Israeli military says 5 soldiers killed by friendly fire in northern Gaza, more troops to join Rafah operation

The Israeli military said Thursday that five soldiers were killed and seven others were injured in a friendly fire incident in northern Gaza amid renewed battles in the area against regrouped Hamas militants.

The Israel Defense Forces said it had opened an investigation into the deadly incident, which it said happened when the soldiers were hit by tank crossfire in Jabalia.

While battles raged in the north, Israel’s defense minister said more troops would join the ground operation in Rafah, where an intensifying assault has sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing the southern Gaza city where they had sought refuge.

“An initial investigation into the deaths of five IDF soldiers reveals that IDF tanks, located dozens of meters away, identified a weapon and fired shells at an IDF force nearby,” the IDF said in a statement.

“This force had entered the northern part of Gaza and occupied buildings along a logistic route. The tanks fired two shells for unclear reasons, resulting in seven more soldiers being injured, three severely.”

The statement added that the IDF “is probing why the shells were fired and if the soldiers were mistaken for armed militants.” The troops were members of the 202nd Battalion of the Paratroopers Brigade.

Seven months into its war aimed at eliminating Hamas, Israeli forces are again engaged in intense fighting in areas of northern Gaza that the IDF said earlier had been cleared, renewing doubts over the government’s strategy in the war.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under growing pressure from the U.S. to lay out a plan for postwar Gaza, and on Wednesday he faced rare public criticism over the issue from within his own War Cabinet.

In a nationally televised statement, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant challenged Netanyahu over what he said was his refusal to discuss the issue. He said that would lead to Israel’s being forced to rule over the Palestinian enclave again, which he said he opposed. “We must make tough decisions for the future of our country, favoring national priorities above all other possible considerations, even with the possibility of personal or political costs,” Gallant said.

Still, Netanyahu insists the focus must be on invading Rafah, where his troops have intensified operations since Israel called on residents of the city’s east to evacuate last week.

After he conducted an assessment Wednesday on the Gaza border near Rafah, Gallant said that “additional troops will join the ground operation in Rafah.”

“This operation will continue as additional forces will enter” the area, he said, according to a transcript his office provided a day later. “Several tunnels in the area have been destroyed by our troops and additional tunnels will be destroyed soon. This activity will intensify.”

At least 600,000 people fled parts of Gaza’s southernmost city, where more than 1 million Palestinians sought shelter, according to the United Nations, with 100,000 more people displaced in northern Gaza.

The U.N.’s top court opens two days of hearings Thursday into South Africa’s call to halt Israeli operations in Rafah.

The slow increase in the flow of aid into the strip over recent months could also be wiped out by Israel’s assault on Rafah, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday, with one critical aid crossing shut and another restricted.

U.S. Central Command said early Thursday it had successfully anchored a temporary humanitarian pier to a beach in Gaza to increase the flow of aid.

“Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance are expected to begin moving ashore in the coming days,” it said