Hamas airs hostage video as rockets continue to strike Israel via BICom
Hostages in Gaza: Hamas last night released the first footage of an Israeli hostage being held in the Gaza Strip.
- 21-year-old Mia Schem, an Israeli-French citizen and resident of Shoham, was kidnapped during Hamas’s deadly attack on the Nova music festival at Kibbutz Re’im in which 260 were murdered. She appeared on camera as her arm, injured in the attack, was being treated.
- “I’m being cared for,” she said. “I’m only asking to be returned home as soon as possible, to my family, to my parents, to my siblings. Please get me out of here as soon as possible.”
- Mia’s mother, Keren Schem, told reporters: "I know my baby is alive, I was in uncertainty until now… you can see that she is in pain, scared, but she seems to be in a stable condition. I almost fainted, I fell on the floor, I couldn't believe that I was seeing her."
- Keren appealed to world leaders to secure the safe return of all hostages, saying “here are children, boys and girls, who went out to celebrate life and be at a party. This is not the place they should be."
- Israeli officials yesterday confirmed that relatives of 199 people had been told that their loved ones were being held in the Strip.
- Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida, meanwhile, said that “security and practical difficulties” precluded a full count of the number of hostages in terrorist hands, but that the number was between 200 and 250: 200 held by Hamas and the rest by other “resistance factions and in other places”.
- He stated that hostages had been divided into three groups: foreigners or those with dual citizenship; women, the elderly, and children; and soldiers. Foreign passport holders, he added, were “our guests”, and would be released “as soon as conditions permit.”
- In separate remarks, senior Hamas political official Khaled Mashal echoed Abu Obeida, and confirmed that Hamas was demanding the release of 6,000 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in return for the release of the hostages.
- Mashal thanked Hezbollah for “taking steps” against Israel but demanded that they be increased.
- Mashal also reiterated Hamas’s policy of refusing to allow Gazans any means of escaping the Strip as Israel continues its campaign there. He warned that any exodus would harm Egyptian security, and cautioned Jordan that such would set a precedent for West Bank Palestinians to flee to their nearest Arab state.
Incoming rockets: Rockets have continued to be fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip, overall the total is now over 6,900 rockets. Over 1,000 have been intercepted by the Iron Dome, whilst over 300 have caused direct hits on Israel’s home front.
- Last night there was another heavy barrage fired towards Tel Aviv and the centre of the country, no injuries were reported.
- There were also rockets directed towards Jerusalem, with one landing in the area of Bethlehem.
- The rockets towards Jerusalem coincided with the opening of the winter session of the Knesset, whilst in Tel Aviv, US Secretary of State Blinken was meeting Israeli leaders at IDF HQ.
Inside Gaza: The IDF has continued to bomb Hamas military targets. This morning the IDF confirmed, "IDF fighter jets struck Hamas headquarters and killed a Hamas military operative."
- As well as airstrikes, the IDF confirmed that the navy has “used precision munitions striking targets of Hamas, including operational headquarters in the centre of Gaza City and munition warehouses."
- In addition, “over the last few hours, dozens of military command centres and mortar shell posts were destroyed. In addition, the operational command centre of Ali Qadi, one of the commanders of the Hamas ‘Nukhba’ commando forces who was killed several days ago, was struck.”
- The IDF also confirmed, “the IDF and Shin Bet killed Osama Mazini, the head of the Shura Council of Hamas terrorist organisation in the Gaza Strip. Mazini was responsible for Hamas prisoners and directed terrorist activities against Israel.”
- Israel is continuing to encourage Gazan civilians to move south and has resumed water supply to southern Gaza.
In the north: This morning, the IDF announced that it has killed four terrorists who tried to cross the border from Lebanon and plant an explosive device, close to the northern kibbutz Hanita.
- The four were killed by drone strike as they approached the border fence. No Israelis were injured.
- This morning there was an anti-tank missile attack on a vehicle in Metula, leaving two people injured. The IDF has now declared Metula a closed military zone.
- After yesterday’s announcement of an evacuation of Israeli civilians living in 28 communities within 2 kilometres of the northern border, Hezbollah opened fire with light arms at several Israeli border military posts. A missile was also launched at an Israeli tank.
- No soldiers were hurt, and the IDF responded with artillery attacks directed at the sources of Hezbollah fire.
- 1 Israeli civilian, 2 Lebanese civilians, 1 journalist, 5 Israeli soldiers, 4 Hezbollah terrorists, and 5 Palestinian terrorists have died in northern border clashes over the last week.
- Opening the Knesset’s wartime session yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Hezbollah and its Iranian patron against escalating. “Don’t try us,” he said, “you will be severely harmed.”
- IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said yesterday that “we have increased our forces on the northern border and will respond aggressively to any activity against us. If Hezbollah dares to test us,” he continued, “the reaction will be deadly. The United States is giving us full backing.”
Diplomatic context: Israel continues to receive strong support from democratic allies, most significantly from the US and UK.
- In a unusual example of that support, Secretary of State Blinken attended a meeting of the Israeli war cabinet yesterday.
- He was privy to the latest plans as Israel prepares for a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip to further target Hamas’s military infrastructure.
This is the first time a senior US official has joined these consultations since the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago, when Henry Kissinger attended Golda Meir’s security cabinet.
- This is further testament to the two countries’ close coordination.
- It complements the US decision to send US aircraft carriers to the region and resupply Israel with advanced munitions.
- It is also part of a US effort to deter Iran and Hezbollah from opening up another front.
- US influence will also be encouraging Israel to allow in humanitarian aid into Gaza.
- Last night US Centcom commander Michael Kurilla arrived in Israel to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. On arrival he confirmed, "I'm here to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself and am particularly focused on avoiding other parties expanding the conflict."
- The close US-Israel cooperation is expected to be solidified further with a short visit by President Biden to Israel in the next day or two.
- Biden is expected to use the opportunity of a regional visit to also meet Arab allies.
- In a speech to Parliament yesterday, UK Prime Minister Sunak reaffirmed British commitment to Israel. He “called for the immediate release of all hostages. And I say to them: we stand with you; we stand with Israel.”
- Yesterday Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Putin. According to Netanyahu’s office, “the Prime Minister made it clear that Israel had been attacked by brutal and abhorrent murderers, had gone to war determined and united, and would not stop until it had destroyed Hamas's military and governing capabilities.”
- Netanyahu and Putin were once considered close, particularly having reached understanding over Israeli interests in Syria, but have more recently drifted apart. Israel’s support for Ukraine and Russia’s subsequent reliance on Iranian weapons have frayed relations.
- Yesterday at the UN Security Council, a Russian ceasefire proposal was rejected. Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan said Israel would not stop until it defeats and destroys the Nazi Hamas, whose goal is to destroy the State of Israel.