(THE TIMES OF ISRAEL) Fifteen soldiers were killed in fighting deep inside the Gaza Strip in the course of Tuesday, Israeli authorities announced Wednesday, and another was killed by mortar fire on the border on Wednesday, the IDF said, as leaders warned of the “heavy toll” being paid by troops to eliminate the Hamas terror group.
Israeli forces continued to attack targets overnight and through Wednesday from the ground and air, killing dozens of members of the terror group, the Israel Defense Forces said. Activity appeared to be focused in Jabaliya, a Hamas stronghold on the outskirts of Gaza City pounded by airstrikes overnight and again during the day Wednesday.
Eleven soldiers from the Givati Infantry Brigade’s Tzabar Battalion were killed when a Namer armored personnel carrier they were in was hit by an anti-tank guided missile fired by Hamas, the IDF said. Another four soldiers were wounded in the same incident, including one seriously.
The 11 were named as Sgt. Adi Danan, 20, from Yavne; Staff Sgt. Halel Solomon, 20, from Dimona; Staff Sgt. Erez Mishlovsky, 20, from Oranit; Staff Sgt. Adi Leon, 20, from Nili; Cpl. Ido Ovadia, 19, from Tel Aviv; Cpl. Lior Siminovich, 19, from Herzliya; Staff Sgt. Roei Dawi, 20, from Jerusalem; Lt. Pedayah Mark, 22, from Otniel; Staff Sgt. Roei Saragosti, 20, from Ramat Hanegev Regional Council; Staff Sgt. Itay Yehuda, 20, from Rishon Lezion; and Staff Sgt. Shay Arvas, 20, from Holon.
Two more soldiers from the 77th Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade — Lt. Ariel Reich, 24, from Jerusalem and Cpl. Asif Luger, 21, from Yagur — were killed when their tank drove over an explosive device. Another two troops were seriously hurt in the same incident.
Also Tuesday, a soldier from Givati’s Rotem Battalion was seriously wounded in separate clashes with terrorists in the Gaza Strip, the IDF said. On Wednesday, two soldiers of the Paratrooper’s 101st Battalion were also seriously wounded during battles with Hamas.
Mark was the son of Rabbi Michael Mark, who was killed in a 2016 West Bank shooting attack. He was moderately hurt in that attack.
On Tuesday night, the IDF announced that Staff Sgt. Roei Wolf, 20, from Ramat Gan, and Staff Sgt. Lavi Lipshitz, 20, from Modiin, who both served in the Givati Infantry Brigade’s reconnaissance unit, had been killed. The army said early Wednesday that the two died when a building they were in was hit by an RPG.
The soldier killed by mortar fire on Wednesday was named as Sgt. First Class (res.) Shalev Zion Sharabi, 22, a combat medic in the 749th Battalion of the Bislamach Brigade, from Teneh Omarim. He was hit near the southern community of Be’eri.
The casualty toll underlined the threats soldiers are facing as the army shifts to fraught urban combat in Gaza’s crowded streets after weeks of a punishing air campaign. The urban combat zone is thought to be awash in bombs and booby traps and undercut by a vast network of tunnels used by terrorists to ambush or surprise troops.
“The loss of IDF soldiers in battles with Hamas terrorists in Gaza is a severe and painful blow,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday morning, sending his condolences to the families of the fallen.
“Our significant achievements in the powerful fighting deep in the Strip are taking, to our sorrow, a heavy toll,” he said. But he vowed that Israel was ready for a long and complex operation.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue Israel’s war on Hamas despite the deaths.
“We have so many important achievements, but also painful losses. We know that every soldier of ours is an entire world,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli air power continued to provide cover for troops and tanks battling inside the enclave. Overnight Tuesday, ground forces directed the Air Force to strike a building in Jabaliya where a number of Hamas operatives were gathered, the IDF said. The army said ground forces also spotted a car with an anti-tank guided missile driving toward them in northern Gaza, and directed an aircraft to strike it.
Forces, including ground troops, struck dozens of Hamas targets overnight, the army said.
The Air Force also carried out strikes against Hamas command centers and other terror cells, it said.
Since the beginning of the war, some 11,000 sites belonging to Hamas and other terror groups have been hit, the IDF said Wednesday.
Later Wednesday, the IDF published several videos it said highlighted the close coordination between land, sea and air forces in the battle.
It said that intelligence gathered on the ground was being immediately transferred to the air and naval forces to carry out combined attacks.
The army said that the combined attacks had helped “destroy dozens of Hamas terror targets including observation towers, anti-tank missile cells, ships and military posts. In addition, terrorists have been killed, and infiltrations into Israel and terror attacks thwarted.”
