Two soldiers killed in Gaza combat as IDF strikes terror targets in Khan Younis

Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Elchanan Knoller, Maj. (res.) Eyal Avnion, killed in central Gaza; IDF assessments find vast majority of Strip’s population now in ‘humanitarian zone’

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

Maj. (res.) Eyal Avnion (left) and Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Elchanan Knoller, killed in the central Gaza Strip on July 1, 2024. (Courtesy)
Maj. (res.) Eyal Avnion (left) and Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Elchanan Knoller, killed in the central Gaza Strip on July 1, 2024. (Courtesy)

The military on Tuesday announced the deaths of two soldiers killed during fighting in central Gaza on Monday night, as fighter jets, attack helicopters, and drones struck more than 30 targets in the Strip in support of ground forces.

The slain soldiers were named as Master Sgt. (res.) Nadav Elchanan Knoller, 30, a platoon sergeant in the 8th Reserve Armored Brigade’s 121st Battalion, from Jerusalem; and Maj. (res.) Eyal Avnion, 25, a deputy company commander in the 8th Reserve Armored Brigade’s 121st Battalion, from Hod Hasharon.

Their deaths brought Israel’s toll in the ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza and in military operations along the border with the Strip to 322.

Another reservist of the 121st Battalion was seriously wounded in the same incident, which was still being investigated by the Israel Defense Forces.

Separately, a soldier of the 401st Armored Brigade’s 52nd Battalion was seriously wounded by anti-tank fire in Gaza, as troops continued to battle the terror group in Gaza’s southernmost city Rafah, as well as in Gaza City’s Shejaiya, and in the Netzarim Corridor in the Strip’s center.

The IDF carried out a wave of airstrikes in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis overnight Monday, after ordering civilians to leave the area and head to the designated “humanitarian zone.” The strikes targeted sites in an area from which the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group fired a barrage of 20 rockets at southern Israeli towns on Monday, according to the military, including a weapons depot, an apartment used by terror operatives, and other infrastructure.

Displaced Palestinians evacuate eastern Khan Younis following an evacuation order by the IDF, July 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Saher Alghorra)

Fresh IDF assessments on Tuesday estimated that the vast majority of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip was now residing in the Israeli-designated “humanitarian zone.”

Some 1.9 million Palestinians of the 2.3 million Gazan population are currently in the humanitarian zone, located in the al-Mawasi area on the Strip’s coast, in western neighborhoods of Khan Younis, and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah.

A few hundred thousand Palestinians remain in northern Gaza, according to the estimates, and some 20,000 Palestinians remain in the Rafah area. Around 1.4 million Palestinians had been sheltering in Rafah until the IDF launched its offensive there in May, ordering the civilians to move to the humanitarian zone.

Witnesses reported multiple strikes early Tuesday in and around Khan Younis, in which eight people were killed and more than 30 were wounded, according to a medical source and the Palestinian Red Crescent.

A World Health Official spokesperson said on Tuesday that the European Hospital in Khan Younis was virtually empty, with staff and patients fleeing the facility after the IDF evacuation orders.

“The hospital staff and the patients decided to already evacuate themselves,” said WHO representative Rik Peeperkorn, adding that just three patients remained. “We plea the European Gaza hospital will be spared, will be non-damaged,” he told the UN press briefing, speaking by video link from Jerusalem.

A man is transported on a hospital bed as displaced Palestinians leave an area in east Khan Younis after the IDF issued a new evacuation order for parts of the city and Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 1, 2024. (Bashar Taleb/AFP)

The IDF pulled out of Khan Younis in April after operating there for four months, similar to its withdrawal from northern Gaza earlier in the campaign against Hamas. The IDF has since returned to the northern areas to carry out smaller, localized operations, and looked set to repeat this in the southern city.

Dozens of airstrikes across the Strip over the past day also targeted sites including weapon depots, buildings used by the terror groups, tunnel shafts, and other infrastructure, the IDF said on Tuesday morning.

In Rafah, the IDF said, troops of the Nahal Brigade ambushed a group of gunmen in a vehicle heading toward an area where forces were operating. The troops opened fire at the car, killing the gunmen.

In Shejaiya, troops of the 7th Armored Brigade located a large amount of weaponry and other military equipment used by terror groups, according to the military.

And in the Netzarim Corridor, the IDF said troops with the 99th Division killed several gunmen in close-quarters combat and located weapons and military equipment.

Troops operate in the Gaza Strip, in a photo cleared for publication on July 2, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

The war in Gaza was started by Hamas’s October 7 attack, in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people and seized 251 hostages. Israel responded with a military campaign to destroy the Gaza-ruling terror group and free the hostages.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says close to 38,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far, though the toll cannot be verified and does not differentiate between civilians and fighters. Israel says it has killed some 15,000 combatants in battle and some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel during the October 7 attack.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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