Though Israel has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops around Gaza, Hamas forces still attempted an attack inside southern Israel near a military base Tuesday evening local time. The details of exactly what happened and how long the engagement lasted are in dispute.
“A force of frogmen affiliated with the Al-Qassam Brigades was able to infiltrate by sea and land on the beaches of 'Zikim' south of occupied Ashkelon, and armed clashes are now taking place with the occupation army in that area,” Hamas said on Telegram at around 8:30 p.m, local time (1:30 p.m. EST).
Israel said it thwarted the attack.
"Earlier today, IDF naval forces located a Hamas terrorist cell exiting a tunnel on the Gaza Strip coast and attempting to infiltrate Israeli territory via the sea, near Zikim," the IDF said on Telegram at about 11:55 p.m. local time (4:55 p.m. EST). "Israeli Navy, IAF and ground soldiers struck the terrorists and thwarted their infiltration attempt. IDF fighter jets and naval soldiers struck the tunnel and weapons warehouse used by the terrorists in the Gaza Strip."
"There is no immediate risk of an additional infiltration at the moment," the IDF added.
We cannot independently verify the current situation.
The base near the kibbutz, headquarters of Israel's Home Front Command, was one of the first attacked by Hamas Oct. 7, according to The Jerusalem Post. At least one Israeli soldier was killed in that attack.
Israel has continued its massive bombardment of Gaza.
"Over the last day, the IDF struck over 400 terror targets and killed several Hamas commanders and numerous operatives preparing attacks," the IDF said on its Telegram channel. "In a wide-scale operation to dismantle Hamas' terrorist capabilities, the IDF struck dozens of Hamas gunmen setting up to fire rockets and carry out terror attacks against the Israeli homefront. Over the last day, IDF fighter jets struck dozens of terror infrastructure and Hamas staging grounds in the neighborhoods of Shuja'iyya, Shati, Jabalia, Daraj Tuffah, and Zaytun."
In addition, the IDF said one of its aircraft "struck a Hamas operational tunnel shaft which gave terror operatives quick access to the coastline
Israel also claimed its forces came under attack by Hamas.
"During the combined activities of the 162nd Division led by the 401st Brigade and the Givati Brigade in recent days - tanks, helicopter gunships and artillery of the IDF were attacked from anti-tank launchers and observation posts by terrorists of the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip," the IDF said.
Hamas decried the constant strikes on Gaza.
"For the 18th consecutive day, the fascist aggressive occupation continues its genocidal war against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip," Hamas said on Telegram. "This series of massacres, endorsed shamelessly by some Western countries, has become a stain on humanity."
Hamas said that to date, 5,910 Palestinians have been killed and 16,297 wounded, figures we cannot independently verify.
"They lost their lives in brutal airstrikes, their homes demolished over their heads, forcing them into shelters and then the airstrikes followed them in the areas of displacement, streets, markets, and the few remaining bakeries that have survived the attacks. They endure the scarcity of water, food, and fuel," Hamas said. "The depletion of fuel led to the electricity cutoff in the Indonesian hospital at night, threatening the lives of hundreds of patients and wounded. All of this happens under the eyes of Washington and other Western capitals, which practice hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to the Zionist occupation.”
Hamas launched another round of rocket attacks against Beersheba and Tel Aviv.
Israel's border with Lebanon, meanwhile, remains hot.
"In the last hour, the IDF attacked three terrorist squads in the Lebanese border area," the IDF said around 6:30 p.m. local time (11:30 a.m. EST). "A remotely manned aircraft attacked two terrorist squads that were firing mortars and anti-tank missiles at IDF positions in Netua and Alkosh areas on the Lebanese border. Artillery and tanks were also fired at the sources of the fire."
A few hours earlier, "an aircraft attacked a terrorist squad that was identified on Lebanese territory in the Mount Dov area and destroyed weapons used by the squad," the IDF reported. "Also, a report was received a short time ago about anti-tank fire from Lebanese territory to the Manara area, there are no casualties. IDF forces respond with artillery fire at the source of the fire."