Footage showed troops moving door to door through ruined, rubble-strewn neighborhoods, tanks firing at what appeared to be open fields, and bombs being dropped on an unidentified object behind other bombed-out buildings
Al-Jazeera television, one of the few media outlets still reporting from northern Gaza, aired footage of devastation in Jabaliya and of several wounded people, including children, being brought to a nearby hospital. The Hamas-run government said the strikes killed and wounded many people, but the exact toll was not yet known.
The Al-Jazeera footage showed nearly identical scenes as the day before, with dozens of men digging through the gray rubble of demolished multistory buildings in search of survivors.
According to the Hamas-run health ministry, more than 8,700 Palestinians have been killed in the war, and more than 22,000 people have been wounded. The figure, which could not be confirmed, would be without precedent in decades of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Hamas has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll, and it also does not distinguish between civilians and terror operatives. The terror group has pushed back against such claims, releasing an unverified list of names it says represent those killed. Some of the dead are believed to be victims of Palestinian terrorists’ own misfired rockets.
As the fighting raged, Palestinians in Gaza appeared to be plunged back into a communications blackout Wednesday morning, days after service was restored following US pressure.
Palestinian telecom providers Paltel and Jawwal told The Associated Press early Wednesday that there was a communication blackout.
Internet-access advocacy group NetBlocks.org confirmed that Gaza “is in the midst of a total or near-total telecoms blackout.”
It said the disruption was consistent with an earlier blackout imposed from late Friday to early Sunday, which coincided with the entry of large numbers of ground troops into Gaza in what Israel at the time described as a new stage in the war.
US media reported that the original blackout only ended after the White House pressured Israel to restore the networks.
Israel has not commented on either blackout.
Wednesday’s blackout, which eased after several hours, ensured that details of the ongoing fighting beyond IDF releases were sparse, with entry in and out of Strip essentially severed. At the same time, Egypt and Hamas opened the Rafah crossing for the first time since the war erupted, allowing out hundreds of foreign passport holder and dozens of severely wounded Gazans.
The war was sparked on October 7, when some 2,500 terrorists led by Hamas burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,400 people and seizing at least 245 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities.
The vast majority of those killed as terrorists seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 260 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.
After weeks of punishing airstrikes, Israel has shifted in recent days to a ground offensive. On Tuesday evening, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari described the fighting as “complex close-quarters combat.”
Hagari said troops were fighting terrorists heroically and courageously. “This is a dangerous conflict. It has a price,” he said. “It is complex, but it is essential to our capacity to achieve the aims of the war.”
Israel has been vague about its operations in Gaza, but residents and spokesmen for terror groups say troops appear to be trying to take control of the two main north-south roads, The Associated Press reported.
In recent days, Israeli troops have advanced toward the outskirts of Gaza City from the north and east. Israeli officials say Hamas’s military infrastructure, including hundreds of kilometers (miles) of tunnels, is concentrated in the city, which was home to some 650,000 people before the war.
On Tuesday, massive blasts leveled parts of the Jabaliya residential area on the outskirts of Gaza City, in what the IDF later confirmed was a targeted attack on a Hamas commander and infrastructure belonging to the terror group’s Central Jabaliya Battalion. The IDF said shortly afterward that it had killed the commander of Hamas’s Central Jabaliya Battalion, Ibrahim Biari, in an airstrike that was part of “a wide-scale strike” on Hamas operatives and infrastructure belonging to the Central Jabaliya Battalion.
The military said the strikes that killed Biari and several other terrorists caused underground terror tunnels to collapse, bringing down several nearby buildings.
According to the IDF, Biari was one of the Hamas commanders responsible for directing members of the terror group’s elite Nukhba forces to invade Israel on October 7.
Hamas claimed multiple Israeli airstrikes had leveled several apartment blocks and the Hamas-run health ministry said 50 people were killed, a claim which could not be independently verified. It initially claimed a death toll of 400.
According to the IDF, the Central Jabaliya Battalion had taken control of several civilian buildings in the area, and many of those killed in the strikes were Hamas operatives.
Nevertheless, the strikes drew sharp rebukes from Arab nations.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday denounced the strike “in the strongest terms possible,” decrying the “inhumane targeting” of the site “by the Israeli occupation forces.”
Egypt and Jordan issued similarly strong condemnations, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Israel was “completely out of its mind,” accusing it of crimes against humanity.
The IDF has repeatedly called on civilians to move south for their safety.
An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled south from Gaza City and other northern areas following repeated Israeli calls to evacuate, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, including many who left and later returned because Israel is also carrying out airstrikes in the south.
Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates, while seeking to minimize civilian casualties and urging the civilian population to evacuate to southern Gaza.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report