IDF has destroyed 130 Hamas tunnels in Gaza while establishing a civilian corridor to safety

An IDF tank, with a cage on top to protect against drones, maneuvers to support the IDF’s 252nd Sinai division during operations. (IDF video screenshot)

Seth Frantzman is reporting from Israel.

As the Israel Defense Forces position itself for a long conflict in Gaza, they continued to maneuver on several fronts within neighborhoods near Gaza City on Wednesday, busy deconstructing terrorist infrastructure brick by brick. At the same time, the IDF is challenged with opening a humanitarian corridor for civilians to move south to flee to safety. Despite the IDF telling citizens in Gaza for weeks to leave the north, civilians remain. There has been no clear estimate from Israel of the numbers, but the daily discussion illustrates that it will be a drawn out process.

The video of IDF troops fighting in numerous sectors has not shown confrontation between soldiers and civilians, indicating that in most areas of contact or maneuver the civilians have left. Many of the neighborhoods depicted appear to be reduced to rubble or badly damaged. It remains unclear if the IDF have a system in place to process or filtrate civilians into rear areas as forces expand operations into Gaza City. Because the forces have primarily taken over fields and more rural communities on the approached to the densely populated part of Gaza, that has not been an issue yet.

Israel has continued to target Hamas commanders. The IDF said Wednesday that a fighter jet killed Mohsen Abu Zina, Hamas’ Head of Weapons and Industries in its manufacturing department. Zina represented another high or mid-level commanders of various parts of the Hamas terrorist infrastructure that the IDF has targeted over the last month. Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on November 4 that Israel had eliminated 12 battalion commanders of Hamas. If Hamas has an estimated 40,000 fighters, there could be another 40 battalion commanders. It’s more likely Hamas has a key cadre of commanders for its better units, and “battalions” of militant groups may not be of similar size or organization as compared to their western counterparts. In the Syrian civil war for instance, “brigades” of men were not necessarily the size of a normal infantry brigade.

What is clear from the IDF’s reporting is that large segments of Hamas mid-level and higher command and control have been targeted, including many specialized units such as naval commandos, air defense, drone developers and men like Abu Zina, who the IDF says “served as one of Hamas’ leading weapons developers and was an expert in developing strategic weapons and rockets used by Hamas terrorists.”

They have also targeted regional or territorial units, such as Jabalya Battalion commander Ibrahim Biari, who was killed on Oct. 31. Neighborhoods like Jabalya form a nexus of Hamas centers around Gaza City. A Deir al-Balah Hamas commander was killed on Nov. 6. That area is near the area of operations of the IDF 36 division, which is operating south of Gaza City, and has effectively cut southern Gaza off from the north. A Tel Al-Hawa Hamas battalion commander was eliminated on Nov. 3. Tel Al-Hawa is south of Gaza city. The IDF has then maneuvered into areas or near where commanders were eliminated.

The IDF also noted on Wednesday that a third division is now operating in Gaza, the 252nd reserve Sinai division. According to the IDF, the 36th division is the one that cut the strip in half and reached the coast in early November. The 162nd division is operating further north moving toward Gaza City and the outskirts of Jabalya. The IDF said Wednesday that the 252nd is in Gaza as well. “The 252nd Division (the Sinai Division) has been fighting in the northern Gaza Strip since last Saturday, and consists of four infantry brigades (Givati and Paratrooper reserve units) and a reserve armored brigade.” This unit has secured the area of Beit Hanoun, also north of Gaza City, and is commanded by Maj. Gen. Moran Omer.

“Since the beginning of the ground operation, the division’s forces have eliminated hundreds of terrorists, including senior Hamas terrorist operatives, in the Beit Hanoun and Jabaliya areas. Amongst the terrorists eliminated was the Beit Hanoun Battalion Commander, with the assistance of the Air Force,” the IDF said. The 252nd division is assisted by the 454th Artillery Brigade.

South of Gaza city, Israel has attempted to open the Salah al-Din road daily for people to flee. A blurry video of people leaving toward the south was released by the IDF. It is not clear if those fleeing are being checked to monitor them for Hamas members or even hostages that Hamas is holding. There are 240 hostages still being held captive since the Hamas attack on Oct. 7.

In addition to the humanitarian corridor, Israel is using combat engineers and other units to locate and destroy Hamas tunnels. “Since the beginning of the fighting, 130 tunnel shafts have been destroyed,” the IDF said on Wednesday. The 460th brigade, which is part of Israel’s Southern Command, has been tasked with locating and destroying tunnels. In addition a unit of Nahal infantry has done the same. The IDF video of the operation showed one explosion near a small beach resort in northern Gaza called the Grand Chalet on Rashid coastal road around a mile from the Israeli border. Hamas attacked the border near there, targeting Zikim, an Israeli community, as well as an IDF post near Zikim on Oct. 7.

In addition, the IDF said that Yahalom combat engineers discovered a terror tunnel used by Hamas that was located in Beit Hanoun area near a school. Beit Hanoun is also around a mile from the Erez crossing which was attacked on Oct. 7.

Hamas has proven to exploit ambulances, hospitals, clinics, mosques and schools for terrorist purposes. Hamas also uses ambulances to transfer weapons and terrorist operatives in the Gaza Strip – another example of how Hamas exploits civilian infrastructure and uses civilians as human shields. Israel continued to provide evidence of Hamas placing rocket launchers in civilian areas, and tunnels under playgrounds, schools and other sites. An IDF report on Wednesday noted that Hamas officials “are hiding in the hospitals, especially the Shifa Hospital” and that “many places in the Gaza Strip are rigged, the cables leading to the operating system are in civilian mosques and clinics.” Israel’s Military Intelligence Directorate gathered that intelligence by recording a conversation between a Gaza resident and a Hamas terrorist.

Reporting from Israel, Seth J. Frantzman is an adjunct fellow at FDD and a contributor to FDD’s Long War Journal. He is the acting news editor and senior Middle East correspondent and analyst at The Jerusalem Post. 

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