With concerns growing that the war could widen to a full-on Israeli confrontation with Hezbollah, Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Tuesday visited troops deployed near the border with Israel and U.N. peacekeepers, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
The visit by Prime Minister Najib Mikati to the tense southern province is his first since the latest Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7. It also came two days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops along the border on Sunday.
“Mikati and international governments have been scrambling to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from expanding to Lebanon, where the powerful Hezbollah group warned Israel about a ground incursion into the blockaded Gaza Strip,” AP reported.
As the fighting rages and threatens to engulf the region, the Biden administration is preparing for the possibility that hundreds of thousands of American citizens will require evacuation from the Middle East if the bloodshed in Gaza cannot be contained, The Washington Post reported Tuesday. The publication cited four officials familiar with the U.S. government’s contingency planning.
“The specter of such an operation comes as Israeli forces, aided by U.S. weapons and military advisers, prepare for what is widely expected to be a perilous ground offensive against Hamas militants responsible for the stunning cross-border attack that has reignited hostilities,” the Post wrote. “The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity to detail internal deliberations, said Americans living in Israel and neighboring Lebanon are of particular concern, though they stressed that an evacuation of that magnitude is considered a worst-case scenario and that other outcomes are seen as more likely.”
Still, one official said, it “would be irresponsible not to have a plan for everything.”
French President Emmanuel Macron proposed on Tuesday that an international coalition fighting against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria be widened to include the fight against the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza, Reuters reported.
During his visit to Israel, Macron gave no detail on how the U.S.-led coalition of dozens of countries, of which Israel is not a member, could be involved.
Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Macron stressed that France and Israel shared terrorism as their "common enemy."
"France is ready for the international coalition against Daesh in which we are taking part for operations in Iraq and Syria to also fight against Hamas," he told reporters, referring to Islamic State.
Macron, who warned against the risks of a regional conflict, also said the fight against Hamas "must be without mercy but not without rules."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not directly comment on Macron's proposal but said the fight was a battle between the "axis of evil" and "the free world."
The Pentagon’s top spokesman on Tuesday briefed reporters and these are some highlights about the latest on the U.S. response to the Israel-Hamas war:
- The New Jersey Air National Guard’s 119th Expeditionary Fighter squadron arrived in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility today with additional F-16 fighters, said Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder.
- Between Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, U.S. and coalition forces were attacked at least 10 separate times in Iraq and three separate times in Syria with a mix of drones and rockets. He did not have details about whether an attack occurred in that area today. "We are looking into that," he said.
- Though these incidents are part of what the Pentagon sees as an uptick in attacks from Iranian proxies, Ryder would not specify what action the U.S. could take against Iran: “In terms of accountability, I'm not going to discuss particular actions we could or might take other than to say we will do everything necessary to protect and defend our forces. If and when we decide to respond, we will do so at a time and place of our choosing.”
- The deployment of a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) battery and additional Patriot batteries to the region is underway, though he declined to provide further details. The THAAD battery is coming from Fort Bliss, Texas, and the Patriot battalions and batteries are coming from Fort Liberty In North Carolina and Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
- On whether the U.S. is advising Israel to delay its Gaza operation: “It’s Israel's decision as to when and how they conduct their operations. The relationship between the United States and Israel right now is focused on understanding what their defense needs are and making sure that we're able to support them in that regard. But we're also communicating with them in terms of providing those kinds of thoughtful questions and things to consider based on our lessons in urban combat. And also emphasizing the importance of mitigating civilian casualties in light of the situation in Gaza. And so that continues to be our focus.”
- Ryder said the Houthi land attack cruise missiles intercepted last week by the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Carney had a range of more than 2,000 kilometers (about 1,240 miles). That’s just about enough distance to reach Israel. Ryder, however cautioned that “we still cannot say for certain what those missiles and drones were targeting. But those missiles were within range of the Carney” which “made the decision to take those missiles down.”
The Houthis, as we noted previously have an extensive array of long-range kamikaze drones, as well as cruise and ballistic missiles, that it has acquired with Iranian assistance, some of which could potentially reach Israel.
