolished a tunnel in central Gaza this week, amid an operation in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood.

The week-long operation, carried out by the Nahal and Carmeli brigades, was wrapped up on Thursday. The IDF said troops demolished Hamas sites, including attack tunnels, weapon manufacturing sites, rocket launchers, and command rooms amid the pinpoint raid.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that some 150 terror operatives were killed in Zeitoun.

Additionally, over the past day, the Israeli Air Force hit some 60 targets across Gaza, including buildings used by terror groups, weapon depots, anti-tank launch posts, and other infrastructure, as well as gunmen, according to the IDF.

Palestinians who fled Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip arrive with their belongings to Khan Younis on May 15, 2024. (AFP)

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw thousands of terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 252 hostages, mostly civilians, many amid acts of brutality and sexual assault. Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas to ensure it no longer poses a threat, but is also involved in indirect talks with the group aimed at an extended truce and exchange of hostages for Palestinian security prisoners.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though only some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals. The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Two hundred and eighty Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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