Hamas rocket fire resumes, ending seven day pause via BICom
What’s happened: As of midday local time, thirty rockets have been fired - initially towards the Gaza periphery, before extending towards Ashkelon.
- In response, the IDF also renewed operations, both on the ground in northern Gaza and from the air, with strikes targeting Hamas positions in Khan Yunis and Rafah in the south.
- Palestinian sources are reporting fatalities including a cell firing anti-tank missiles on an IDF position in northern Gaza, and as a result of airstrikes in the south.
- Before the fighting resumed, eight hostages were released yesterday as part of the seventh round. In exchange, Israel released 30 prisoners.
- The eight hostages released were named, four were from Kibbutz Nir Oz; Shani Goren, 29, Nili Margalit 41, Ilana Gritzewsky Kimchi 30 and Sapir Cohen 29.
- Bilal Zaidna, 18, and her brother Aisha, 17, who were working in Kibbutz Holit’s cowshed when they were captured, were also released, though their father and brother are still missing.
- Also released earlier in the day were Mia Shem 21, from Modiin, kidnapped from the Nova festival, and Amit Soussana, 40, from Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
- According to the Qataris, the two hostages with dual Israeli-Russian citizenship that were released on Wednesday were considered part of the seventh phase, allowing Israel to insist on the equation of receiving at least 10 in each round.
- Yesterday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Israel, meeting the leadership and attending the security cabinet, reinforcing the US position that, “Hamas cannot remain in control of Gaza. It cannot retain the capacity to repeat that carnage.”
However, Channel 12 News reported on leaked transcripts from the security cabinet meeting, highlighting disagreements:
- Blinken warned, “you can’t operate in southern Gaza in the way you did in the north… be more accurate in the attacks, not hit UN facilities, and ensure that there are enough protected areas.”
- IDF Chief of Staff Halevi responded, “we follow a number of principles, proportionality, distinction, and the laws of war. There were instances where we attacked on the basis of those principles, and instances where we decided not to attack, because we waited for a better opportunity.”
- Defence Minister Gallant added that, “the goal is dismantling Hamas, even if it takes months.”
- Blinken replied, “I don’t think you have the credit for that.”
- At a later press conference Blinken elaborated on his expectations, “taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire. It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza. It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals, like power stations, like water facilities. And it means giving civilians who’ve been displaced to southern Gaza the choice to return to the north as soon as conditions permit. There must be no enduring internal displacement.”
- Earlier, in their meeting Defence Minister Gallant reaffirmed, “we are going to fight Hamas until we prevail, no matter how long it takes.”
Context: With the completion of the seventh day of a pause, Israel has managed to extract 104 hostages – 80 Israelis and 24 foreign nationals. However, 143 hostages remain in captivity.
- Talks broke down last night when Hamas claimed they only had 7 hostages and 3 bodies to exchange under the present deal. Israel had long anticipated Hamas was trying to buy more time and reduce the price. Israel has insisted it will not exchange live prisoners for hostages’ bodies.
- As part of Hamas’s ongoing psychological warfare, last night they released another hostage video. This time a recording of Yarden Beibas, who was told his wife and two children Ariel, 4, and Kfir, 9 months (when captured), were all dead. Their death has not been confirmed on the Israeli side.
- The Beibas mother and children, including the youngest hostage, who were pictured being kidnapped have become a symbol of the war, both in terms of the depth of the Israel’s failure to protect their citizens as well as the extent of Hamas’s brutality.
- The overwhelming majority of the remaining hostages are men, including injured and elderly, and male and female soldiers, for which Hamas are expected to demand a higher price for their return.
- As fighting resumes, there is heighted alert that Hamas used the pause to replenish munitions and other supplies, reorganise, as well as potentially lay traps and plant more explosives.
- The IDF were also able to give troops some leave and review their own battle plans.
- There is an expectation that Israel will need to launch a ground incursion into the south, particularly into Khan Yunis and Rafah. There is speculation that the Hamas senior leadership are in Khan Yunis, as well as significant remnants of their fighting force, making the city a crucial battleground. However they will need to employ different tactics due to the even higher population density.
- To compound this, Hamas have deliberately encouraged Gazans from the north to populate public buildings in Khan Yunis instead of the designated safe zone on the southern coast.
- An operation is Rafah is also viewed as militarily essential to prevent weapons smuggling routes being reopened after the war is over. Rafah is also a sensitive location, due to its proximity to Egypt.
- Blinken’s fourth visit to Israel and his attendance at the security cabinet attests to the continued close coordination between the US and Israel. However, there are clearly gaps in their views of how the war should be prosecuted.
- There was also discussion in the cabinet meeting about the day after. Blinken reportedly said, “you don’t want the Palestinian Authority on the day after. We understand that. The best way to kill an idea is to bring a better idea. The other states in the region need to know what you are planning.”
- Prime Minister Netanyahu responded, “as long as I’m sitting in this chair, the Palestinian Authority, which supports, educates and finances terror, will not rule Gaza on the day after Hamas.”
- On a visit to the UAE today, Israeli President Herzog met with King Charles and asked him “to use all his diplomatic clout to advance efforts to bring the kidnapped daughters and sons back home.”
Other fronts: There is ongoing concern over growing motivation to carry out terror attacks from other areas, as Hamas took responsibility for Thursday’s shooting attack at the entrance of Jerusalem.
- A fourth victim was announced as 38 year old Yuval Doron Kastelman. He was driving into Jerusalem, left his car and helped kill both terrorists, before then being mistakenly shot by soldiers. Video footage shows Kastelman kneeling after letting go of his pistol and raising his hands. The soldiers thought he was a terrorist and shot him. Six other people were wounded in the attack.
- Police forces raided the home of the two terrorists, brothers from Tzur Bahar in East Jerusalem, identified with Hamas, and who were previously imprisoned in Israel.
- Also on Thursday, two IDF reservists were lightly wounded in a car ramming attack in the Jordan Valley. The assailant was shot.
- Israel is also gearing up for the possible resumption of attacks from Hezbollah and Palestinian terror groups operating from southern Lebanon. That front remained quiet during the week long pause, with concern that attacks could now resume imminently.
- In the south, the Houthis did not abide by the pause. Again on Wednesday, A US navy vessel intercepted an Iranian drone in the Red Sea that took off from an area controlled by the Houthis in Yemen.
Looking ahead: Whilst the fighting has resumed, it is also anticipated that negotiations will continue in parallel in order to explore a new deal to release the remaining hostages. Israel hopes that a combination of military pressure and diplomacy will yield further results.
- A special investigations unit will begin collect testimonies, intelligence and forensic evidence from the hostage. The evidence will help Israel prosecute terrorists who participated in the massacre and the kidnappings and will provide further proof of Hamas’s war crimes.