Twenty-four Israeli soldiers were killed during fighting in Gaza on Monday, the military said, in the deadliest day for its troops inside the battered enclave since the war with Hamas began.
Most of the soldiers – 21 – were killed in an attack in central Gaza “when a terrorist squad surprised our fighters and launched missiles and rockets,” said Daniel Hagari, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
That attack, which Hagari said happened several hundred meters from the eastern border, was the deadliest single incident for the IDF in Gaza since the ground invasion began on October 27. A further three Israeli soldiers - an IDF captain and two majors - were killed in a separate incident the same day, in southern Gaza.
The attack in central Gaza took place as the IDF soldiers were laying explosives to demolish “terror infrastructure and buildings,” according to Hagari.
A rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) hit one of the buildings and set off an explosion that led to its collapse.
“Most of our fighters died because of the collapse of that building,” Hagari said.
Another RPG hit a nearby IDF tank, killing the tank commander and another Israeli soldier, Hagari added.
On Monday, the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza said the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7 has risen to 25,295, with at least 63,000 injuries recorded.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing increasing political pressure on multiple fronts, said the deaths of the soldiers represented “one of the most difficult days since the outbreak of the war.”
“I mourn for our fallen heroic soldiers. I hug the families in their time of need and we all pray for the peace of our wounded,” Netanyahu said, adding that the IDF had launched an investigation into the incident.
The Israeli military’s large-scale bombing campaign in Gaza has been ongoing since the October 7 murder and kidnapping rampage by Hamas gunmen that saw some 1,200 people killed in Israel and more than 250 taken hostage. One hundred and thirty two hostages remain in Gaza. Of those, 104 are believed to still be alive.
The incidents in Gaza on Monday bring the number of Israeli soldiers killed since operations there began to 219.
The previous deadliest day for IDF soldiers in Gaza since the start of the conflict was October 31, when 16 Israeli troops died. That day also included the previous deadliest incident, which saw 11 troops killed in an armored personnel carrier.
Khan Younis surrounded
In recent weeks, the Israeli military’s main focus has been in southern Gaza, with intense fighting around the city of Khan Younis.
The IDF said Tuesday that the city is now surrounded, while the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says nearly 200 people have been killed in the past day.
In a statement Tuesday, the IDF said “dozens of terrorists” had been killed in the past 24 hours by IDF ground troops in coordination with the Israeli air force.
“Over the past day, IDF troops carried out an extensive operation during which they encircled Khan Younis and deepened the operation in the area. The area is a significant stronghold of Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade,” the IDF said.
Hagari said Israeli soldiers continue to fight in Khan Younis, adding, “It’s a very complicated area – very crowded, with a lot of people living there.” One hundred Hamas fighters have been killed in the Khan Younis area within the last day, Hagari claimed.
A source familiar with the matter told CNN Monday that a major Israeli military offensive underway in western Khan Younis is expected to last several more days. The source said Israeli troops had encircled the Khan Younis refugee camp and were conducting raids to try and dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities in the area.
Medical facilities in the city have been battered amid an Israeli assault in the area Monday, Palestinian health officials said, as the number of people killed in Israel’s siege on Gaza continues to rise.
On Monday, the Hamas-controlled health ministry said Nasser Hospital is receiving more patients with serious injuries than it can accommodate and intensive care units have reached capacity.
This month, Israeli officials said its military will shift toward a new, less intense phase of operations in Gaza, but a humanitarian crisis in the enclave continues to deepen.
Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure both on the state of the conflict at present and on what Gaza will look like once the fighting ends.
The Israeli prime minister is being pushed by the international community – including the US, Israel’s most important ally – to allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Domestically, he is being pressured to guarantee Israel’s security, most notably from far-right members of his coalition.
He has also faced growing criticism inside Israel for so far failing to secure the release of all the hostages taken by Hamas during their October 7 attack.
Israel has offered a two-month ceasefire to Hamas as part of a prospective hostage deal, Axios reported Monday, citing two unnamed Israeli officials. Israeli officials are optimistic about Hamas’ response to that proposed deal, CNN foreign policy analyst Barak Ravid told CNN on Monday.
Tim Lister, Lauren Izso and Lauren Kent contributed to this report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the date of the previous deadliest day of the war for Israeli soldiers. It was on October 31, 2023.
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