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Hamas claims credit as 8 Israeli soldiers killed in explosion

ABED KHALED / REUTERS
                                Palestinians react at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday.
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ABED KHALED / REUTERS

Palestinians react at the site of an Israeli strike on a house, amid the Israel-Hamas conflict, in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday.

JERUSALEM >> Eight Israeli soldiers were killed while riding in an armored vehicle in the southern Gaza Strip today, the Israeli military said, as the country’s offensive in the southern city of Rafah continued to exact a toll among its troops.

The deaths occurred around 5:15 a.m. local time as Israeli troops operated in the northwest part of Tel al-Sultan, a neighborhood in western Rafah, the Israeli military said. The eight soldiers, who belonged to the military’s engineering corps, were riding in an armored vehicle when the blast occurred, the military said.

Hamas, the Palestinian armed group, said in a statement that its militants had fired anti-tank missiles at Israeli military vehicles in western Rafah, killing some soldiers. It was not immediately clear whether it was an explosive device that damaged the vehicle or anti-tank missile fire, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military spokesperson, told reporters.

The explosion damaged the vehicle but might have also ignited munitions inside, Israeli military officials said, adding that the blast was severe enough to make finding and identifying the bodies difficult.

Israel has fought for more than eight months in Gaza in the wake of the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7, which killed roughly 1,200 in Israel — mostly civilians — and took about 250 others hostage. More than 36,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the beginning of the war, according to Palestinian health officials, who do not distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Hamas has fought a dogged guerrilla war, resisting Israel’s efforts to decisively defeat the organization, take down its leaders and bring back many of those abducted during the surprise Oct. 7 attack. According to the Israeli military, the campaign has killed an estimated 13,000 to 14,000 militants in Gaza. Israeli officials have not provided evidence for the calculation.

More than 300 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the Israeli ground invasion of Gaza began in late October. At the end of January, about 20 Israeli soldiers were killed as they prepared to demolish buildings inside Gaza near the border with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly mourned the soldiers’ deaths and called for Israel to remain committed to its military’s goals of destroying Hamas, bringing home the hostages and “ensuring Gaza can no longer threaten Israel.”

“There is no substitute for victory,” Netanyahu said, adding, “Do not let anyone distract you from the simple and clear fact: We must remain dedicated to the war aims, despite the heavy and agonizing price.”

Netanyahu has been criticized by parts of the Israeli public, the families of hostages held in Gaza and former security officials. Some argue that only a settlement with Hamas will return the remaining 120 living and dead captives; others have argued that his failure to articulate a clear postwar alternative to Hamas has left the country trapped in a holding pattern in Gaza.

Israeli forces rescued four hostages in a rescue operation in central Gaza last weekend that also left scores of Palestinians dead, according to local health officials. Hagari applauded the mission but added, “We must be honest — we cannot bring home everyone in this manner.”

Israeli forces have closed in on Rafah in recent weeks, sweeping along the border area with Egypt in an effort to destroy tunnels they say Hamas has used to smuggle weapons into Gaza. They have also conducted raids into the city itself. The United Nations estimates than more than 1 million Palestinians have fled Rafah.

In the northern town of Beit Jann — populated by Arab Israelis who adhere to the Druze faith — residents mourned Waseem Mahmoud, one of the fallen soldiers. The Druze occupy an unusual middle ground in Israel: Arab practitioners of a minority religion who generally serve in Israel’s military and security forces.

The town’s residents had planned to observe Eid al-Adha, a holiday shared by both Muslims and Druze. But all of the public festivities were called off in light of the news, said Nazih Dabour, the town mayor.

“We can’t bury our children and celebrate on the same day,” said Dabour, who paid the family a condolence call today. “It’s a huge tragedy for us.”

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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