After two weeks of intense fighting, Israel Defense Forces troops on Wednesday gained control over the southern Gaza town of Khirbat Ikhza’a, a strategic focal point of Hamas terrorist activity near Khan Yunis, the military said.
Located less than a mile from the border with Israel, Khirbat Ikhza’a served as the staging area from which Hamas terrorists attacked the communities of Nir Oz, Nirim and Ein Hashlosha on Oct. 7.
Soldiers of the IDF’s 5th Brigade combat team destroyed hundreds of terrorist infrastructures and killed dozens of Hamas terrorists during Operation “Oz and Nir,” which was launched in late December. In addition, some 40 attack tunnels were discovered and destroyed, the IDF said.
Nir Oz, a once-thriving community of 400 people, was among the hardest hit on Oct. 7. One in every four residents was either killed or kidnapped.
‘Our determination is endless’
During a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz declared that Hamas has effectively lost control over “large parts of the Strip.”
“The achievements of the IDF continue to grow,” stated Gantz, who serves on Israel’s War Cabinet. “We are deep in the middle of dismantling the terror infrastructure.”
“We need to continue—if we stop now, Hamas will resume its control. … We have determination and patience. Our enemies need to know that our determination is endless,” added the former IDF chief of staff.
However, returning the 136 hostages still being held by Hamas takes priority over “all elements of fighting,” Gantz emphasized amid reports that the Israeli Security Cabinet will meet later on Wednesday to discuss a Qatari proposal that would see all captives freed in exchange for an Israeli retreat and safe passage for Hamas leadership out of the enclave.
Hamas’s senior leader in the Strip, Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the Oct. 7 massacre, is believed to be hiding in the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis, where he has reportedly surrounded himself with a large number of living hostages, preventing the IDF from carrying out a strike on him.
Over the past few days, the 55th Brigade killed operatives of Hamas’s Khan Yunis Brigade and uncovered further proof of the exploitation of civilian infrastructure in the city, the IDF announced on Wednesday.
Among other Hamas infrastructure embedded within civilian areas, soldiers found a tunnel shaft near a school, a rocket launching pad near a kindergarten and a training compound near a mosque.
Troops also located a UAV launch site and discovered a loaded rifle underneath a children’s bed, in addition to finding grenades, magazines, intelligence documents and other terror equipment.
The Israeli Air Force struck four buildings used as terror infrastructure, including a Hamas command and control node and three buildings that were being used by terrorist operatives.
‘Changes in combat tactics’
Earlier on Wednesday, the IDF said fighter jets had struck some 150 targets across the Gaza Strip over the past 24 hours.
During operational activity in Khan Yunis, ground forces directed an air strike that eliminated 10 terrorists. Elsewhere in Khan Yunis, soldiers ordered a strike on a terrorist attempting to plant an IED along a route used by Israeli forces.
On Tuesday, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israel will “intensify and continue” its military operation in the southern Gaza Strip until the Hamas leadership is found and the hostages are returned.
During their meeting held at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Gallant also briefed the American diplomat on “changes in combat tactics in the northern area of the Gaza Strip,” the Defense Ministry said.
The Washington Post on Tuesday cited an anonymous senior U.S. official as saying Israel has already withdrawn several thousand troops from northern Gaza in “a significant drawdown” from the coastal enclave.