Israeli ground troops advance, encircling Gaza City
Anticipated speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah fuels worries of further tensions and possibility of a broader regional conflict
Amir Levy/Getty Images
As Israel – and the wider region – anticipate the content and tone of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech slated for Friday afternoon, IDF troops continued their advance into Hamas’ stronghold of Gaza City overnight, encircling the Palestinian enclave’s most populous area and reporting fierce battles in which hundreds of Hamas terrorists were killed.
The Israeli military reported on Friday that a further five IDF soldiers were killed in battles in the northern Gaza Strip, bringing the total of soldiers killed since Israel began its ground operation a week ago to 25. A reserve soldier, Elhanan Ariel Klein, was also killed in a terror attack in the West Bank on Thursday.
In total, since Hamas’ brutal Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel’s south, the families of some 338 soldiers have been notified of their deaths, with 241 families informed that their relatives are being held in Gaza by Hamas. The Israel Police said on Friday that the civilian death toll from the attack, which continues to fluctuate, stands at 828 identified victims – 734 of whom have been buried – and at least 100 more still missing.
IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Friday that the IDF was also on high alert along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon after nearly 20 rockets and missiles were launched from the territory into Israel on Thursday evening, injuring two Israeli soldiers in the Har Dov region and striking in the heart of Israel’s most northern city, Kiryat Shmona.
While one projectile caused widespread damage to stores and cars in Kiryat Shmona, most of the city’s 23,000 residents were evacuated from the area more than two weeks ago and no civilian injuries were reported.
On a visit there this week, Jewish Insider saw columns of tanks and groups of soldiers preparing for the possibility of a broader conflict with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia and close ally of Hamas, which has been closely watching Israel’s incursion into Gaza.
Tensions have been rising on the Israel-Lebanon border since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, with attacks and attempted incursions by Hezbollah increasing dramatically in the past few days. Israel has responded, also with increasing ferocity, with airstrikes and artillery fire on targets belonging to the terror group, which has reported that at least 47 of its fighters have been killed. The army said Friday that six soldiers have been killed on the northern border so far, and one civilian.
On Friday, Israelis, Lebanese and people across the region were waiting anxiously for Narallah’s speech, his first since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. Hezbollah last fought a full-scale war with Israel in the summer of 2006 and has since improved its military prowess with training in Syria and stockpiled vast amounts of weapons from Iran, military analysts say.
If Israel’s long-time foe declares war now, there are fears it will spark a broader regional conflict, with additional Iranian terror proxies looking to target U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. In Yemen, the Houthis terror group has in recent weeks fired drones and long-range missiles toward Israel and U.S. troops. On Thursday, a WSJ report also claimed that Russia’s paramilitary Wagner force might also join the fray by providing Hezbollah with an air-defense system.
According to media reports, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu visited Lebanon on Thursday, telling the already struggling nation, which faces a crippling economic crisis, that it “doesn’t need a war with Israel.”
Hagari on Friday accused Iran of being behind the tensions directed at Israel, saying that Tehran is “continuing to incite its proxies in the region and arm with Iranian weapons that it sends them, just like it did in Ukraine, Yemen, and in Iraq against U.S. troops.”
“They are trying to distract us from continuing our war in Gaza but we are remaining focused on our goals of destroying Hamas and rescuing the hostages,” he said. “We know how to respond in every arena and to every threat if we need to.”
On Thursday, IDF General Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said that Israeli forces in Gaza had “advanced another significant step” and “for the last few days had been operating in Gaza City, encircling it from several directions.”
“The soldiers are fighting in an urban, crowded, and complex area that necessitates fighting in a very professional and courageous way,” he said. “The ground forces are supported by precise intelligence, with supporting fire from the air and the sea.”
In battles overnight Thursday, soldiers from the Golani Brigade’s 13th Battalion and armored troops from the 53rd Battalion reportedly clashed with Hamas terrorists firing anti-tank missiles and activating IEDs, killing more than 100. Among those killed, the army said, was Mustafa Dalul, commander of Hamas’ Sabra Tel al-Hawa Battalion, who had been managing the combat against IDF troops in the Gaza Strip.
In a statement released Friday morning, spokesman Hagari emphasized that Israel was at war with Hamas and not with the civilian population in Gaza.
“It is because we are not at war with the civilians in Gaza that we have been calling on them to evacuate northern Gaza and Gaza City and move south, away from Hamas strongholds, temporarily for their own safety,” he said. “In the north, there is intense fighting; in the south, there is food and aid.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that for the second consecutive day, the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt was open on Thursday, allowing for the evacuation of about 60 wounded Palestinians to an Egyptian field hospital, as well as some 400 foreign passport holders.
Citing the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, OCHA said that some 9,061 people had been killed, roughly two-thirds of them women and children, since the start of the hostilities.
On Thursday, the Palestine Red Crescent said that some 102 humanitarian aid trucks from the Egyptian Red Crescent had passed through the Rafah crossing, “loaded with provisions such as food, water, relief supplies, medicines, and medical equipment.”
“As of now, a total of 374 trucks have been received, but there hasn’t been permission to bring in fuel yet,” the organization said.
Israeli leaders remained steadfast in refusing to allow fuel to enter Gaza, pointing to the vast reserves held by Hamas, which uses the fuel to power its sprawling underground tunnel system – where the terror group’s senior leaders continue to hide and the hostages are said to be held – and enable the group to continue its onslaught of rocket fire into Israeli territory.
Over fears that the international community will ramp up pressure on Israel to allow fuel to enter the Strip for humanitarian purposes, the IDF on Friday released a recording of a conversation with an official from Gaza’s healthcare system, which the army said confirms that “Hamas holds the fuel reserves of the Shifa hospital for terror purposes.”
“In a call that took place yesterday, Nov. 2 with an official in the medical system in Gaza, it was revealed again that Hamas is holding the fuel reserves in the Gaza Strip and is using it,” the army said in a statement. “The hospital official states that Hamas’ fuel reserves of over half a million liters of fuel are under the Shifa Hospital.”
“The call confirms that Hamas controls the energy and fuel resources in the Gaza Strip and chooses to direct them to terrorism,” said the army.