Update(1555ET): IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari has said ground and tank forces have at this point surrounded Gaza City. "Our troops have completed the encirclement of Gaza City, the center of Hamas activity," he said in a late Thursday (local) press conference. The IDF has further announced the deaths of "130 terrorists" in the latest battles.
But Hamas' significant network of tunnels continues to plague IDF troops, given the ability for Hamas mounting successful ambushes from hidden holes in the ground, which the group has been keen to boast about, such as in the following...
Crazy video showing Hamas fighter emerging from a tunnel and placing IED on IDF Merkava tank. pic.twitter.com/u1PnAUqosP— Aldin 🇧🇦 (@aldin_aba) November 2, 2023
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said he is preparing "unique solutions" to destroy the vast network of tunnels. "We have unique solutions to reach all the tunnels and dismantle them underground; we are ready to do it," he said Thursday while addressing a combat engineering unit.
"We will reach everywhere, and then the terrorists will have two options: either die in the tunnel or come out. And there, either die from the fire of our forces or surrender unconditionally," he said. Some prior reports suggested Israel could be planning to inject poison gas or nerve agents into the tunnels, but others dismissed these somewhat fantastical reports as not credible or even possible.
There's also the likelihood that releasing gas into tunnels would kill any Israeli and foreign hostages being held there. Dealing in such large quantities of chemical weapons or nerve gas on an active battlefield would also of course be highly dangerous for the very troops trying to deliver them into the tunnels. And its another question entirely whether enough could be pumped in to be effective across a wide underground network, considering the tunnels stretch for many miles.
MEE reports that the resistance expects #Israel to flood tunnels with nerve gas and chemical weapons under the surveillance of #US Delta Force commandos as part of a surprise attack on the #Gaza Strip. pic.twitter.com/7hv93wx8ZB— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) October 25, 2023
Meanwhile, PM Netanyahu is said to be mulling the White House's new call for a temporary truce or humanitarian "pause" in fighting. This would involve Israel agreeing to halt attacks for a few hours, according to emerging reports.
Israel has concentrated its forces to the north of Gaza City, and just to the south...
Gaza City has just been besieged by the Israeli army's armored units from the south (from east to west along Gaza Street and 10th Street). The Israeli army also entered the Zeitoun district (from south to north almost 1,5 km). Israeli army was 1.2 km away from Al-Rashid Street. pic.twitter.com/E7W1yr3yvs— Levent Kemal (@leventkemaI) November 2, 2023
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"This is a difficult campaign, it requires combat in Gaza," Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, said in a press briefing earlier this week. "There is no combat without a painful price."
Since beginning its ground operation in Gaza, which has witnessed heavy urban fighting as well as instances of Hamas teams emerging from tunnels to ambush Israeli tanks and patrols, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have lost 18 soldiers, and 333 since the beginning of the war's start with the Oct.7th Massacre.
Tanks and infantry units have continued pressing toward Gaza City, and airstrikes have once again reportedly intensified, with Israeli media widely reporting major sustained firefights. Despite Israel's clear military superiority in terms of heavy armor, air power, advanced weaponry, and numbers - Hamas has honed guerilla tactics and is making use of its vast network of underground tunnels to stage deadly ambushes.
Middle East Eye has also described:
The Israeli army radio said that "prolonged" and intense fighting took place overnight after Israeli infantry troops were ambushed by Palestinian fighters. The report said 20 Hamas fighters died while the army said it killed "dozens of operatives" without providing further details.
Following this, on Thursday afternoon (local time) Israel has confirmed the first death of a senior officer of the offensive: a battalion commander.
The Times of Israel cites Israeli military sources to identify that "Lt. Col. Salman Habaka, 33, the commander of the 188th Armored Brigade’s 53rd Battalion, from Yanuh-Jat, was killed battling Hamas terrorists in the northern part of Gaza."
"Habaka is the most senior officer to have been killed during the IDF’s ground operation in the Gaza Strip. No further details were given on the circumstances of his death," the report continues. The IDF identified him as the 18th soldier to be killed in two days of heavy fighting and the most senior its forces have lost.
YNet News has described that days before the start of the ground offensive, Lt. Col. Habaka was featured in footage giving motivational words to his battalion as it prepared to enter battle. "I want to tell all of you that the 53rd Battalion and its tanks, in all their glory and strength, is ready for any challenge," he said. "We’re making preparations to strike the enemy relentlessly."
Habaka had actually been on the scene of the Hamas attacks of Oct.7 in southern Israel, being among the first military officers to respond, as Israeli media describes:
On the day of Hamas' surprise attack, Lt. Col. Habaka rushed from his home in Yanuh-Jat in northern Israel to join the fighting. "I drove from the Galilee to a base near Tze’elim in order to get the tank and reach the community as quickly as possible to save every soul I could," he recounted. He arrived in Kibbutz Be’eri with two tanks and joined the soldiers fighting there.
"I arrived in Be’eri, saw Col. Barak Hiram, and the first thing he ordered me to do was to fire a tank round into the house," he recounted. "The first question you ask yourself is whether there are civilian hostages in the house. We conducted all the preliminary actions before deciding to fire into the house, but as soon as we fired into the house, we were able to move from house to house and the hostages. The fighting continued until evening, within the kibbutz’s streets."
Also for the first time, IDF helicopters have been filmed in action firing down from above Gaza, and making evasive maneuvers to avoid ground fire...
Here’s a video of the Helicopter firing into Gaza before the flares. pic.twitter.com/KtkbeRZ31j— Trey Yingst (@TreyYingst) November 1, 2023
The Palestinian Ministry of Health on Thursday issued updated casualty figures, saying that at least 9,061 people have been killed going back over three weeks of the conflict, including 3,760 children and 2,326 women, according to officials. There are over 30,000 wounded on the Palestinian side. The ministry further cited that just in the last 24 hours alone, at least 256 people have been killed.
Fighting has also intensified in the West Bank, which has witnessed growing clashes involving police and Israeli settlers cracking down on Palestinian protesters. In some locations there are reports of Israeli settlers attacking and setting fire to Palestinian-owned businesses and olive trees.
Reports of settler violence against Palestinians in the village of Deir Sharaf in the West Bank:
عاجل| تغطية صحفية: "مـسـتـوطـنـون يحرقون ممتلكات للفلسطينيين في دير شرف شمال غرب نابلس، ويهاجمون مركبات فلسطينية قرب قرية جيت بين نابلس وقلقيلية".— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) November 2, 2023
فيديو من قرية دير شرف.. pic.twitter.com/yeMSEvfJyc
Eyewitnesses have told regional media: "It's the same story in nearly every village in the south Hebron Hills. Israeli settlers seize livestock, wreck agricultural equipment and destroy the olive groves upon which Palestinian farmers depend for their livelihood." The report added, "They arrive armed with M16 machine guns and beat up villagers with their fists, sticks, iron bars, or the butts of their rifles."