At least 15 Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles in northern Gaza since Tuesday, the Israeli military said, as its forces pressed deeper into northern Gaza and attacked dozens of targets affiliated with the enclave’s Hamas rulers.
The 15 deaths, mostly of infantry soldiers, were the first casualties publicly confirmed by Israel’s military since it launched a ground invasion on Friday, as fighting appeared to intensify and its forces pushed closer to Gaza City, the biggest city in the territory.
The military wing of Hamas said on Telegram that its fighters had ambushed some Israeli soldiers at a building in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza. Neither side’s account of the fighting could be independently confirmed.
In Israel, a small country in which military conscription is a mandatory rite of passage for many Jewish citizens, the soldiers’ names and faces were plastered on the home pages of most news websites. Others were read out live on Israeli television when the military announced their deaths on Wednesday.
The Israeli military said it has struck more than 11,000 targets in the Gaza Strip since Oct. 7, when it launched an intense campaign of airstrikes in response to a Hamas attack that killed some 1,400 people in Israel and saw just over 200 people taken hostage. The scale of the bombardment exceeds that of any of its previous wars with Palestinian militants in the 140-square-mile enclave.
The toll of the ground invasion is only starting to become clear. On Tuesday, Israeli forces took over what they said was a Hamas military stronghold in western Jabaliya, a densely packed residential area north of Gaza City, claiming to kill more than 50 militants. There was no immediate comment by Hamas.
Israeli forces also struck what they said was a Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya, causing widespread devastation. Pictures of the blasts showed Palestinians walking amid the rubble in an apparent search for survivors.
Gaza’s health ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said the attack had killed and wounded hundreds of people. Another health official said there were dozens dead and that his facility had received hundreds of injured patients. The figures could not be independently verified.
The strike had killed a Hamas commander who was a key plotter of the Oct. 7 assault on Israel, the Israeli military said. Hamas denied that any of its commanders were in the area.
Senior Israeli officials have said the goal of the military operation is to dismantle Hamas, although it is far from clear what would happen if they were to succeed. Officials have told the Israeli public to expect a long, bloody campaign against the Palestinian armed group.
“This is a difficult campaign, it requires combat in Gaza,” Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel’s national security adviser, told reporters in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, before news of the soldiers’ deaths was announced. “There is no combat without a painful price.”