Israeli forces have broken through Hamas’s first line of defense and are approaching Gaza City.
Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, the commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ 162nd Armored Division, aka “the Steel Formation,” told reporters on Wednesday, day 26 of Israel’s “Operation Swords of Iron” to destroy Hamas, that troops are “deep in the Gaza Strip, at the gates of Gaza City.”
IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that “with advance planning, precise intelligence and joint attacks [from the land, air and sea], our forces broke through Hamas’s front lines of defense in the north of the Gaza Strip.”
The IDF on Thursday announced the death of Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, 33, the commander of the 188th Armored Brigade’s 53rd Battalion, from the Druze village of Yanuh-Jat in the Galilee. He was killed in a battle with Hamas terrorists in the northern Gaza Strip and is the highest-ranking officer killed during the Gaza ground operation.
Earlier on Thursday morning, the IDF announced that Lt. (res.) Yuval Zilber, 25, from Ramat Gan, was killed this week in Gaza. He was a company commander in the Jerusalem Brigade. He was killed in a clash with Hamas gunmen on Wednesday.
They are the 17th and 18th soldiers killed during the Gaza ground offensive. A total of 333 soldiers have been killed since the start of the war.
The IDF also announced on Thursday that three soldiers were seriously wounded in overnight operations in the Strip—a reservist of the 679th Yiftah Brigade, a Givati Brigade infantryman, and a Combat Engineering Corps soldier.
Additionally, a soldier from the Border Defense Force’s Caracal Battalion was seriously wounded in an incident at the Egyptian frontier.
“Dozens” of terrorists were killed overnight Wednesday as Israeli forces continued to strike terrorist infrastructure in the northern Gaza Strip, the IDF said.
Israel declared war on Hamas after thousands of terrorists invaded the western Negev on Oct. 7, murdering at least 1,400 people, wounding over 5,000 others and taking back to Gaza more than 200 hostages.
Soldiers engaged terrorist cells, who attacked them with anti-tank missiles, bombs and grenades. IDF troops were supported by armor and artillery while directing strikes from aerial and naval forces.
Hamas terrorists ambushed soldiers from the Golani Infantry Brigade’s Battalion 13 around midnight. The troops fought them off during intense and chaotic close combat, Army Radio reported on Thursday.
The Hamas gunmen came out of tunnels and attacked the Israeli soldiers with anti-tank missiles, mortars and drones, the report said. The terrorists attempted to enter the armored personnel carriers and take control of them.
Ground soldiers with the help of air and artillery strikes, fought off the terrorists for around three hours, killing 20 terrorists. About 10 managed to escape. No Israeli casualties were reported.
Soldiers from the IDF’s 36th Armored Division in recent days “killed numerous terrorists and directed aircraft strikes on Hamas terror targets, which included both weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, anti-tank missile launching posts, and UAV launching posts,” according to the military.
Army engineers begin destroying Hamas tunnels
Israeli army engineers on Thursday morning began a massive operation to destroy Hamas tunnels in areas of the Gaza Strip currently under Israeli military control, Walla! reported.
Mine-clearing and tunnel-destroying specialty units have been combined for the operation, which includes the use of robots and explosive devices to demolish the shafts and tunnels, detonate booby traps and kill terrorists.
The forces will also examine the tunnel shafts to see if any of them lead to Gaza City, the epicenter of Hamas.
“We will collapse the shafts and tunnels on them. It will become an extermination ground,” a senior officer in the Southern Command told Walla!
“They made a mistake, they chose a territory from which it is impossible to escape. They will die in the tunnels,” the officer said.
IDF troops have already destroyed some 100 tunnels, the report said.
Hamas uses 100 women and children as human shields
Hamas sent a group of around 100 women and children to act as human shields during a battle with Israeli forces on Tuesday at the terror group’s Central Jabaliya Battalion compound.
“We are prepared for more cases of such cynical and blatant use of the population,” an IDF officer told Ynet.
IDF took over the Hamas stronghold in northern Gaza, killing the commander of the Jabaliya Battalion along with a large number of other terrorists.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed as troops were withdrawing after capturing the compound. They were named as Staff Sgt. Roei Wolf, 20, from Ramat Gan; and Staff Sgt. Lavi Lipshitz, 20, from Modi’in. Both served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance unit. They were the first IDF casualties of the Gaza ground operation.
Israel demands Red Cross access to hostages
Israel’s Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke on Wednesday with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger. Cohen said he had demanded that she immediately visit the hostages in Gaza and provide them with all of the rights that such prisoners are entitled to under international law.
“If the Red Cross fails to visit the hostages, held by the terrorist organization Hamas, it has no reason to exist,” he told her.
“The Red Cross has to act decisively,” he added, “and with all levers of pressure in order to take care of the safety and health of the hostages, among them women, children and Holocaust survivors whom Hamas brutally kidnapped and [which] is against every international norm.”
The Red Cross must focus on the “greatest humanitarian disaster” being wrought by Hamas in Gaza, and not on Israel, “a country that is committed to international law and acts according to it,” said Cohen.