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Peace and Conflict

IDF completes takeover of Hamas "Leaders' Quarter" | Update 21st December 2023

IDF completes takeover of Hamas "Leaders' Quarter" via BICom

Gaza Strip: The IDF has announced that it has completed the takeover of Hamas' "Leaders' Quarter" in the centre of Gaza City, the recent operations base of Hamas’ senior leadership.

  • IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said: “From this infrastructure, they could move and spread out around the Strip. From the heart of Gaza City, they were able to go to Shifa Hospital, and from there to set out southward in ambulances and return to Shifa. [They were able to] enter the warren, head north and move around the area of Rantisi Hospital.”
  • "This completes our exposure of Hamas' underground terror city in the north [of Gaza]. We'll dismantle it, and target their strategic infrastructure. This operation extends to southern Gaza, reaching the subterranean hideouts of Hamas leaders in Khan Yunis," he added.
  • "The ground operation will continue, aerial strikes persisting across the designated areas in Gaza. We've also engaged in Rafah. We will continue pursuing Hamas leadership throughout the Gaza Strip."
  • Three IDF soldiers were killed in fighting in the Gaza Strip yesterday, and eight seriously wounded.
  • The dead were named as Sgt. Lavi Ghasi, 19; 1st Lt. Yaacov Elian, 20; and 1st Lt. Omri Shwartz, 21.
  • Hagari said "the IDF is intensifying the fighting" in Gaza. "We've transitioned to combat in Tuffah, adjacent to Shajaiya, completing our efforts in Jabalya, Beit Hanoun, Shajaiya, all facing Israeli Gaza border communities. Our aim is to shape security along the border, part of our fight against terror in these zones. We're ensuring a changed security situation for Israeli residents when the time comes for their return"
  • Over the last 24 hours dozens of aircraft attacked about 230 Hamas targets in the Strip.
  • In Khan Yunis, the air force destroyed a rocket launcher and buildings in which terrorists were identified, as well as killing terrorists in the Shati area.
  • A rocket was fired from Gaza at Israel this morning, ending the longest lull in rocket fire since October 7th.
  • US Secretary of State Blinken spoke with UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron, French Foreign Minister Colonna and German Foreign Minister Baerbock about the "importance of urgently addressing humanitarian needs in Gaza, the imperative of minimizing civilian casualties, and the need to prevent the conflict's further escalation."
  • Reports have emerged that the three Israeli hostages accidentally killed by the IDF on Friday were caught on film by a camera mounted on a dog from an elite canine unit five days before their death. The footage was not monitored in real time, and only reviewed later, after the hostages had been killed.
  • There are reports of negotiations between Israel and Hamas for another pause in the fighting and a hostage release. White House National Security Council spokesperson Kirby said such discussions were "very serious."

The north: Last night, a barrage of eight rockets was fired from Lebanon at Kiryat Shmona and the adjacent area. No injuries were reported. Four rocket launches at Israel from Syria were detected with Hezbollah taking responsibility for the launch.

  • In response, Israeli forces returned fire and also attacked a Syrian Army position and IAF aircraft attacked a Hezbollah command centre inside Lebanese territory. Some of the Israeli strikes were as deep as 20 kilometres inside Lebanon.
  • In another incident, terrorists approached the border fence. Israeli troops fired on them and reported hits.
  • Gates to all civilian communities along the Israel-Lebanon border have been closed due to the threat of attack.

Context: The "Leaders’ Quarter" in Gaza City includes a network of intricate tunnels connecting apartments, offices, and hideouts. It is where Hamas’s governmental and military leadership including Ismail Haniyeh, Yayha Sinwar, and Mohammed Deif operated from.

  • The commander of the IDF’s 401st Brigade, Col. Benny Aharon, told Israeli media of the Leaders’ Quarter that: “Above ground is an entirely deceptive world. Entire clusters of houses that are designed  to look innocent and which supposedly belong to civilians, but which in reality serve as safe houses for terrorists or which, right beneath them, we found briefing rooms and meeting rooms where the Hamas government met. The above-ground world is connected to the underground world, and the underground world is connected to a world we call ‘the connected people.’ It is a long, large, intricate underground world they have built here over the course of decades.”
  • The underground city is fitted with blast doors and living quarters that make it possible for operatives to remain there for long periods.
  • Khan Yunis may constitute the last stage of the intensive part of the operation. The next stage of the IDF’s operation will likely focus on setting up a security zone that will act as a buffer between Gaza and the Israeli communities around it. The zone will be roughly a kilometre wide.
  • During this phase, IDF troops will redeploy inside Gaza, mainly in the north. A limited number of residents will likely begin to be allowed to return to specific neighbourhoods of Gaza City. The IDF will continue to carry out special raids and air strikes “until Hamas’s complete destruction,” as security cabinet ministers have put it.
  • Yesterday was the first day since October 7th that there were no rockets were fired from Gaza. Prior to the rocket launched this morning, the last rocket fired from Gaza was on Tuesday at 1600.
  • Talks over a potential new hostage deal involving the temporary suspension of hostilities continue, after Mossad chief Barnea met with the Qatari prime minister in Poland this week.
  • According to Israeli reports, Hamas has rejected an Israeli proposal for a week-long pause in exchange for the release of 40 hostages: women, children, and those elderly males requiring medical care.
  • At a press conference yesterday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said: "Israel has been very clear, including as recently as today, that it would welcome returning to a pause and the further release of hostages. The problem was, and has been, and remains Hamas."
  • The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip remains acute. The first stage of a water pipeline from Egypt to Gaza has been completed. The pipeline aims to provide clean water to 150,000 Gazans.
  • Israeli Foreign Minister Cohen was in Cyprus yesterday, where he toured the port of Larnaca and met with Cypriot Foreign Minister Kombos. Israel and Cyprus have been working on a Cyprus to Gaza maritime corridor for the transport of aid. The plan, which is thought to be able to begin effect in a month, will see international aid shipped to the port, checked by Israeli officials, and then boarded onto British, Greek, and Dutch ships for transport to Gaza.
  • “The Israeli DCO at the Erez crossing can be turned into a museum exhibit. We are disengaging entirely from Gaza,” Cohen said.

Looking ahead: After Arab efforts to draft a UN Security Council resolution yesterday failed due to US differences with the wording proposed, Blinken spoke with counterparts from Egypt and the UAE in an effort to find an alternative text.

  • Israeli media reports this morning that significant Arab states, the UAE and Saudi Arabia among them, are threatening to scale back their aid contributions unless the fighting in the Strip is ended in January.
  • Pressure from Israel's allies to reduce the intensity of the fighting continues. Blinken said: "We continue to believe that Israel does not have to choose between removing the threat of Hamas and minimizing the toll on civilians in Gaza.  It has an obligation to do both and it has a strategic interest to do both."
  • "The conflict will move and needs to move to a lower-intensity phase, and we expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network, and a few other critical things."

via BICom