Twenty-one Israeli soldiers were killed during fighting in southern Gaza on Monday, the military said, in the biggest single loss of life for Israeli troops inside the battered enclave since the war with Hamas began.
The soldiers were “removing structures and terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said in a statement, when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) was fired towards a tank protecting the unit.
Two two-story buildings then collapsed following an explosion, which likely was caused by explosives that had been laid by the Israeli troops, the IDF said.
Israeli media reported that two soldiers in the tank were killed. Most of the Israeli forces killed were in or near the buildings, IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said in a separate televised statement.
The incident came as Israel seemingly shifts into a new phase of fighting in the embattled enclave, with the IDF pulling out some soldiers from Gaza and officials promising a less intense, more targeted approach.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deaths of the soldiers represented “one of the most difficult days since the outbreak of the war.”
In a post on X, Netanyahu said: “I wish to strengthen the dear families of our heroic warriors who fell on the battlefield. I know that for these families, their lives will be changed forever.”
“I mourn for our fallen heroic soldiers. I hug the families in their time of need and we all pray for the peace of our wounded.” Netanyahu said the IDF had launched an investigation into the incident.
All families have been notified but only 10 names have been released so far, he said.
Another soldier was seriously injured in the same incident, Hagari added.
The Israeli military’s large-scale bombing campaign in Gaza has been ongoing since the October 7 murder and kidnapping rampage by Hamas gunmen that saw some 1,200 people killed in Israel and more than 250 taken hostage, more than 130 of whom are still in captivity, alive or dead.
The fatal incident brings the number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza since operations there began to 219.
Khan Younis surrounded
In recent weeks, the Israeli military’s main focus has been in southern Gaza, with intense fighting around the city of Khan Younis.
The IDF said Tuesday that the city is now surrounded, while the Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says nearly 200 people have been killed in the past day.
In a statement Tuesday, the IDF said “dozens of terrorists” had been killed in the past 24 hours by IDF ground troops in coordination with the Israeli air force.
“Over the past day, IDF troops carried out an extensive operation during which they encircled Khan Younis and deepened the operation in the area. The area is a significant stronghold of Hamas’ Khan Younis Brigade,” the IDF said.
Medical facilities in the city have been battered amid an Israeli assault in the area Monday, Palestinian health officials said, as the number of people killed in Israel’s siege on Gaza continues to rise.
On Monday, the Hamas-controlled health ministry said Nasser Hospital is receiving more patients with serious injuries than it can accommodate and intensive care units have reached capacity.
This month, Israeli officials said its military will shift towards a new, less intense phase of operations in Gaza, but a humanitarian crisis in the enclave continues to deepen.
On Monday, the Hamas-controlled health ministry in Gaza said the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7 has risen to 25,295, with at least 63,000 injuries recorded.
This is a developing story and will be updated.
Tim Lister contributed to this report.