30 cross-border tunnels found so far in ground offensive

Three soldiers killed in booby-trapped house in Gaza

Paratroopers Paz Elyahu, Li Mat and Shahar Dauber were shot by Hamas gunmen after triggering explosives in Khan Younis home

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

From left to right: Lieutenant Paz Elyahu, 22, Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, who were killed in Gaza on Wednesday, June 23, 2014
From left to right: Lieutenant Paz Elyahu, 22, Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, who were killed in Gaza on Wednesday, June 23, 2014

Three Israeli paratroopers were killed in Khan Yunis early Wednesday, bringing the army’s death toll to 32 since the IDF began operating on the ground in Gaza last week, the army said.

Shortly after seven in the morning, the paratroopers, from the brigade’s elite demolitions company, entered a booby-trapped house in Khan Yunis. Operatives nearby detonated an explosive charge, collapsing a wing of the building. The gunmen then opened fire on the troops, killing three men and gravely wounding three more.

The fallen soldiers were named as Lt. Paz Elyahu, 22, from Kibbutz Evron; Staff Sergeant Li Mat, 19, from Eilat; and Staff Sergeant Shahar Dauber, 20, from Kibbutz Ginegar.

Two soldiers were seriously wounded and 10 moderately.

The paratroopers continued on fighting throughout the day, unearthing additional tunnels and bringing the total of discovered cross-border tunnels to 30 with upwards of 70 entry shafts, an army spokesperson said.

Additionally, the army bombed Al-Wafa hospital in Gaza City, calling it “a Hamas military compound.”

The army said there was a command-and-control center in the hospital, a lookout post used to monitor IDF forces, and several access shafts to a tunnel network beneath the hospital.

On Tuesday ​the hospital was evacuated from patients and staff, the army said, but was still in use by Hamas gunmen, who continued to fire at the IDF forces. On Wednesday, prior to the airstrike, the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration confirmed that the hospital was empty of patients and staff.

The strike set off massive secondary explosions, supporting the army’s contention that there was an arms cache, perhaps of rockets, beneath the hospital.

Also on Wednesday the army struck 82 targets within Gaza as terrorists from the Strip fired 80 rockets at Israel; 17 were shot down, with the remainder falling in open areas.

Meanwhile, the Shin Bet security service announced that it had succeeded, along with the army, to either kill or incapacitate four mid- to high-level Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders, all in the Khan Yunis area as well.

According to the Shin Bet, the officials included the group’s Khan Yunis commander Akram Shaar, who was behind a series of attacks against Israeli soldiers and was in charge of rocket fire from the area; Mahmoud Ziada, a resident of Jabalya, who had served as a battalion commander in the northern sector; Sha’aban Dahduh, of Gaza City, also a battalion commander, whom the Shin Bet referred to as “outstanding”; and Saeed Ma’amar, also a battalion commander, in the Rafah brigade.

According to the IDF, 210 Palestinian operatives have been killed by Israeli forces since the ground incursion began on Thursday night, among them several high-ranking Hamas officers, including the commander of the group’s surveillance unit.

A senior Israeli security source asserted Wednesday that Hamas’s rocket manufacturing capacity had taken a strong hit during the IDF’s operation in the Palestinian enclave.

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