WATCH: IDF re-enters Gaza City as troops target U.N. site used by Hamas

By David Brummer

(Video screenshot)

JERUSALEM – The Israel Defense Forces visibly stepped up operations in central Gaza overnight Sunday and continuing into the early hours of Monday morning, as the Israel’s military unusually announced that it was “striking Hamas terror targets in the central Gaza Strip.”

Reuters reported columns of tanks, which were backed by aerial bombardment, as well as troops on the ground, converged on Gaza City from multiple directions, with residents claiming they were witnessing some of the heaviest fighting in the city since the start of the war.

The Gaza Civil Emergency Service claimed dozens of people were killed in the offensive – although it did not apparently try and distinguish between combatants and civilians – but emergency teams were unable to reach them because of ongoing offensives in Daraj and Tuffah in the east and Tel El-Hawa, Sabra, and Rimal further west.

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Residents spoke of having nowhere to go, as some tanks rolled in from the east, in the direction of the Mediterranean Sea.

However, the IDF said residents were warned ahead of time, and a route was opened for their safe evacuation. The military and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) also made it clear that they were targeting both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) operatives, who were using United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) headquarters. One particular strike was reported to have eliminated a Hamas sniper who took part in activities against IDF troops.

This latest strike on an UNRWA facility comes two and four days respectively, after smaller-scale IDF attacks against structures from which terrorists operated in the Al-Jaouni School in Central Gaza, and also the “Alqahirah” School in Al-Furqan and the “Musa” School in Daraj Tuffah. With the expansion of operations it means that there are four main areas of kinetic action in the Gaza Strip; Rafah, Netzarim, Shejaiya, and Gaza City.

Of the former, the IDF said in a post on X, “This location served as both a hideout and operational infrastructure from which attacks against IDF troops operating in Gaza were directed and carried out.”

“Hamas continues to systematically violate international law by exploiting civilian structures and the civilian population as human shields for its terrorist attacks against the State of Israel,” it added.

Later in the day Monday, the IDF again called on Palestinian residents in several central Gaza City neighborhoods to relocate to the humanitarian zone. The military’s Arabic-language spokesman Col. Avichay Adraee published a list of zones that needed to be evacuated in conjunction with the announcement. There are three humanitarian zones; an area on the southern Strip’s coast, in the western neighborhoods of Khan Yunis, and in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah.

The reinvasions of central parts of Gaza have highlighted some of the limitations of the IDF’s capabilities, even after months of fighting, and much of it successfully significantly denuding Hamas and other terrorist groups’ offensive effectiveness.

These most recent incursions follow previous occasions the IDF has had to become involved in fierce battles for areas they previously took, and which Hamas controlled in the vacuum once the Israeli military had withdrawn.

In a post on X in Hebrew, the IDF claimed that it had eliminated more than 30 terrorists in the Rafah area who were threatening Israeli troops over the previous 24 hours. It also said that it had destroyed additional tunnels in the Strip.

The uptick in fighting comes as Israel prepares to send a delegation to neighboring Egypt Monday for further talks on a ceasefire/ hostages-for-prisoners swap deal. It follows Hamas’ apparent climbdown – with senior figures in the Gaza leadership, although Yahya Sinwar is not thought to be among them – pushing those exiled leaders in Doha, Qatar to accept the hostage deal proposal, which the Biden Administration champions.

Internal Hamas communications highlighted Gaza’s parlous state, including the terrorist organization’s heavy losses on the battlefield, as well as the ravaged landscape. One of the conclusions drawn from these communications is a hint that Sinwar might not be fully aware of what is going on above ground. He has been in hiding since the outbreak of the war – or certainly since the IDF’s incursion into the Gaza Strip – and is thought to be deep underground – potentially with some of the hostages – and may not be fully apprised of the exact situation.

Over the weekend, Hamas appeared to drop its demand that Israel commit to ceasing hostilities in the coastal enclave as part of any deal. This minor retreat would seem to support the notion that Israel’s maintaining significant pressure on the Hamas leadership and causing heavy casualties of its fighters is paying dividends.

Although an Israeli team will shortly be on its way to Cairo, there is certainly no sense that these talks will lead to an immediate breakthrough. There are still a number of outstanding issues, many of them particularly thorny. Indeed, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu muddied the waters somewhat on Sunday when he outlined a list of “non-negotiables” that he expected the Israeli delegation to stick to.

One of the prime minister’s red lines concerned the smuggling of weapons to Hamas across the Egypt border. The IDF currently controls the area around the so-called Philadelphi Corridor and the prime minister is loath to cede such an important – and highly lucrative – smuggling route back to Egypt.

To that end, Israel has requested the construction of an underground barrier to prevent any reanimation of the transfer of men and materiel to Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel’s control of the area around Rafah, which abuts the Egyptian border, put a huge strain on relations between the two countries, causing Cairo to consider recalling its ambassador.

Furthermore, Netanyahu’s public discussion of these red lines before the team headed by Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar had even left Israel was seen by some commentators – and even unnamed officials – that the prime minister was deliberately attempting to make their job harder, and potentially even scupper the deal before it has a chance to get off the ground.

Seasoned political analysts, including Nadav Eyal, have argued that Netanyahu’s acceptance of a deal will lead to his government’s fall, because the right-wing elements within it – Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir in particular – will see it as caving to Hamas.

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