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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.
In a televised statement Tuesday, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said a tank that was protecting Israeli troops was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG).
Israeli media reported that two soldiers in the tank were killed.
Simultaneously, two two-story buildings collapsed on soldiers following an explosion. Most of the Israeli forces killed were in or near the buildings, he said.
“The buildings probably exploded because of the mines that our forces laid there, in preparation to demolish them and the infrastructure around,” Hagari said.
The IDF spokesperson told CNN Tuesday that it is “still not clear” what caused the building explosion.
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.
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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 Monday it was deepening ground operations to the west of the city.
“The IDF is fighting a terrorist organization that embeds itself in the civilian population, and skilled and experienced units are working to dismantle the Hamas military framework, while staying aware of the complexity of the task, given that Hamas systematically embeds itself in sites such as hospitals and schools,” 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 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.