ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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5 more troops killed in Gaza, raising ground op toll to 56

Most patients, staff, displaced leave Shifa Hospital area; IDF pushes deeper into Gaza

Military denies giving Shifa evacuation order, says doctors asked it to help people leave; fuel arrives in Strip; dozens of Gazans reported killed in Khan Younis, Jabaliya

  • Medical teams at Shifa Hospital unload Israeli aid from trucks in northern Gaza, in this IDF handout photo released on November 18, 2023. (IDF)
    Medical teams at Shifa Hospital unload Israeli aid from trucks in northern Gaza, in this IDF handout photo released on November 18, 2023. (IDF)
  • Damage at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
    Damage at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)
  • Palestinians look at destruction after a reported Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
    Palestinians look at destruction after a reported Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)
  • IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
  • IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
    IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Patients, staff and displaced people on Saturday left Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical center, health officials in the Strip said, leaving behind only a skeleton crew to care for those too sick to move and Israeli forces in control of the facility.

The exodus from Shifa Hospital in Gaza City came the same day internet and phone service was restored to the Gaza Strip, ending a telecommunications blackout that forced the United Nations to shut down critical humanitarian aid deliveries because it was unable to coordinate its convoys.

On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said it had been asked by the hospital’s director to help those who would like to leave do so by a secure route.

Denying an AFP report, the military said it did not order any evacuation, and that medical personnel were being allowed to remain in the hospital to support patients who cannot be moved.

The IDF also said soldiers transferred over 6,000 liters of water and over 2,300 kilograms of food to Shifa Hospital.

“This activity was done in parallel with the IDF activities to locate and thwart terrorism in the hospital, the IDF said.

IDF soldiers in the Gaza Strip in a handout photo distributed on November 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has been operating around the hospital over the past week, uncovering what it has said is evidence of Hamas’s use of the site for terrorist activities.

“We see the presence of Hamas in all hospitals, it is a clear presence. They make cynical use of the hospitals, like here in the heart of Shifa,” Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the IDF Southern Command, said on Friday. Israeli forces at the hospital uncovered an entrance to a Hamas tunnel and a cache of weapons, in addition to other findings over the past few days.

The military also recovered the bodies of two Israeli hostages abducted by Hamas during their October 7 massacre, from the area of Shifa Hospital.

IDF deepens operations in Strip

Hamas on Saturday confirmed the death of official Ahmad Bahar following an Israeli strike in Gaza, as the military continued to target senior officials, command centers, rocket launch sites and weapons production labs in the Strip.

Bahar, 76, was a member of Hamas’s political bureau and previously served as vice president of the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Ahmad Bahar, then-deputy parliament speaker and Hamas member, speaks during a special session, attended by Hamas MPs, in a tent at Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, on February 23, 2014. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The IDF said it expanded its operations in the Gaza Strip Saturday, with offensives being carried out against terror infrastructure and Hamas battalions by the 36th Division in the Zeitoun neighborhood of Gaza City, and the 162nd Division in Jabaliya.

The IDF said the Southern Command “continues expanding its operational activities in additional neighborhoods” and is working to “target terrorists and strike Hamas infrastructure,” publishing footage of the activities.

“During the encounters, numerous terrorists were killed and the troops struck a large number of terror infrastructures, including underground infrastructure and significant targets of the terrorist organization,” the IDF said. A clip published by the military showed a strike on two Hamas operatives who the IDF says were attempting to booby-trap a building in the Gaza Strip.

The IDF also released footage Saturday of the elite Duvdevan unit operating in Gaza, saying that forces have raided several Hamas sites and killed operatives in the process.

The IDF said Duvdevan forces found weapons and Hamas military equipment during a raid on a high school in Gaza, further evidence of the terror group’s use of civilian infrastructure.

The troops raided the home of a Hamas field commander, finding weapons and Hamas instructional booklets, according to the IDF.

As the military secures its control over Gaza City, it has begun warning residents of the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis to evacuate, indicating that the ground operation will likely expand to southern areas of the strip in the days and weeks to come.

Medical officials in Gaza said Israeli airstrikes on residential buildings in the south of the strip killed at least 32 Palestinians on Saturday — including 26 in Khan Younis, according to a local doctor.

Palestinians look at destruction after a reported Israeli air strike in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Eyewitnesses in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya refugee camp told The Associated Press that dozens were killed there when an Israeli airstrike hit a UN shelter.

The IDF, which had warned Jabaliya residents and others in a social media post in Arabic to leave, had no immediate comment. It rarely comments on individual strikes, saying only that it targets Hamas while trying to minimize harm to civilians.

The military has also continued its efforts to counter rocket fire, which has diminished considerably in recent weeks. Hamas is believed to be stockpiling rockets for a long war but also has growing difficulty in carrying out attacks amid the IDF’s ground operation. Rocket fire has continued to hit parts of southern and central Israel, including late on Saturday afternoon.

The IDF said that within an hour of a rocket barrage from Gaza on central Israel on Friday, it struck and killed the cell behind the attack.

