The Israel Defense Forces said Tuesday that troops were engaged in “fierce battles against Hamas terrorists deep in Gaza,” as soldiers and tanks pushed further into the Strip amid the war against the terror group.
The military said ground and air forces hit several Hamas positions and anti-tank guided missile squads.
According to the IDF, troops have killed dozens of terrorists amid the fighting in urban areas, and have also seized weapons.
The IDF did not provide new information on potential Israeli casualties.
IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said IDF ground forces were “fighting terrorists at close quarters, heroically and courageously. ”
“This is dangerous conflict. It has a price,” Hagari added. “It is complex, but it is essential to our capacity to achieve the aims of the war.”
The military also announced it killed the commander of Hamas’s Beit Lahiya Battalion, Nisam Abu Ajina, in an overnight airstrike in the northern Gaza Strip.
According to the IDF, Abu Ajina was responsible for commanding the Hamas terrorists who carried out the deadly onslaught at Kibbutz Erez and Netiv Ha’asara on October 7.
The military said Abu Ajina previously commanded Hamas’s aerial forces, and worked on the development of the terror group’s drones and paragliders, used in the October 7 attacks, and that “his elimination constitutes a significant blow to the Hamas terror group’s efforts to disrupt the IDF’s ground operations” in the Gaza Strip.
On Tuesday afternoon, four people were wounded, including one seriously, by two separate rocket impacts in Ashdod following a barrage of missiles fired from Gaza.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it is treating a 50-year-old man in serious condition with shrapnel injuries, and three men aged 64, 46, and 35 in good condition, who were hit by glass shards.
They were all taken to the local Assuta Hospital.
In response to the October 7 massacres, Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, which rules Gaza, and to pursue every avenue to secure freedom for all of the hostages kidnapped to Gaza.
Hagari said the military has so far notified the families of 240 hostages that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip, upping the confirmed number of people who were abducted on October 7 to at least 245. He said the number was not final as the military investigates new information.
Since the assault, Hamas has released four hostages — an American-Israeli mother and daughter and two elderly Israeli women — in moves brokered by Qatar, which hosts both a US military base and Hamas’s political bureau.
On Monday it was announced that a soldier abducted by Hamas had been rescued from the Gaza Strip in an overnight operation, the first captive taken in the terror group’s shock assault on October 7 to be freed by Israeli troops.
In a joint statement, the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security agency said Pvt. Ori Megidish was in good condition and was rescued during a ground operation, without giving further details.
Megidish was an observation soldier, taken hostage when terrorists stormed the Nahal Oz base over three weeks ago. She was believed to have been held alone, though other members of her unit were captured by Hamas in the onslaught.
The Shin Bet and IDF were not expected to reveal further information on how Megidish was rescued from Hamas captivity, to prevent harm to future operations.
Hagari said Monday that Megidish managed to recall everything she saw in the Gaza Strip, providing information that he said may be used in future operations.
Megidish’s return was hailed by Israeli leaders, with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant saying the operation “is proof” that Israel can rescue the hostages held by Hamas and other terror groups.
Megidish was dragged into the Strip by Hamas and allied terror factions during the shock assault on southern Israel three weeks ago, when some 2,500 terrorists stormed across the Gaza frontier in a multipronged attack and killed over 1,400 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes and at an outdoor music festival.
The captives, also mainly civilians, include women, the elderly and children, some still in diapers. It is not clear how many of them are alive.
The announcement that Megidish was rescued came hours after Hamas released a video showing three of the women it took hostage. The hostages, who appeared to be filmed under duress, were identified as Danielle Aloni, Rimon Buchshtab Kirsht, and Lena Trupanov.
Meanwhile, rocket fire toward southern and central Israel continued Tuesday, with damage caused to a home in the Eshkol Regional Council during one of the attacks.
There were no injuries as the home was vacant at the time. Communities on the northern and southern borders have been largely evacuated since the start of the war.
In addition to the Gaza border towns, a barrage was also fired toward an area of the Negev desert close to the southern city of Beersheba. The areas attacked include regions where many Bedouin live without access to proper shelters.
Multiple barrages were also fired toward central Israel, sending hundreds of thousands running for shelter.
Sirens were heard in Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Ramat Hasharon and Bnei Brak, in addition to other localities.
As the fighting continued, the IDF released a radio recording of the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, telling troops operating in the Gaza Strip that there can be “no result other than victory.”
“Southern Command stations, commander is speaking. We are launching an attack on Hamas and the terror groups in the Gaza Strip. Our goal is one, victory. No matter how long the fighting will be, how difficult, there is no other result but victory,” Finkelman said.
“We will fight professionally and powerfully in light of the IDF values we were raised on. Chief among them is sticking to the mission and striving for victory,” he said.
“We will fight in the alleys, we will fight in the tunnels, we will fight where necessary. We will strike the terrible enemy that stands before us,” Finkelman continued.
“My fighting brothers, the residents of Be’eri, Sderot, Nir Oz, Kfar Aza, and the western Negev communities, and with them the entire nation of Israel, are all looking at us now. Like me, they also trust you and believe in you,. You are the generation of victory,” he said.
“Get to your tasks, hit the enemy, over and out.”
As the fighting intensifies, Israel has faced increasing calls for a ceasefire in the war against Hamas in Gaza, and on Friday, a United Nations resolution calling for a ceasefire with no mention of Hamas passed with an overwhelming majority.
On Monday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the idea that Israel would agree to a ceasefire with Hamas.
“I want to make clear Israel’s position regarding a ceasefire. Just as the United States would not agree to a ceasefire after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or after the terrorist attack of 9/11, Israel will not agree to a cessation of hostilities with Hamas,” he said in English during a press conference for foreign media.
“After the horrific attacks of October 7, calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism, to surrender to barbarism. That will not happen,” he said.
Israel has vowed to eradicate the terror group that has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and has been targeting all areas where the group operates, while also seeking to minimize civilian casualties.
Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday that 80 trucks with humanitarian aid were slated to enter Gaza in the coming hours, the largest number in one day since the start of the war.
UN officials say at least 100 trucks’ worth of aid are needed a day for the enclave.
The US and other allies have pressed Israel to significantly scale up the pace of aid entering Gaza. Israel says it must check all shipments entering the Strip for weapons or other contraband, and has expressed worries that the goods will end up in the hands of Hamas, which rules the Strip.
Israel has blocked aid from entering from its side of the border but has increasingly allowed convoys to enter from Egypt, while asserting that there is no humanitarian crisis in the enclave and that Hamas has stockpiled supplies which it is keeping from increasingly desperate civilians.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.