Gaza War: Day 34

Israeli forces move deeper into Gaza, capturing Hamas stronghold in Jabaliya

IDF continues to provide evidence of Hamas’ use of hospitals, ambulances as troops advance towards al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City

GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari speaks to the press from The Kirya, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defence, in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023.

Nearly two weeks after launching its ground incursion into Gaza, the IDF said on Thursday morning that forces from the Nahal Infantry Brigade had captured a Hamas stronghold in the area of west Jabaliya, east of Gaza City and that it was strengthening positions across the north part of the Palestinian enclave.

“The operation in Jabaliya was completed in ten hours, during which the forces eliminated terrorists, uncovered tunnel shafts, including one located near a kindergarten, and confiscated weapons at the scene,” the army documented on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

In his daily briefing on Wednesday night, IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that the army was continuing to deepen its offensive inside Gaza and discounted claims that a cease-fire was on the horizon.

“We are fighting Hamas and there is no cease-fire,” Hagari stated, adding that brief humanitarian pauses are taking place frequently as the army facilitates the movement of the civilian population out of areas where heavy fighting is taking place in the northern Gaza Strip.

“There are set times to allow the civilian population to get organized and to move southward safely,” he said, highlighting that an additional 50,000 civilians had moved southward on Wednesday. “We want the civilians to go to a safer area and to temporarily remain in that safer area in southern Gaza.”

“We are not fighting against the Gaza population,” Hagari emphasized. “We are fighting against Hamas — Hamas, which is holding our hostages and carried out the Oct. 7th massacre. We are fighting against Hamas and we will dismantle it.”

Military analysts in Israel, however, believe that time might be running out for Israel’s operation to eliminate Hamas and any future threats it might pose, pointing to growing international voices urging it to pause the fighting out of humanitarian concerns for the civilian population, and to secure the release of some 239 hostages being held by the terror group since the Oct. 7 attack.  

Despite the pressure, the Israeli leadership and the military has remained steadfast, with Hagari saying on Wednesday that the army was continuing to deepen its offensive inside the Strip’s largest city, Gaza City, and the site of what is believed to be Hamas’ command-and-control center.

“Right now, ground forces are operating deep inside Gaza City with the support of the Air Force, the Navy, and with the precise and quality intelligence of the Military Intelligence Directorate and the Israel Security Agency,” he said.

In recent days, Israel has indicated that the next big battle could take place in and around al-Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical facility and the complex that Israel says sits above Hamas’ command-and-control center, which is hidden deep inside a web of subterranean tunnels.

The army, together with Israel’s Security Agency, the Shin Bet, released further unclassified evidence on Wednesday that Hamas was using the hospital, as well as ambulances, clinics, mosques and schools, for terrorist purposes, a violation of international law, Hagari said. 

Among the materials released was an intercepted phone conversation between a resident of Gaza and a Hamas terrorist, who boasted about being able to leave his hideout “with any ambulance I want.”  

In addition, the army released more footage from interrogations of captured Hamas terrorists who took part in the Oct. 7 attack. Their testimonies included admissions to using hospitals and ambulances to benefit military activity.

“Al-Qassam has their own ambulances, some of which are located on the military base,” said one of those being interrogated. “The appearance of the ambulances is similar to the civilian ambulances so that they will not arouse suspicion or be bombed by Israel.”

Another confessed: “Most senior Hamas political and military officials are hiding in the hospitals, especially the al-Shifa Hospital. They take advantage of the hospitals so that they will not be bombed.”

Speaking to Jewish Insider, Michael Milshtein, head of the Palestinian Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University’s Dayan Center, said that all eyes in the Arab world are focused on the hospital, which is currently treating an estimated 2,500 patients, contains 4,000 medical staff and where as many as 30,000 civilians are taking shelter.

“It is also possible some of the [Israeli] hostages are there too,” said Milshtein, adding, “It is common knowledge in Gaza that Hamas’ headquarters are there.”

While he said he believed that Hamas terrorists, ammunition and fuel are all likely to be kept hidden on the hospital grounds, Milshtein said that “at this stage it is unlikely that [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar was still there.”

It was more plausible, he said, that the man Israeli leaders have described as a “dead man walking” — who is believed to have masterminded the Oct. 7 attacks — was hiding further south in the Strip in Khan Younis or Rafah.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said on Wednesday that despite the exodus of Gazans towards the south, hundreds of thousands of people still remained in the northern region and they “are facing a dire humanitarian situation.”

Based on data published by the Hamas-run Ministry of Health, OCHA said that the death toll in Gaza had surpassed 10,000, with an estimated 67 percent said to be women and children. The agency said that around 1.5 million people were now internally displaced and that despite the continued entrance of aid trucks, there was a dire shortage of fuel and medical supplies.

Israel also updated its figures, with the army saying it had notified a total of 351 families of IDF soldiers who have died since Oct. 7, including Eliahou Elmakayes, 29, from Jerusalem, who was killed in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. In addition to the military fatalities, the deaths of more than 1,100 civilians have been confirmed.

In his briefing, Hagari said the number of hostages had also been updated to 239, based on the ongoing process of identifying dead bodies. He explained that the total number of hostages is in flux due to intelligence assessments.

“This is a long and complex process of identification and we will continue it,” said Hagari. “We are doing everything, everything, to update the families with every bit of information that we have. We have not, and will not miss, any opportunity to bring the hostages home.”

Meanwhile, Egyptian and Palestinian sources reported that Egypt was close to declaring a humanitarian pause in Gaza in exchange for the release of some of the hostages. The negotiations, according to reports, were for a three-day cease-fire in exchange for the release of 12 hostages, according to a Lebanese news agency.

On Israel’s northern border, Syrian state media reported Thursday that Israel carried out an airstrike targeting military sites in Syria’s south. The Israeli military made no mention of the strike in Syria but said it had responded to “launches toward Israel over the past day,” with fighter jets hitting Hezbollah terror infrastructure, including military structures and posts, inside Lebanon.

Meanwhile, U.S. fighter jets, the Pentagon said, had struck a weapons facility said to belong to Iran in eastern Syria on Wednesday and, further south, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a U.S. surveillance drone, an MQ-9 Reaper, had been shot down off the coast of Yemen by militants aligned with Tehran.

In the West Bank, two Israelis – a man and a woman – were shot and injured while driving in a vehicle. Their five-month-old daughter was unharmed, according to Israeli reports.

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