Soldier killed in south Gaza fighting, in first Israeli fatality of Rafah offensive

Troops push into Jabaliya camp in Strip’s north, kill numerous operatives; Hamas training camp in eastern Rafah captured; rockets launched at Sderot

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

Sgt. Ira Yair Gispan, killed in the southern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
Sgt. Ira Yair Gispan, killed in the southern Gaza Strip, May 14, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

An Israeli soldier was killed during fighting in the southern Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the military announced Wednesday morning, marking the first fatality in the Israel Defense Forces’ push into Rafah.

The slain soldier was named as Sgt. Ira Yair Gispan, 19, from Petah Tikva. He served in the 7th Armored Brigade’s 75th Battalion.

Gispan’s death brought the toll of slain troops in the Israel Defense Forces ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza and in operations on the border to 273.

The IDF began sending troops into the southern Gaza border city of Rafah last week in what it has described as a “precise” operation, with soldiers currently holding a relatively small area southeast of the city.

On Wednesday, the IDF said that during operations in eastern Rafah, troops of the Givati Brigade raided a Hamas training camp.

The soldiers killed several gunmen at the base, captured weapons, and located mock IDF vehicles used by the terror group for training, the military said.

A mock IDF tank is seen at a Hamas training base in eastern Rafah, in a handout photo published May 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Nearly 450,000 of the roughly one million Palestinians who had been sheltering in Rafah have evacuated in recent days as the IDF has escalated its operations in Gaza’s southernmost city.

Israeli officials have said four of Hamas’s remaining six battalions are located in Rafah, along with the terror group’s leadership and possibly many of the hostages. But it has faced pressure from the US and much of the rest of the international community to not carry out a full-scale offensive in the city.

Meanwhile, the military said its 98th Division pushed into the Jabaliya camp in the northern Gaza Strip overnight, killing many gunmen amid the fighting.

The IDF said the division’s 7th and 460th armored brigades battled “dozens of armed squads and eliminated a large number of terrorists” over the past day.

In the same area, a drone strike killed a terror cell responsible for rocket fire on the southern city of Sderot on Tuesday, the military said.

Israeli troops operate in eastern Rafah in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo published May 15, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli forces recently returned to Jabaliya after the IDF identified terror operatives regrouping there. The city, just north of Gaza City, was one of the first targets of the Israeli ground offensive into Gaza, which launched in late October as Jerusalem sought to uproot Hamas and return the hostages held in the Strip.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that troops are now operating in areas of Jabaliya that the IDF previously did not reach in the initial ground offensive in northern Gaza. More than 80 gunmen have been killed in the operation that started on Sunday.

On Wednesday morning, several rockets were fired from Jabaliya at Sderot. Some of the rockets were downed by the Iron Dome air defense system, while at least one struck an unoccupied building, authorities said. There were no injuries.

A building in Sderot damaged by a rocket fired from Gaza on May 15, 2024. (Sderot Municipality)

The rate of rocket fire on southern towns has steadily increased in recent days as the IDF was carrying out new operations against Hamas.

Also in the past day, some 80 sites used by terror groups, including buildings, weapon depots, rocket launchers, observation posts, and other infrastructure, were struck by the Air Force, the military said.

The IDF also confirmed Wednesday morning that troops of the Nahal Brigade withdrew from Gaza City’s Zeitoun neighborhood after six days, to prepare for “additional offensive operations.”

The IDF reentered Zeitoun last Thursday for the third time in the ongoing war after identifying Hamas regrouping there.

Reservists of the Carmeli Brigade continued to operate in Zeitoun, the IDF added, contradicting media reports claiming that the six-day operation there had ended.

On Tuesday night, Hagari said troops had killed more than 150 gunmen and destroyed some 80 sites used by terror groups in the ongoing Zeitoun operation.

Backdropped by smoke rising to the sky after an explosion in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli tank stands near the Israel-Gaza border as seen from southern Israel, Monday, May 13, 2024. (AP/Leo Correa)

Some critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s war strategy have blamed the army’s need to double back into northern Gaza on his administration’s inability to determine what will replace Hamas as the civilian authority in Gaza.

“There is no doubt that a governmental alternative to Hamas will create pressure on Hamas, but that is a question for the political echelon,” Hagari said Tuesday in response to a question.

Israel invaded Gaza following the October 7 massacre, during which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed into southern Israel communities, killing some 1,200 people and taking 252 hostage to Gaza. 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 prisoners.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 35,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes 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.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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