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After eight months of fighting, number of Hamas terrorists still operating in Gaza remains unclear

Hamas switches to protracted attrition warfare

Members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, take part in a march on the 8th anniversary of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Oron Shaul in 2014, east of Gaza City, July 20, 2022. (Photo: Attia Muhammed/Flash90)

Until recently, Israeli officials have estimated that Israel Defense Forces has destroyed 18 of Hamas' 24 battalions. The bulk of the remaining Hamas forces were thought to be concentrated in southern Gaza near the town of Rafah, where much of the recent fighting has been concentrated.

However, Israel and the United States reportedly disagree concerning the size and strength of the remaining Hamas forces in Gaza.

Unnamed U.S. officials recently told Reuters that the Hamas terrorist organization may still have as many as 12,000 operatives. If true, it means Hamas still has roughly half of the military strength it had when it invaded Israel on Oct. 7. Furthermore, since one battalion typically consists of 1,000 men, Hamas could potentially have up to 12 operational battalions after eight months of war with Israel.

Jerusalem and Washington appear to agree that Hamas has switched its fighting strategy from full-scale confrontations with IDF troops to smaller-scale ambushes.

“Hamas fighters are now largely avoiding sustained skirmishes with Israeli forces closing in on the southernmost city of Rafah, instead relying on ambushes and improvised bombs to hit targets often behind enemy lines,” one U.S. official told Reuters.

“There are about between 7,000-8,000 Hamas fighters reportedly entrenched in Rafah, the last significant bastion of the group's resistance, according to Israeli and US officials,” the U.S. report stated.

The U.S. officials did not explain why Hamas has allegedly lowered the intensity of fighting if it still has roughly 50% of its pre-Oct. 7 military strength.

Some Middle East pundits believe Hamas has likely moved most of its forces from the southern town of Rafah further north to Khan Younis.

Khan Younis previously served as Hamas’ main headquarters for southern Gaza. Hamas top leaders Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif both hail from Khan Younis, further cementing the city’s importance to the terrorist group.

After several months of IDF soldiers battling Hamas forces, the Israeli military succeeded in capturing Khan Younis. In early April, the IDF withdrew most of its troops ahead of the planned operation against Rafah.

While the IDF has successfully defeated Hamas terrorists during direct confrontations, the fighters tend to return to the area when troops are withdrawn from a specific area. Therefore, Hamas still maintains significant control over Gaza and its over two million residents.

A case point is Al Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza and an important hub in Hamas’ infrastructure.

In late March, Israel dispatched special forces to Shifa after receiving intelligence that a large number of Hamas operatives had returned to the hospital. After a week of intense fighting, Israeli forces eliminated about 200 terrorists and arrested at least 500 terror suspects who were hiding inside the hospital area.

IDF Spokesperson Lt.-Col. (res.) Peter Lerner recently highlighted that defeating Hamas in Gaza requires more time.

“There is never a goal to kill each and every last terrorist on the ground. That’s not a realistic goal,” Lerner told Reuters. “Destroying Hamas as a governing authority is an achievable and attainable military objective.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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