Israel army says eight soldiers killed in Gaza

The Israeli military said eight soldiers were killed in Gaza Saturday when their armored vehicle was struck by a bomb, in one of the deadliest blows for the Israeli army since the war began in October.

Captain Wassem Mahmud, 23, and seven other soldiers "fell during operational activity in southern Gaza," the military said in a statement.

"Their families have been notified."

The military said the vehicle was hit in the Tal al-Sultan area of Gaza's far-southern city of Rafah, where troops are engaged in fierce street battles with Palestinian militants.

Preliminary enquiries suggested the vehicle "got hit as a result of an explosion of a side bomb," the military said in a statement.

It said the magnitude of the blast suggested that the bomb had set off a secondary explosion inside the vehicle.

"The explosion was significant and may have been caused by the initiation of the explosive material on the vehicle," the military said.

"All this is not supposed to happen and therefore the incident is being examined.

"There was a very serious damage to the vehicle and those in it, and a large explosion making it difficult to identify and locate the bodies."

Military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a televised briefing later on Saturday that "there was a strong explosion".

He said the blast was "apparently from an explosive device planted in the area or from the firing of an anti-tank missile".

Thousands of Israelis meanwhile gathered in Tel Aviv for the weekly protest against the hard-right government's handling of the war, an AFP correspondent reported.

"Every soldier who dies is like a family member who dies. We experience it as a collective loss," said one of the protesters, Graciela Barchilon, 68.

"I feel a lot of anger and disappointment. I believe this government is not working and we have to go to elections now."

Saturday's losses were among the heaviest for the military since it began its ground offensive in Gaza on October 27.

Twenty-one soldiers were killed on January 22 when rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire hit a tank near two buildings where they were carrying out an operation, the military said at the time.

The buildings exploded as troops had planted explosives in them after the structures had been identified as "terrorist infrastructure" in the area, it said.

Saturday's deaths take to 306 the military's losses since October 27.

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7 which Israeli authorities say resulted in the deaths of around 1,194 people.

Israel's retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,296 people in Gaza, mostly civilians, according to the territory's health ministry.

Source: Agence France Presse

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