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Peace and Conflict

IDF in control of Gaza City | Update 20th December 2023

IDF in control of Gaza City via BICom

Gaza Strip: Following weeks of intense fighting, military officials said yesterday that IDF forces now have complete freedom of operation inside Gaza City.

  • The neighbourhood of Jabalya has now been completely conquered, after around 1,000 combatants were killed and another 3,500 people were taken prisoner. Among the prisoners are around 500 suspected terrorists, some of whom participated in the October 7 massacre.
  • The IDF noted, “since the beginning of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, IDF troops have identified about 1,500 tunnel shafts and underground passages belonging to Hamas. Most of these subterranean structures have been found beneath schools, hospitals, mosques, UN facilities and civilian institutions.”
  • Speaking on a tour of the Gaza border on Tuesday Defence Minister Gallant said, “in northern Gaza, operations are focused on completely purging the Gazan theatre and on-going underground, into the tunnels at enormous depths below ground.”
  • In the southern Gaza Strip, Gallant said, “Khan Yunis has become the new capital of terrorism. We are operating there; the operation will cross stages and will continue until we achieve our objectives. We will get to every place we need. We won’t relent from this place. We will put the senior members of this murderous organisation where they deserve to be: either in the cemetery or in prison.” 

Lebanon border: Fighting continued to intensify along the northern border yesterday.

  • Air raid sirens were heard repeatedly throughout the day and several Hezbollah drones are thought to have crossed over Israeli airspace, which the IDF successfully intercepted.
  • In one incident near Yiftah, the IDF intercepted six launches from southern Lebanon.
  • In response, the Israeli Air Force continued to target Hezbollah cells responsible for attacks as well as Hezbollah infrastructure close to the border.

Context: In parallel to the fighting, renewed efforts to reach another deal to release more of the hostages continue.

  • There remain an estimated 129 Israelis still held captive by Hamas and other groups inside Gaza.
  • For the second time this week, as part of the pressure campaign, a new hostage video was released on Tuesday evening, this time by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The recording is of two Israeli hostages: Gadi Mozes, 79, and Elad Katzir, 47, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7. Mozes' wife, Efrat, was murdered that day. Katzir's mother, Hannah was also kidnapped and was released last month. His father, Rami, was murdered.
  • It is estimated that some of the hostages may still be held underground in northern Gaza, further complicating military operations. The IDF are cognisant of their failure last week that led to the accidental killing of three hostages. It has since been revealed that the soldiers that killed them were unaware of the improvised signs for help written in Hebrew found by other troops in the vicinity.        
  • Earlier this week, talks resumed between Mossad Director Barnea, CIA Director Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Al Thani in Poland.
  • Israel is prioritising the release of the women who were meant to be released in the last round, and then men over the age of 60 and those who are ill or with serious injuries.
  • In return, Israel is considering releasing Palestinian prisoners who were convicted of more serious acts of terrorism than in the previous deal.  
  • According to Barak Ravid in Walla, Israel is prepared to agree to a one week pause in the fighting in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages.
  • According to The Washington Post, as part of a hostage deal Israel would consider a two week ceasefire and would also gradually withdraw troops from northern Gaza.
  • Last time, Israel was able to secure the release of 80 hostages in the same timeline, but the ‘price’ for releasing men is considered higher.
  • Also on Tuesday, footage was released  of the director of the Kamal Adwan hospital in Jabaliya being interviewed by Shin Bet investigators. As part of his interrogation he revealed the duality of the hospital also serving as a base for Hamas to conduct operational activity. Among his revelations: 16 members of the hospital’s staff, including doctors and nurses also had roles in Hamas’s military wing. He also said that some of the hostages were held on site.
  • The IDF also conducted a review of shooting in the area of the Latin Church in Shajaiya on Sunday in which two women were killed. According to the IDF, the review found that “Hamas terrorists launched a Rocket Propelled Grenade at IDF troops from the vicinity of the church. The troops then identified three people in the vicinity, operating as spotters for Hamas by guiding their attacks in the direction of the IDF troops. In response, our troops fired towards the spotters and hits were identified. While this incident occurred in the area where the two women were reportedly killed, the reports received do not match the conclusion of our initial review which found that the IDF troops were targeting spotters in enemy lookouts. We are continuing our examination of the incident.”
  • They went on to note, “the IDF takes claims of strikes on sensitive sites very seriously, especially churches that are the holy sites for the Christian faith. The IDF directs its operations against the Hamas terrorist organisation and not against civilians, regardless of their religious affiliation. The IDF takes many measures to mitigate harm to civilians in the Gaza Strip. These efforts stand in contrast to Hamas that does everything in its power to endanger civilians and exploits them, as well as religious sites, as human shields for their terrorist activities.”

Looking ahead: Defence Minister Gallant confirmed that the “ground operation will be expanded to additional places.” There are several areas inside Gaza that the IDF has not yet entered including areas in central Gaza and Rafah in the south.    

  • Due to the sensitivity and close proximity to Egypt, the security cabinet is expected to discuss the nature of operations in Rafah and along the border. An operation to some extent will be necessary to prevent Hamas replenishing arms though their smuggling routes in the future.      
  • As Israel contemplates extending the fighting in the south, there is an understanding that they need to keep some infrastructure in place. In order for some entity to eventually take over, the water supply, some municipal services, schools must be protected. It is also likely that the displaced civilian population will need to remain in temporary accommodation for some time, and so (learning the lessons of other conflicts, such as Iraq) some infrastructure must be kept in place.
  • Foreign minister David Cameron will travel to Jordan and Egypt this week to push for a sustainable ceasefire and further humanitarian pauses in Gaza.

via BICom