Hamas ‘dismantled’ however not destroyed, IDF says, as Gaza warfare enters new part | EUROtoday

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JERUSALEM — Israeli army briefers present journalists a map of Gaza within the colours crimson, yellow and inexperienced. The map doesn’t present the rubble, struggling or loss of life. But it does illustrate the case made by the Israel Defense Forces that it’s steadily successful its battles — if not but the warfare — in opposition to Hamas.

The IDF says it has “dismantled” 20 of the unique 24 Hamas battalions. Dismantled doesn’t imply destroyed; its remnants are nonetheless able to waging a deadly insurgency, evidenced by this week’s heavy combating within the north.

But the IDF might quickly flip its focus to the 4 “completely operational” battalions, which it says are within the southern metropolis of Rafah, the sandy strip alongside the Egyptian border that can be house to some 1.4 million displaced Palestinians. Thousands of households there are huddled into tents, scrounging for meals, above a community of Hamas tunnels that the IDF suspects maintain not solely hundreds of fighters, but in addition its “most wanted” commanders — alongside greater than 100 Israeli hostages.

Israeli officers say an offensive in opposition to Hamas militants in Rafah could possibly be certainly one of most tough of the warfare — and final for weeks. American officers have warned that, with out correct planning on how finest to guard civilians, an operation there can be “a disaster.”

For the primary time, the United States didn’t veto, however abstained, on a U.N. Security Council vote on Monday calling for a right away cease-fire in Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by abruptly canceling a high-level delegation to Washington to debate the Rafah offensive and help supply.

The politics of the warfare — and the rising rift between Israel and the United States over Gaza’s humanitarian disaster — have obscured a altering battlefield, one that appears very totally different than it did only a month or two in the past. This story relies on interviews with Israeli protection officers, who principally spoke on the situation of anonymity due to safety guidelines, army analysts, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, in addition to Palestinian eyewitnesses to the combating in Gaza.

Until now, regardless of rising stress from the Americans and the worldwide group, the Israeli army has labored at its personal tempo. But the clock seems to be ticking, and the IDF is raring to consolidate its positive aspects.

“It is now warfare. It is not a full-scale war. It is very different,” mentioned Amos Harel, senior protection analyst for newspaper Haaretz, describing the change in depth and discount of IDF forces lively in Gaza.

“The IDF tactical advantage is clear,” he added. “But that is hard to turn into a decisive victory.”

On a day-to-day foundation, there may be much less bombardment, much less artillery and tank fireplace by Israel, officers say, and fewer ambushes, RPG assaults and sniping by Hamas.

Far fewer Israeli troopers are dying. More than 100 Israeli troopers have been killed in Gaza in December; 11 troops have died up to now in March.

The IDF wouldn’t reveal the precise variety of troops in Gaza at the moment, however confirmed that there are at the moment members of simply two divisions within the strip, down from 5 divisions on the warfare’s peak — which might equal a pressure discount of not less than 60 p.c.

Almost all the Israeli reservists have gone house.

After almost six months of combating, the Israeli army won’t have full management of the strip, officers say, however they’ve freedom of motion. IDF forces are positioned throughout the size of the enclave’s perimeter and alongside a newly-constructed hall that bisects the strip, dividing north from south.

“We are now in the third phase of the war,” mentioned Kobi Michael, a former head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and now a senior researcher on the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv.

Michael mentioned the IDF is now finishing up extra exact raids — geared toward targets the place its intelligence officers say Hamas is regrouping, such because the al-Shifa medical complicated in Gaza City. Hamas has denied utilizing the hospital for army functions; help teams have expressed rising alarm about medical doctors and sufferers trapped by the combating.

The IDF first surrounded the hospital 10 days in the past with armor and troops. Special forces and paratroopers performed the raids. The IDF and intelligence forces say they’ve killed 170 fighters within the space of the hospital and detained over 800 suspected militants. The numbers couldn’t be independently confirmed.