It said reservist troops of the Jerusalem Brigade’s reconnaissance battalion spotted the cell on the roof of a building and called in an airstrike.

On Saturday, rocket sirens were activated for the first time in some 20 hours in the Gaza periphery, including in the city of Ashkelon.

During that barrage, a rocket hit a home in Sderot, but no injuries were reported.

A couple hours later, rocket alerts also sounded in communities throughout central Israel. There were no reports of injuries and police said officers were searching for potential rocket impacts.

UN official pushes for ceasefire: ‘Not asking for the moon’

The military announced humanitarian pauses in the northern Gaza Strip Saturday to enable Palestinians to evacuate to the south.

The IDF’s Arabic-language Spokesman, Lt. Col. Avichay Adraee, said on X that the Salah a-Din road was opened for southbound movement until 4 p.m., urging residents of the Gaza City neighborhoods of Tel el-Hawa, Sabra, west Zeitoun, Shejaiya and Tuffah to take advantage of the corridor to reach the “humanitarian zone” in southern Gaza’s al-Mawasi area.

“We urge you to evacuate urgently because it is dangerous for you to remain there,” he said

Additionally, Adraee said the IDF would make “tactical pauses in military activities” in the al-Shabura camp near Rafah in southern Gaza, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., for “humanitarian purposes.”

The United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths called for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza to ensure aid could reach civilians in the Strip, during an address to the General Assembly Friday.

“Call it what you will, but the requirement, from a humanitarian point of view, is simple. Stop the fighting to allow civilians to move safely,” he said.

“We are not asking for the moon,” Griffiths continued. “We are asking for the basic measures required to meet the essential needs of the civilian population and stem the course of this crisis.”

Israel has resisted calls for a ceasefire unless a significant number of the some 240 hostages abducted on October 7, including women and children are released in exchange. There has also been concern that an extended pause in the fighting would allow Hamas and other terror groups to regroup and prepare for the next stage of fighting, impeding the IDF’s ability to operate.

Meanwhile, Juliette Touma, spokeswoman for the agency for Palestinian refugees, said 120,000 liters (31,700 gallons) of fuel arrived Saturday, meant to last for two days, after Israel agreed Friday to allow in that amount for the UN’s use. It is also allowing another 10,000 liters (2,642 gallons) to keep the telecommunications systems running.

The Palestinian telecommunications provider said it was able to restart its generators after the UN donated fuel.

The UN has warned that Gaza’s 2.3 million people are running critically short of food and water, and said the amount of fuel being provided is only half of the daily minimum requirement.

Damage at the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 17, 2023, amid ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (Mahmud HAMS / AFP)

Israel’s ground operation in Gaza followed three weeks of intense aerial campaigns across the Strip in response to Hamas’s shock October 7 invasion of southern Israeli communities under cover of thousands of rockets, when thousands of terrorists killed about 1,200 people, a majority of them civilians of all ages in their homes and people at an outdoors music festival near Kibbutz Re’im.

An ongoing police investigation into the massacre at the Supernova festival updated the death count to over 360, from about 260, according to a Channel 12 report Friday. The toll would make up nearly one-third of all those killed during the onslaught in Israel last month.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that 12,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7, including at least 4,700 children and 3,000 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Also Saturday, the IDF announced the deaths of five soldiers killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip, bringing the death toll in the ground offensive against Hamas to 56.

They were:

Maj. Jamal Abbas, 23, a company commander in the Paratroopers Brigade’s 101st Battalion, from Peki’in

Cpt. Eden Provisor, 21, a platoon commander in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 52nd Battalion, from Alfei Menashe

Staff Sgt. Shlomo Gurtovnik, 21, a combat medic in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 46th Battalion, from Modiin

Staff Sgt. Adi Malik Harb, 19, of the Nahal Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, from Beit Jann

Staff Sgt. Shachar Fridman, 21, of the Paratroopers Brigade’s 101st Battalion, from Jerusalem

L-R: Staff Sgt. Shlomo Gurtovnik, Cpt. Eden Provisor, Staff Sgt. Adi Malik Harb, Staff Sgt. Shachar Fridman, Maj. Jamal Abbas, 23. (IDF)

The military also announced the death of Master Sgt. (res.) David (Dudi) Digmi, 43, a paramedic in the Gaza Division, from Rishon Lezion, who died on November 7. The IDF did not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding his death.

Additionally, the IDF said eight more soldiers were seriously wounded during fighting in the Gaza Strip in recent days.

It said four reservists of the 12th Brigade’s 6863rd Battalion were seriously wounded during fighting in northern Gaza on Thursday.

On Friday, an officer in the Bislamach Brigade’s 17th battalion was seriously wounded during fighting in northern, the IDF said.

The army said that in the battle in which Staff Sgt. Shlomo Gurtovnik was killed, another soldier of the 46th Battalion was seriously wounded; in the battle in which Cpt. Eden Provisor was killed, another soldier of the 52nd Battalion was seriously wounded; and in the battle in which Maj. Jamal Abbas and Staff Sgt. Shachar Fridman were killed, another soldier of the 101st Battalion was seriously wounded.

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