By Josef Federman And Najib Jobain, The Associated Press on January 22, 2024.
JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli army said Tuesday that 21 soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip in the deadliest attack on its forces of the 3-month-old war against the militant Hamas group.
The reservists were preparing explosives to demolish two buildings in central Gaza on Monday when a militant fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a tank nearby, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the chief military spokesperson, said. The blast triggered the explosives, causing both two-story buildings to collapse on the soldiers inside.
The heavy death toll could add new momentum to calls for Israel to pause the offensive or even halt it altogether. Large numbers of Israeli casualties have put pressure on Israel’s government to halt past military operations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to press ahead until Israel crushes the ruling Hamas militant group and wins the freedom of over 100 hostages held captive in Gaza. Israelis are increasingly divided on the question of whether it’s possible to do either.
Families of the hostages and many of their supporters have called for Israel to reach a cease-fire deal, saying that time is running out to bring the hostages home alive. On Monday, dozens of hostages’ relatives stormed a parliamentary committee meeting, demanding a deal to win their loved ones’ release.
Israel launched the offensive after Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross border attack that killed over 1,200 people and abducted some 250 others. More than 100 were released in November in exchange for a weeklong cease-fire and the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
The offensive has caused widespread destruction, displaced an estimated 85% of Gaza’s population and left over 25,000 Palestinians dead, according to health officials in the Hamas-run territory. The United Nations and international aid agencies say the fighting has unleashed a humanitarian disaster, with a quarter of the area’s 2.3 million people facing starvation.
Jobain reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip.