Israeli Military Suffers Losses in Southern Gaza Conflict

The Israeli military reported on Tuesday that four soldiers had been killed in combat in southern Gaza the previous day, over eight months into its conflict with Hamas. The military stated that it had been engaging militants in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, describing the day as “one of the most painful since the start of this war.”

Israeli Army Radio said that the soldiers were killed when they were hit by tank fire near a building in a Gaza town. Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported that the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, had booby-trapped the building in the town of Shabura. “Our fighters were able to detonate a house rigged with explosives in which a Zionist force had fortified themselves and caused the killing of members of this force,” the Qassam Brigades said in a statement. It added that seven other soldiers were wounded in the explosion, five of them seriously.

It is not the first time that the military has mistakenly shot its troops in Gaza. Rights groups say that such incidents show that the Israeli military is too quick to shoot.

In the latest incident, the military said that a group of Hamas militants attacked a group of Israeli reservists while they were removing structures and terrorist infrastructure on Monday afternoon near the border fence with Gaza. The military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the attack involved a tunnel that was booby-trapped with explosives and that it caused “the destruction of two buildings, including one manned by soldiers.” He also reported that Hamas fighters had fired rocket-propelled grenades at a nearby tank, injuring four soldiers.

He also praised the troops for their efforts to “eradicate terrorist infrastructure and protect civilians from the attacks of Hamas.” But he said that the war has come at a “hefty price” and that Israel will not stop until it destroys every tunnel built by Hamas and all weapons smuggled into the territory.

Tunnels have been a critical strategy for Hamas in Gaza, where it is believed that around 25,000 Palestinians remain displaced by the eight-month-old war. Last week, the military destroyed a tunnel that it says had been booby-trapped and used as a place where Hamas kept about 20 captives—a quarter of a mile-long tunnel contained cramped cells, toilets, and drawings by some of the captives.

Hamas has reportedly built more than 2,000 such tunnels in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, which borders Egypt and Israel. Several of them have been used to bring in smuggled arms and to store Hamas prisoners. But the vast majority of the tunnels have been destroyed by the Israeli military, which uses a combination of air and ground assaults to try to root out the militia.

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