IDF chief says Khan Younis surrounded, announcing new phase of Gaza invasion

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

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to the press from southern Israel, December 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to the press from southern Israel, December 5, 2023. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi says the military is encircling southern Gaza’s Khan Younis as it launches the third stage of its ground offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

In a press conference, Halevi also says the military knew in advance that Hezbollah would resume its attacks on Israel’s north following the weeklong truce with Hamas.

“After 60 days since the beginning of the war, our forces are surrounding the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza. At the same time, we are working to deepen the achievement in the northern part of the Strip. Anyone who thought that the IDF would not know how to resume the fighting after the truce was mistaken. Hamas is feeling this strongly,” Halevi says.

“In the last few days, many operatives, including senior commanders, were eliminated,” he says.

Halevi says the IDF has moved to the “third phase” of the ground operation.

“We captured many Hamas strongholds in northern Gaza, and now we are operating against its centers of gravity in the south,” he says.

“We are operating with professionalism, clearing the [Palestinian] population ahead of time from the combat areas. We are striking Hamas above and below ground, from the air, land and sea,” he says.

The commander of the army’s southern command said earlier that troops were operating “in the heart of Khan Younis,” calling Tuesday the most intense day of fighting yet.

“They ask us a lot about the destruction in Gaza. Hamas is the address, Sinwar is the address. Our forces find in nearly every home weapons, terrorists. We understand that part of their way of operating is to leave weapons in the homes, a terrorists comes to the home in civilian clothing, and fights from there,” Halevi says.

“This requires heavy firepower, to strike the enemy and to protect our forces. That’s why they are operating with great power, but at the same time working to avoid harm to those who are uninvolved, as much as possible,” he says.

He says the IDF’s military pressure on Hamas has advanced the goals of the war, including the return of the hostages.

“We are doing everything to return the hostages,” he says.

Though the army’s focus remains on the Gaza Strip, he says operations are continuing in the north, where hostilities have also resumed since a weeklong truce ended on Friday.

“We prepared for this, and we are operating with determination against anyone who is preparing or carrying out attacks on civilians or soldiers,” he says. “We are exacting a heavy price from Hezbollah, which the group tries to hide, it knows why.”

On the West Bank, Halevi says the military has seen major success against terror. He says more than 1,200 Hamas members were arrested, and many others who were planning attacks, or had carried them out, were killed.

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