Rafah blast kills 8 IDF soldiers

Capt. Wassem Mahmoud is among eight Israeli Defense Forces soldiers killed in a blast early Saturday morning in Rafah in southern Gaza. Photo by Israel Defense Forces

June 15 (UPI) -- An explosion claimed the lives of eight Israel Defense Forces soldiers returning from an overnight operation at about 5 a.m. local time Saturday in Rafah in southern Gaza.

The fatalities made the explosion the deadliest event for the IDF since January in its war against Hamas that began in October.

The IDF identified Capt. Wassem Mahmoud, 23, of the 601st Battalion Combat Engineering Corps, as among the eight fatalities.

The IDF will name the seven others later though the families have been notified.

Israel's foreign minister Israel Katz posted on X it was "a difficult Saturday."

"Eight of our best sons were killed in Rafah," he said. "While knowing the price, they bravely entered Gaza to complete the mission of destroying Hamas and freeing the hostages."

The soldiers were traveling in a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle, the IDF said.

The Namer was part of a convoy returning from an overnight operation with the 401st Armored Brigade that killed an estimated 50 Hamas militants in Rafah's Tel Sultan neighborhood.

The convoy was going to buildings the IDF captured to enable the troops to rest from the overnight operation.

The armored vehicle was in the convoy's fifth or sixth position when the explosion occurred due to an unknown cause.

The IDF said the armored vehicle was carrying explosives stored outside its passenger compartment, which might have amplified the blast.

An initial IDF investigation said there was no gunfire from Hamas and the Namer was moving when the explosion occurred.

IDF officials said they don't know if a bomb was planted in advance or a Hamas militant on foot might have planted the explosive on the moving vehicle.

The deaths raise the IDF's death toll to 307 since the start of the ground offensive in Gaza following Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on the Nova Music Festival and nearby civilian areas in Israel.

Hamas militants killed 1,200 and kidnapped 250 civilians, nearly half of whom were released while others remain in captivity or have been killed.

The United States designated Hamas a foreign terrorist organization on Oct. 8, 1997.