Israel’s top general on Sunday defended the country’s combat operations in the northern section of the Gaza Strip even as the Biden administration continued to press Israeli forces to be more judicious in their use of force and take fewer civilian casualties as they began pushing into the crowded southern section of the Palestinian enclave.
Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, toured the Gaza Division and noted that IDF soldiers killed several senior Palestinian militant officers when they destroyed at least two Hamas brigades during fighting in the northern Gaza Strip.
“We fought strongly and thoroughly in the northern Gaza Strip, and we are also doing it now in the southern Gaza Strip,” Gen. Halevi said, in remarks published on the IDF’s Telegram social media page.
Gaza’s health ministry, which is run by Hamas, claims that IDF attacks have resulted in more than 15,000 deaths since Israel declared war on the terror group following their Oct 7, 2023 rampage that resulted in at least 1,200 deaths and hundreds of others being taken hostage. Health officials in Gaza do not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths, however.
More than 100 hostages held in the Gaza Strip have been released from captivity, with most being set free during a seven-day pause in the fighting brokered by Qatar. Israel accused Hamas of violating the temporary cease-fire on multiple occasions and now the White House is accusing the group both the U.S. and Israel considered a terrorist organization of blocking efforts for a second round.
“There are no official negotiations going on right now and that’s because of Hamas. [They] failed to come up with another list of women and children who could be released,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We know they’re holding additional women and children — not combatants, not female IDF soldiers — but innocent civilians.”
Gen. Halevi said the IDF’s campaign into southern Gaza would be no less aggressive than the battles against Hamas in the north.
“Hamas commanders will meet the IDF everywhere in a very, very strong way. I know that part of this is your capabilities, and a very large part of this is the fighting spirit that you bring,” Gen. Halevi told the Gaza Division soldiers. “We have the capabilities to do this in the most thorough way.”