Several IDF deaths in Gaza ground offensive were the result of friendly fire

Army says it found rocket-making lab, weapons and tunnel entrance inside mosque in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, where troops are engaged in intense fighting against Hamas

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

Troops of the 36th Division operate in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood, in a handout image released on November 20, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
Illustrative: Troops of the 36th Division operate in Gaza City's Zeitoun neighborhood, in a handout image released on November 20, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces has seen a number of incidents of so-called “friendly fire” during fighting in the Gaza Strip, some of them with deadly results, The Times of Israel has learned, as Israeli troops engaged Monday in intense combat while pushing forward with the military campaign in the Hamas-ruled enclave.

There are currently thousands of infantry forces, tanks, and other troops in Gaza during Israel’s ground offensive against Hamas, operating in Gaza City’s dense neighborhoods.

The military has said it is constantly assessing the ongoing fighting, including the cases of friendly fire, and quickly implementing lessons learned.

Sixty-six soldiers have been killed in Gaza since the start of the ground incursion on October 27, which followed three weeks of aerial bombardments in the wake of the Hamas-led massacres on October 7, when Palestinian terrorists stormed the border into southern Israel and killed some 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and kidnapped at least 240.

Israel declared war on Hamas in response, launching an offensive aimed at toppling Gaza-ruling terror group and securing the release of the hostages. The ground operation has concentrated on northern Gaza but is expected to expand to the Strip’s south in the future stages of the war.

Over the weekend, Israeli ground forces moved into Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood and the town of Jabaliya, which are both strongholds of Hamas.

The military said Monday that IDF troops of the 188th Armored Brigade located a Hamas rocket-making lab, weapons, and a tunnel entrance inside a mosque in Zeitoun. They also found explosive devices and a drone.

Weapons found inside a mosque in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood by IDF troops, in a handout image published November 20, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

“I want you to understand: A mosque, in the Zeitoun area, was being used as a lab for making weapons,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said during an evening press conference.

“Troops enter the mosque, carry out scans, and make sure there are no traps. They head inside this mosque and find a tunnel shaft… and a staircase,” he said.

In the basement, Hagari said the troops found “a workshop for making rockets.”

“Terrorists manufacturing rockets in a mosque. Using Islam and the symbols of Islam to create terror,” he charged.

Hagari said the IDF will continue to expose Hamas’s use of civilian sites for terror.

A tunnel shaft inside a mosque in Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood, located by IDF troops, in a handout image published November 20, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF also detailed the operations of the 36th Division in the Gaza Strip over the past few days, during which troops battled hundreds of Hamas operatives, and located weapons and terror infrastructure in civilian sites.

According to the IDF, the infantry forces, tanks, and combat engineers of the 36th Division are working to defeat Hamas’s Zeitoun battalion, operating in the neighborhood of the same name.

The operations in Zeitoun come after the 36th Division completed the capture of Gaza City’s Shati camp and Sabra neighborhood.

The military believes troops have killed hundreds of terror operatives in Zeitoun so far. There is heavy fighting, as Hamas is operating in cells of between five and 10 gunmen in the area, according to military assessments.

The IDF believes the fighting in Zeitoun will last at least another 72 hours, and when it ends, the IDF will continue to work to demolish all of the terror group’s infrastructure in the neighborhood.

In a statement, the IDF said the troops, led by the Golani Infantry Brigade, have engaged in several gun battles with Hamas in Zeitoun, including operatives holed up in residential homes, hospitals, schools, and other civilian sites.

The commander of the 36th Division, Brig. Gen. Dado Bar Kalifa said his troops “constantly encountered the enemy hiding behind children and women, and behind sensitive civilian infrastructure.”

“The troops have encountered many dozens of terrorists since the beginning of the fighting in the neighborhood, conducting close-quarters fighting with them, and have so far eliminated many of them,” the IDF said.

It said troops of the 188th Armored Brigade captured a number of Hamas sites in Zeitoun, including the offices of the head of Hamas’s Gaza City brigade.

“The forces searched the area, located many weapons, and at the end of the searches, they destroyed the office of the brigade commander,” the IDF said.

Forces of the Bislamach Brigade (the IDF’s School for Infantry Corps Professions and Squad Commanders) located and destroyed an Islamic Jihad compound in Zeitoun, where a number of heavy and long-range rockets were found.

The 36th Division troops directed several airstrikes in Zeitoun against Hamas operatives.

Fighting near Indonesian Hospital

Heavy fighting also continued Monday around several Gaza hospitals where Israel says Hamas has deeply embedded terror infrastructure.

Israel has long asserted that Hamas uses hospitals in the Gaza Strip as the base for its terror activities. Since the start of the ongoing war, in which Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas from the coastal enclave, the United States has backed up these charges with independent evidence.

In Jabaliya, the Hamas-controlled health ministry announced the evacuation of 200 patients from the Indonesian Hospital with the help of the Red Cross, after claiming 12 people were killed there in an overnight Israeli strike. Israel has denied shelling the hospital, saying its troops returned fire on terrorists who targeted them from inside the 3.5-acre (1.4 hectare) compound.

Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra told AFP 200 people were evacuated from the Indonesian Hospital and taken by bus to Nasser hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis, where an AFP reporter saw two buses arriving in company of the Red Cross.

This handout satellite picture released by Maxar Technologies on November 12, 2023, shows the damage around the Indonesian Hospital in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip (Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies / AFP)

Earlier this month, the Israeli Defense Forces said that it had intelligence documents showing the presence of a tunnel network underneath the Indonesian Hospital, as well as aerial imagery showing rocket launchers a few dozen meters from the complex.

The IDF also continued Monday to operate inside Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest, where it has exposed weapons and tunnels along with camera footage from inside the hospital showing that some of the hostages had been brought there.

Israeli officials have been intent on displaying evidence of Hamas’s misuse of Shifa to the world, to back up their assertions that the terror organization uses civilians and civilian infrastructure to shield itself, and thus shore up support for Israel’s ongoing offensive.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that 13,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war on October 7, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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