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Tunnel tactics ‘a threat to soldiers’

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26 December 2023, The Australian / Wall Street Journal, by Dov Lieber – Carrie Keller-Lynn

The Israeli military says it could take months to assert control over a key city in southern Gaza, as Hamas guerrilla tactics cause mounting casualties among ­Israeli troops.

At least 16 Israeli soldiers were killed across Gaza killed at the weekend, as the military focuses on killing Hamas’s leaders and dismantling its huge tunnel network.

The growing death toll has led to some internal criticism that ­Israel is endangering soldiers by scaling back its use of force in ­response to US demands to limit civilian casualties. Israeli security officials and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deny any change to tactics ­because of American pressure.

But the growing casualties in the Israeli military highlight the difficulties in wiping out Hamas, which is splintering into a part-guerrilla army and launching ­attacks from populated areas.

Israeli military officials say they have been surprised by the extent of Hamas’s vast military network in southern Gaza and are finding more tunnels and weapons than they expected. A senior Israeli military officer commanding the battalion inside the city of Khan Younis said it could take months before they have control over the city the same way the Israeli military now controls northern Gaza.

“Their modus operandi now is to harass our soldiers and then go back into the tunnels,” said the ­officer. Hamas was keeping its ­attacks to cells of two to five fighters.

He said Hamas was also attacking Israeli forces from civilian shelters, and using women and children to gather intelligence or move sensitive equipment around, such as weapons. Hamas was also storing weapons in hundreds or thousands of empty homes. This allowed its fighters to move around freely, passing as civilians, and to retrieve the weapons at the last moment ­before mounting an attack.

“We’re speaking about half a guerrilla and half an army,” said Michael Milshtein, a former senior Israeli military intelligence officer, referring to the current Hamas force.

Some in Israel believe the mounting Israeli soldier death toll in southern Gaza is due to a more limited use of destructive firepower, such as airstrikes, which would remove danger to advancing troops, such as booby-trapped buildings, but likely lead to more civilian deaths among Palestinians.

Responding to the criticism, the Israeli military on Sunday said that ground troops in Gaza were fully covered by air support and ground-based firepower.

The senior Israeli officer commanding forces in Khan Younis said there was no change in policy. Israel had more boots on the ground in Khan Younis than it had in northern Gaza during the start of the ground operation, and so there are less widespread airstrikes to avoid harming Israeli troops, the officer said.

At least 154 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the ground ­invasion of Gaza began eight weeks ago, making a total of 487 Israeli military deaths since Hamas’s October 7 attack. The death toll is the largest of any Israeli war since the country battled Palestinian militants in Lebanon in the early 1980s in what is now called the First Lebanon War.

Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, said 70 per cent of the people killed everywhere in Gaza are women and children, and that complete families were killed in Khan Younis.

“If the army says the ones killed are militants, let them give us a single name,” he said.

On Sunday, the Gaza health authorities in the Hamas-run enclave said 166 people were killed there since Saturday, bringing the total to 20,424 since the start of the war. The numbers don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Israeli officials say they are readying to transition soon to the third phase of the war. In this phase, Israeli security analysts say, Israel will redeploy many of its troops along the border with Gaza and rely on targeted raids to finish off the goals of the war — destroying Hamas’s ability to attack Israel from Gaza and free hostages that Israel claims are held by the group.

Bolstering the claim, the bodies of five Israeli hostages were recovered from a tunnel, the Israeli military said on Sunday. The five were named by the military earlier this month, and Hamas has previously said some hostages died in Israel’s shelling of Gaza. It has also threatened to execute hostages. .

The three soldiers and two ­civilians were among 240 people initially taken hostage.

Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=d7814cea-1dc1-4cdc-abde-e2741e3ecf03&share=true
Article source: The Australian / Wall Street Journal | Dov Lieber - Carrie Keller-Lynn | 26.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000