Many Israeli soldiers killed as explosions collapse buildings in Gaza

Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy who was killed when two buildings collapsed after Palestinians fired anti-tank missiles at the troops. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy who was killed when two buildings collapsed after Palestinians fired anti-tank missiles at the troops. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
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The Israeli army said that 21 soldiers have been killed in the central Gaza Strip, marking the deadliest single incident for the troops in the war against Hamas militants which began on October 7.

Army spokesman Daniel Hagari, speaking after a news blackout was lifted on Tuesday morning, said the soldiers were killed on Monday afternoon when two nearby buildings exploded and collapsed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that it had been "one of the most difficult days since the outbreak of war," his office said. "I mourn the loss of our heroic fallen soldiers."

The war continues in their name and for the lives of all Israelis, Netanyahu said. "We will not stop fighting until complete victory."

Army spokesman Hagari said most of the soldiers were in or near the houses. They had mined the two buildings in order to blow them up. The explosions were probably a result of the mines. The cause of the detonation is being investigated, Hagari added.

Palestinians had fired a rocket at a tank being used by the soldiers around the same time as the buildings collapsed on Monday afternoon, adding to the confusion over what occurred.

Those killed were army reservists, Hagari said. Rescue teams had recovered the victims, he added.

Hagari said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have informed the families of all those affected.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog called it an "unbearably difficult morning" and described the fallen soldiers as heroes.

"The intense battles are taking place in an extremely challenging space, and we are strengthening the soldiers of the IDF and the security forces who are working with endless determination to realize the goals of the fighting," Herzog wrote on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter.

The Israeli army said meanwhile it was intensifying its campaign in Khan Younis, the main city in southern Gaza where Israeli officials believe Hamas' military leaders have their stronghold.

The IDF said that troops have "carried out an extensive operation during which they encircled Khan Younis and deepened the operation in the area."

The IDF said "dozens of terrorists" have been killed in the past 24 hours in Khan Younis and that "ground troops engaged in close-quarters combat" with militants.

Israel believes militants are keeping Israeli hostages who were taken during the Hamas attacks on October 7 in the extensive underground network, too.

Israeli military operations have been steadily ramping up in Khan Younis, with IDF ground troops engaged in hand-to-hand fighting amid frequent airstrikes from above.

According to military figures, 220 soldiers have been killed since the start of the Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip at the end of October. More than 1,200 others have been injured.

The conflict continues to spread, with pro-Iranian Hezbollah militia saying on Tuesday that it had targeted an Israeli military command centre, apparently triggering Israeli shelling on Lebanese border areas.

The Israeli army said it had registered several rocket launches from the neighbouring country, some of which "were successfully intercepted" by Israel's air defences.

Minor damage was caused to infrastructure at a base, the army said.

Hezbollah said that it had targeted an air surveillance base in northern Israel to avenge "the recent assassinations" of Iranian and Hezbollah commanders in Lebanon and Syria.

The current hostilities were triggered by coordinated attacks on Israel by militants from the Palestinian group Hamas and allied extremists on October 7. About 1,200 people were killed in the attack on southern Israel, including hundreds of soldiers. Since the start of the hostilities, 556 servicemen and women have been killed.

The Palestinian death toll from the war between Israel and Hamas tops 25,000, with a further 63,000 people injured, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

These figures cannot be independently verified at present.

Because of the many victims and the great suffering of the civilian population, the actions of the Israeli army have been widely criticized internationally.

In Israel, pressure on the government continues to increase. Thousands of people are repeatedly demonstrating to get the hostages back from the Gaza Strip.

According to Israeli government information, terrorists are still holding 132 people there whom they kidnapped on October 7. Israel assumes that 27 of them are no longer alive.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has criticized as "unacceptable" Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his government rejecting a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

"This refusal, and the denial of the right to statehood to the Palestinian people, would indefinitely prolong a conflict that has become a major threat to global peace and security," Guterres told the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Numerous foreign ministers had also travelled to New York for the debate on the situation in the Middle East.

"A lasting end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can only come through a two-State solution," Guterres said.

Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and ultra-right-wing members of the cabinet had recently emphasised their rejection of a two-state solution. The US, Germany and the EU are therefore currently increasing the pressure on opponents of this solution.

The Palestinian militant organization Hamas has also rejected a two-state solution, however in the past has said it would accept an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, but without formal recognition of Israel as a nation.

Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy who was killed when two buildings collapsed after Palestinians fired anti-tank missiles at the troops. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy who was killed when two buildings collapsed after Palestinians fired anti-tank missiles at the troops. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy, who was killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa
Israelis mourn during the funeral of Israeli soldier Major Ilay Levy, who was killed during fighting in the Gaza Strip. There were 21 soldiers killed in the incident, according to Israeli media. Ilia Yefimovich/dpa