IDF continues advance through northern Gaza via BICom
Gaza Strip: The IDF struck approximately 250 Hamas targets over the last day, as it continues its advance through northern Gaza, with focus now heavily directed towards the Zaytun and Jabalia areas.
- Soldiers from the Combat Engineering, Infantry and Armoured Corps of the 36th Division are now well established in Zaytun and have been engaged in heavy fighting with Hamas local battalion.
- IDF troops destroyed Hamas military targets and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons production post, where heavy and long-range rockets were located.
- The soldiers also destroyed tunnel shafts, took control of Hamas command centres, confiscated intelligence material used by the organisation to learn about IDF soldiers, and struck additional buildings from which terrorists fired at IDF soldiers.
- Commanding Officer of the 36th Division, Brigadier General Dado Bar Kalifa said: "During the last days of the fighting of the 36th Division in Zaytun, we constantly encountered an enemy hiding behind children, women and civilian infrastructure. The soldiers of the division… operated in a complex war zone in an urban area, exposed terrorists who were hiding in civilian areas and eliminated many terrorists.”
- Ground forces also located a significant weapons stockpile in the residence of a senior Nukhba (Hamas’s elite unit) terrorist. In one raid, troops reported an anti-tank missile found hidden under a baby’s crib.
- In Jabalia, the IDF says it has completed its encirclement of the area this morning, after striking multiple terror targets in preparation for further ground advances. Targets included three tunnel shafts in which terrorists were hiding.
- Yesterday, the IDF helped facilitate the safe evacuation of newborn Gazan babies from the Shifa Hospital to Egypt to receive medical treatment.
- The evacuations were carried out by UN teams, with the assistance of the IDF and at the request of Egypt and the hospital’s director. Israeli incubators were used to protect the babies in transit.
- In parallel, following the discovery of a 55-metre long tunnel underneath Shifa Hospital, IDF combat engineers successfully breached a blast-proof door and are beginning to explore the interior.
- Israel’s elite 504 Unit of military intelligence has also revealed the extent of its operation to encourage northern Gazans to move south to avoid the fighting during the war so far.
- It has made 30,000 phone calls, sent over ten million text messages, over nine million voice messages, and distributed about four million leaflets from the air and land.
Hostages: Prime Minister Netanyahu and the rest of Israel’s war cabinet met with family members of some of the 240 hostages in the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv last night.
- The start of the meeting was delayed when the room booked to hold it in was found to be too small to accommodate the full list of family members, leaving dozens stuck outside.
- Some families accused Netanyahu of giving mixed messages regarding the priority being placed on securing the hostages’ safe return.
- “A few days ago, we met with Gantz and Eisenkot,” said one relative. “We heard from them in an unmistakable way that the overarching goal of the war is the return of the hostages.” This time, however, their sense was that “taking down Hamas and bringing the hostages [home] are … equally important. This is incredibly disappointing because … we know that taking down Hamas, we keep hearing from them [it] is going to take months or years and it’s going to take a long time.”
- There was also a stormy Knesset meeting yesterday between hostage families and parliamentarians from the Religious Zionism faction. The families made clear their opposition to proposed legislation to institute the death penalty for terrorists as endangering the lives of the hostages.
The north: Hezbollah claimed responsibility for eight attacks on Israel yesterday, as the IDF struck a cell attempting to launch anti-tank missiles in the area of Marwahin in Lebanon yesterday afternoon.
- IDF tanks, a fighter jet, and a helicopter also struck Hezbollah terror infrastructure in Lebanon.
- A further 25 launches were attempted from southern Lebanon towards Israel – Israel’s aerial defences intercepted a number with the remainder falling in open areas. The IDF struck the sources of these launches, too.
- The IDF also struck a terror cell operating in the Metula area of northern Israel.
- Hezbollah has so far confirmed 77 of its fighters killed since the start of the war.
Context: Israel continues to prosecute the war in the northern sector of the Gaza Strip, with the objective of targeting all remaining Hamas strongholds.
- 10 of Hamas’s 14 northern battalions are thought to have been significantly disabled, with fighting currently focussed on the remaining four.
- There are thought to be around 300 combatants who have been arrested. It is hoped that through their questioning further vital intelligence will be gleaned about Hamas’s infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.
- Combat engineers are carefully exploring the tunnels underneath Shifa Hospital. Intelligence suggests neither Hamas commanders nor hostages remain in the tunnel network under the hospital, and there is concern that the network might be booby-trapped. There is thus a dilemma in whether to risk the lives of soldiers in an effort to prove to the world the extent of Hamas’s use of the hospital.
- There remains an active debate amongst the decision makers over whether to prioritise the hostage deal now – which would include a pause in fighting – or to maintain pressure on Hamas by continuing the military campaign.
- The latest potential deal talks about a four day pause. Hamas claims that it does not yet know the location of all child hostages and needs that time to find them and to release them in a staged process. If it succeeds in finding all of the children, there is said to be scope to lengthen the pause further.
- Two more IDF soldiers were killed in action in Gaza yesterday, bringing the total number killed in the ground incursion to 68. Gazan sources suggest that over 13,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza, with Israeli sources strongly believing that several thousand combatants have been killed.
- Though the Israeli advance through northern Gaza has slowed the rate of rocket launches on Israel considerably, Hamas and other terrorist organisations still retain the ability to fire from the southern Strip. Tel Aviv last night came under heavy rocket barrage.
- It is estimated that Hamas now has left only 15 percent of its pre-war rocket arsenal.
- From the hostage families’ perspective, anything which endangers the lives of the hostages – such as, they argue, the death penalty legislation – should be off the table. Its proponents argue that it would provide further leverage against Hamas to extract further concessions on the hostages.
- Legislation is not actually required to institute the death penalty for terrorists. Such a move would be at the discretion of the defence minister.
Looking ahead: Military officials said they expected the full takeover of Zaytun to be completed within a week.
- Israel awaits Hamas’s final terms for a hostage deal before it can be put to the full Israeli cabinet for a vote, with Hamas official Izat al-Rashak saying “there is real progress in the negotiations. We are very close to announcing the Hudna agreement in the next few hours.”
- The cabinet is aware of two conflicting timelines: how long it will take to complete the takeover of the northern strip and a pause in fighting included in a hostage deal.