Twenty-four Israeli soldiers were killed in the Gaza Strip, the military said on Tuesday, the biggest Israeli death toll in a single day of its military campaign against Hamas, as Israel pressed on with its biggest ground assault so far in 2024.
Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said 21 soldiers were killed in an explosion when two buildings they had mined for demolition collapsed after militants fired grenades at a nearby tank.
Earlier, the military said three soldiers were killed in a separate attack in southern Gaza.
"Yesterday we experienced one of our most difficult days since the war erupted," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "In the name of our heroes, for the sake of our lives, we will not stop fighting until absolute victory."
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the conflict would determine Israel's future "for decades to come".
"The fall of the fighters is a requirement to achieve the goals of the war," Gallant said.
The deaths came as Israeli forces mount their biggest ground campaign of the new year, pushing deep into the western part of Khan Younis, the main city in the south of the Palestinian enclave, near areas sheltering hundreds of thousands of people who fled other parts of the enclave.
Gazans say Israeli blockades and storming of hospitals since Monday left the wounded and dead beyond the reach of rescuers as fighting escalated in the crowded city.
The dead were being buried inside the grounds of Khan Younis's main Nasser hospital because it was unsafe to leave to reach the cemetery. Another Khan Younis hospital, Al-Khair, was stormed by Israeli troops who arrested staff there, and a third, Al-Amal, where Red Crescent rescuers are based, was cut off and unreachable, according to Palestinian officials.
Israel says Hamas fighters operate in and around hospitals, making them legitimate targets. Hospital staff and Hamas deny this.
(Cover: This handout picture released by the Israeli army on January 22, 2024, shows Israeli soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. /CFP)