Two soldiers were killed during fighting in south Gaza’s Khan Younis on Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces announced on Monday even as the hopeful news of the rescue of two hostages was celebrated as a moment of light across Israel.
The deaths of the two soldiers brought the toll of slain troops in the ground offensive against Hamas to 229. They were identified as:
- Sgt. First Class Adi Eldor, 21, of the Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, from Haifa.
- Sgt. First Class (res.) Alon Kleinman, 21, of the Commando Brigade’s Maglan unit, from Tel Aviv
The loss of the two soldiers hit hard among the staff of Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center and Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.
Eldor was the son of Dr. Liron Eldor, a senior plastic and reconstructive surgeon at Rambam. He was also the grandson of gynecologist Prof. Yosef Itzkowitz-Eldor of Rambam and the Technion, who was a pioneer in the fields of fertility medicine and stem cell research in Israel.
“The horrible news of Adi’s falling is heartbreaking,” said Rambam’s director-general Prof. Michael Halbertal.
Wolfson Medical Center released a message mourning the loss of Kleinman, who was the son of Prof. Guy Kleinman, head of the hospital’s ophthalmology department.
“Alon, may his memory be a blessing, was killed while fighting valiantly in heavy battles in Khan Younis to defend the State of Israel and its inhabitants,” the message stated. “The entire Wolfson community mourns together with Prof. Kleinman and extends condolences to the whole family.”
Following the daring rescue of hostages Fernando Simon Marman, 61, and Norberto Louis Har, 70, who were extracted from an apartment building in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah overnight, Hamas railed against “the massacre the Israeli army conducted in Rafah” and accused the US of “giving the green light.”
Calling the operation a continuation of a “genocidal war” and forced displacement attempts against the Palestinian people, Hamas claimed that around 100 people had been killed as a result of the rescue.
The IDF said it used intense firepower against gunmen in and around the building where the two hostages were held, and that “many terrorists” were killed.
In peacetime, the city of Rafah, where the hostages had been held, is home to around 275,000 people, but its population has swelled to over a million as some 85% of the Strip’s 2.3 million residents have become displaced by the war.
A photograph from the scene of the overnight operation showed a vast area of rubble where buildings had been destroyed, and Palestinians sheltering in the city said two mosques and several houses were hit in more than an hour of strikes by Israeli warplanes, tanks and ships.
“It was the worst night since we arrived in Rafah last month. Death was so near as shells and missiles landed 200 meters from our tent camp,” Gaza businessman Emad, a father of six, told Reuters using a messaging app.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said on Monday that 28,340 people have been killed inside the Palestinian enclave since the start of the war, while 67,984 others have been injured. These figures cannot be independently verified, however, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.
The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 terror operatives in Gaza since the start of the war, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.
Even as the IDF prepares for a looming ground operation in Rafah, which aid agencies have warned could be catastrophic due to the number of civilians sheltering in the city, troops continued to battle terror operatives in central and northern Gaza overnight.
The IDF said it was conducting “targeted raids” in the west of Khan Younis, also in south Gaza. In the central town of Deir Al-Balah, Palestinian medics said 15 people had been killed in an airstrike.
International bodies continued to issue warnings about the worsening humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip on Monday after the UN agency for Palestinian refugees said Sunday that an aid shipment containing a month’s supply of food for 1.1 million people had been blocked at an Israeli port.
UNRWA has faced intense scrutiny after 12 of its staff were suspended for allegedly participating in the October 7 terror onslaught in southern Israel, in which some 1,200 people were slaughtered and 253 were seized as hostages.
The allegation that Hamas was running a data center under UNRWA’s nose added to growing concerns over the level of Hamas infiltration in the agency, which has already had its funding suspending by several key donor countries.
The European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said on Monday that UNRWA needs to be able to continue its work even while investigations into the allegations of Hamas ties were ongoing.
“Nobody else can do what UNRWA is doing, allegations need to be verified… let’s wait for the investigations to take place,” he said ahead of a meeting of EU development ministers in Brussels.
“In the meantime, people have to continue to eat, have to continue going to the doctors.”
World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhandom Ghebreyesus claimed on Monday that a WHO mission to the minimally functioning Nasser hospital in Khan Younis had been denied.
“We’re deeply concerned about the safety of patients and health personnel due to the intensifying hostilities in the vicinity of the hospital,” he wrote on X, formerly Twitter, adding that “health MUST be protected at all times.”
Just a little fact check here:@WHO has never submitted a coordination request to the Nasser hospital on the date you mentioned.
Perhaps next time a better communication with your team on the ground before baselessly accusing us would be wise. https://t.co/2c1HFUI8kn
— COGAT (@cogatonline) February 12, 2024
Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit, known by its acronym COGAT, refuted Ghebreyesus’s claim, writing in response that “WHO has never submitted a coordination request to the Nasser hospital on the date you mentioned.”
“Perhaps next time a better communication with your team on the ground before baselessly accusing us would be wise,” it added.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.