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Israeli strikes reported in Rafah, Khan Yunis as war enters 72nd day

Two more Israeli soldiers slain in Gaza • Netanyahu laments as a "terrible tragedy" the accidental killing of three Israeli hostages.

Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip, Dec. 16, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Israeli forces operating in the Gaza Strip, Dec. 16, 2023. Credit: IDF.

Israeli forces continued to operate across the Gaza Strip on Sunday as the war against Hamas entered its 72nd day.

Palestinian sources reported an Israeli Air Force strike in Rafah’s Al-Jenena neighborhood overnight Saturday, while Israeli shelling continued around the southern city of Khan Yunis, including in the town of Bani Suheila, according to AFP.

Israeli fighter jets were also carrying out airstrikes on the central city of Deir al-Balah, with casualties reported by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Two more soldiers killed

The IDF on Sunday morning published the names of two more soldiers killed in Gaza on Saturday, bringing the death toll since the start of the ground offensive on Oct. 27 to 121. A total of 453 soldiers have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7.

Sgt. Maj. (res.) Joseph Avner Duran, 26, from Jerusalem, was killed in the northern Gaza Strip on Saturday, and Master Sgt. (res.) Shalev Zaltsman, 24, from Ramat Yishai, was killed in southern Gaza, according to the IDF.

Netanyahu: Accidental killing a ‘terrible tragedy’

There are believed to be 129 hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza, after the IDF announced on Friday the accidental killing of three escaped hostages in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the incident a “terrible tragedy,” speaking during a joint press briefing with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz on Saturday night at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

“We are in a war for our existence, in which we must continue until victory, despite the international pressure and despite the unbearable cost that the war is exacting from us in our fallen sons and daughters. The State of Israel mourns the tragic deaths of three of our hostages: Alon Shamriz, Samar Talalka and Yotam Haim,” said Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the War Cabinet meeting at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, Dec. 17, 2023. Credit: GPO.

The premier called to continue the offensive against Hamas, crediting it with creating the conditions that led to the late November ceasefire that saw 110 hostages released.

“Only continued military pressure will lead to the release of all of our hostages. My directive to the negotiating team is based on this pressure, without which we would have nothing,” he said.

Hamas declared war on Israel on Oct. 7, when thousands of heavily armed terrorists stormed across the Gaza border and rampaged across southern Israel, murdering around 1,200 people, wounding more than 5,000 others and kidnapping another approximately 240.

Hamas hid weapons in incubators, used hospital as command center

The Israeli Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit reported that Hamas hid weapons in incubators in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza.

“Hamas hid weapons in incubators in the NICU, incubators that were supposed to be used to treat premature babies,” COGAT tweeted with an accompanying video of the incubators.

These weapons were found after hospital workers told IDF soldiers about their presence.

Hamas also used the hospital as a command center, COGAT said.

Kerem Shalom Crossing opening to aid trucks

COGAT announced that humanitarian aid will be allowed to be inspected and enter the Gaza Strip via Israel’s Kerem Shalom Crossing.

“Starting today (Dec. 17), UN aid trucks will undergo security checks and be transferred directly to Gaza via Kerem Shalom, to abide by our agreement with the US. This will increase the daily volume of humanitarian aid entering Gaza and being delivered to the people of Gaza,” COGAT tweeted.

COGAT also said that the IDF will be implementing a humanitarian pause in fighting in the Al-Adri neighborhood in Rafah from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., “to allow civilians to replenish stocks such as food and water.”

Israeli media on Sunday published videos appearing to show Hamas members stealing humanitarian aid trucks at the Rafah Crossing with Egypt and Gazans looting supplies in the trucks.

The terrorist group has a long record of stealing humanitarian assistance intended for Gaza civilians.

CENTCOM commander visits Israel

Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), visited Israel on Friday, where he met in Tel Aviv with IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other senior military officials.

After receiving an updated situational assessment, Kurilla met with the head of the Israeli Air Force, Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, getting a brief on the IAF’s operations in the Gaza Strip.

“The visit, during a time of war, demonstrates the strength of the relationship, cooperation, and shared values of Israel and the United States overall, and specifically between the IDF and the United States Armed Forces,” the IDF said.

“I’m here to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself, and am particularly focused on avoiding other parties expanding the conflict,” Kurilla said in a CENTCOM statement.

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