Israeli forces were pushing their way into the heart of Gaza City on Friday, attempting to establish an armored cordon around the al-Shifa hospital, where the Palestinian militant group Hamas is believed to have built its command post above a maze of tunnels, officials said Friday.
Hospital staff have begun evacuating patients following orders from the Israel Defense Forces, The Wall Street Journal reported. Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said Israeli troops have engaged in several pitched battles as they secure strongholds formerly held by Hamas, which both Israel and the U.S. consider a terrorist group.
“We are fighting the terrorists in the tunnels, utilizing grenades, avoiding their traps, destroying tunnel openings, and damaging underground infrastructure,” Adm. Hagari told reporters on Friday at a news conference. “This type of combat is complex and difficult [but] their extensive operations are destroying the enemy. In every such battle, we have the upper hand.”
Hamas is believed to have taken at least 240 people hostage in their Oct. 7 rampage into southern Israel that resulted in the death of an estimated 1,200 people, mostly civilians. (Israeli officials said Friday the previous estimate of over 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals dead in the Oct. 7 attack has been reduced as more information has come in.)
An Israeli retaliatory campaign of airstrikes and ground advances in the densely populated Palestinian enclave has resulted in nearly 11,000 deaths, according to official Palestinian health tallies that could not be independently confirmed.
On Friday, Adm. Hagari said reports in the press about an imminent deal for the release of the hostages were premature.
“These processes are complex, they are not final [and] they are not complete,” Adm. Hagari said. “They take time and will take more time.”
Family members of the hostages will be notified about any deal to free their loved ones before the information is released to the public, Adm. Hagari said.
In addition to the battles in Gaza, IDF ground and air units overnight attacked targets in Lebanon and Syria, and Palestinian land in the West Bank.
“Our enemies are trying to divert our attention from the ongoing operations in Gaza, where our hostages are being held and Hamas is located,” Adm. Hagari said. “We remain focused on our mission, focused on Gaza.”
Israel has been under heavy pressure internationally as the civilian toll from its Gaza operation has mounted. The International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday issued a plea that medical sites, doctors and patients in Gaza be spared from military attack.
Gaza’s stressed health care system has “reached a point of no return,” the Red Cross said.
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