“We heard the sound of clashes, small-arms fire and some explosions,” mentioned Rami al-Suwaiti, a resident of Gaza City. But in contrast to previous road fights, he mentioned, the clashes appeared restricted to 1 space and didn’t unfold to outlying neighborhoods.

Outside two areas of lively combating — round al-Shifa within the north, and al-Amal hospital within the south — civilians say they see far fewer Israeli troopers on the bottom at the moment.

“The Israeli army has taken control of all areas of Gaza City and the cities of the north, and its return now to the various areas is considered very easy, compared to the first weeks of the war and the ground invasion,” mentioned Mahmoud Basal, spokesman for Gaza’s Civil Defense.

Hamas fighters, who as soon as carried out coordinated resistance, are actually extra more likely to conduct guerrilla hit-and-run strikes with smaller two-to-four man items, army officers mentioned, or with a lone sniper.

Palestinians civilians within the north do see Palestinian fighters sometimes, however “confrontations with Israeli forces are very limited,” in accordance with one Gaza resident, talking on the situation of anonymity resulting from security issues.

Israelis proceed to personal the airspace; frequent bombardments stay a characteristic of the warfare. Over the previous 24 hours, Israel Air Force jets struck greater than 60 targets throughout the strip. Even as troops withdraw from the battlefield, residents say, plane and drones stay ever-present within the skies above.

“Reconnaissance planes watch everything over Gaza City,” mentioned Basal mentioned. “The planes are called to fire missiles if they spot a target.”

At the start of the warfare in October, the IDF estimated there have been 30,000 Hamas fighters within the al-Qassam Brigades, the group’s armed wing, and one other 10,000 or 15,000 in allied militias.

The IDF claims that their forces have killed 11,500 to 13,000 Palestinian militants. They imagine just a few thousand different operatives might need “gone home,” or left the battle. Others, officers say, are buried within the rubble and within the tunnels.

These numbers are tough to substantiate, because the IDF doesn’t listing particular person Hamas fighters killed, nor does it preserve its personal tally of civilian deaths.

Similarly, the Gaza Health Ministry doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants, however says a majority of the greater than 32,000 individuals killed have been girls and kids.

Asked how the Israeli army confirms {that a} Hamas militant has been killed, the worldwide spokesman for the IDF, Lt. Col. Richard Hechtmentioned troops estimate the variety of fighters they’ve shot “who have a gun and are shooting at us” in after-action reviews.

“They don’t go and take a photo,” Hecht mentioned.

The IDF says it has killed 24 battalion commanders and 89 firm commanders, although even the deaths of high leaders are laborious the confirm. It was the White House that first confirmed that Marwan Issa, the deputy commander of Hamas’s army wing, was killed in an Israeli strike earlier this month in central Gaza.

“The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network,” nationwide safety adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned on the time.

Yehiya Sinwar, the chief of Hamas in Gaza and the architect of Oct. 7, stays at massive. So does Mohammed Deif, the highest army commander of the al-Qassam Brigades.

In the early months of the warfare, Hamas responded to the Israeli floor invasion with intense if ineffectual rocket fireplace, launching greater than 13,000 projectiles towards Israel.

In the final two months, rocket fireplace from Gaza has change into uncommon. IDF officers say that Hamas has expended its stockpiles, whereas the continuing assault makes it laborious for them to make extra. Yet Hamas and its allies retain some capability.

On Monday, they fired six rockets towards the southern Israeli metropolis of Ashdod, the place sirens have been heard for the primary time in two months. Most landed in empty fields. No one was injured.

Brief statements on the net channel operated by the Qassam Brigades additionally level towards a drop in Hamas assaults. Since March 20, the group says, its forces have targeted on concentrating on Israeli tanks and troopers within the Khan Younis space, within the south, and round al-Shifa.

Netanel Flamer, a senior lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, and an skilled on Hamas and uneven warfare, mentioned that precision raids by IDF particular forces on areas the place militants are regrouping will probably be “the model” for future combating. This will go on, he assumes, “for as long as it takes.”

Balousha reported from Amman, Jordan. Shira Rubin in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.