As a recently released hostage offered details about her ordeal as a prisoner of Hamas, Israel is offering security and compensation to Gazans in exchange for information about the location of more than 200 others still held captive.
Yocheved Lifschitz, 85, was one of two women, along with Nurit Yitzhak, released by Hamas yesterday. Speaking to journalists outside Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center on Tuesday, she talked about how she was captured from her kibbutz of Nir Oz in southern Israel, and how she was treated. She also said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not take threats from Hamas “seriously.”
Her comments sparked outrage in Israel for those who thought her too kind to Hamas, as well as compassion by people who understood her husband is likely still a captive, while others question the accuracy of her account.
“The lack of awareness by Shin Bet (the Israel Security Agency) and the IDF hurt us a lot,” she said through her daughter, Sharone Lifschitz, who served as a translator. “They warned us three weeks beforehand, they burned fields, they sent fire balloons and the IDF did not treat it seriously,” she added, referring to Hamas.
On Oct. 7, “many, many people came through the fence,” Lifschitz said. “The fence cost 2.5 billion shekels (about $600 million) and it didn’t help even a little bit.”
Lifschitz said she was taken away on a motorbike and hit with sticks.
“They didn’t break my ribs, but they hurt this area a lot, and that made breathing very difficult,” she said, adding that she was robbed of her watch and jewelry while on the motorcycle.
“When she first arrived, they told them that they are Muslims that they do not want to hurt them, and that they ate the same food that the Hamas was eating,” Sharone Lifschitz told reporters. “My mom is saying that they treat them kindly and provided for them.”
Once in Gaza, the hostages arrived at a tunnel.
“They walked for a few kilometers on the wet ground,” Lifschitz’s daughter explained. “There is a huge, huge network of tunnels underneath. It looks like a spiderweb.”
There were doctors and paramedics waiting to receive the hostages, Lifschitz said. After initially being grouped together with 25 other people, Lifschitz said her captors then placed her in a smaller group with four other individuals from a kibbutz near hers.
Hamas, she said, took care of hostages' individual needs.
“As we got there, the people told us that they are people who believe in the Quran and they will not harm us, and we will get the same conditions they get in the tunnels,” Lifschitz said.
“There were guards and a paramedic and a doctor who took care of the fact that we’ll have the same medicine that we need," she said, adding Hamas "took care of the sanitary side of things so that we didn't get sick."
“This is wonderful, but our hearts [are] with the other 200 hostages still there,” Sharone Lifschitz told reporters. “We are heartened to hear that they are well looked after. We do not know [if] that is everyone because there's many that my mom did not meet. Our hearts [are] with our friends and brothers and mothers and sisters that are still waiting like us [for] our dad…”
Her 83-year-old father, Oded, is still believed to be in Gaza, according to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post noted that the interview outraged many in Israel.
Nachman Shai, a former minister and Israeli army spokesperson, called it “a mortifying event, with no organization, no guiding hand. She must be tired. They might have waited a little. I don’t understand if she was pre-briefed or not.”
“Many also recoiled at Lifshitz’s lack of harsh words for her Hamas captors claiming the conference ended up being public diplomacy for ‘terrorists,’” the publication reported. On Azriel, co-founder of the Bodkim fact-checking collective, however, noted that “her husband is held captive by them and it’s unclear whether they threatened to kill him.”
In a separate interview, Lifschitz told the BBC that she and her husband "are known peace activists who helped transport sick people out of Gaza to hospitals in Israel, according to their families."
Oded is a journalist who's worked for peace and the rights of Palestinians for decades, Sharone Lifschitz told the BBC.
"According to the National Union of Journalists, he used to work for newspaper Al Hamishmar, and was among the first journalists to report on the massacre in two Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut in 1982," according to the BBC.
"He speaks good Arabic so can communicate very well with the people there. He knows many people in Gaza. I want to think he's going to be OK," Sharone Lifschitz said.
In total, four hostages have now been released, after two American-Israelis, mother and daughter Judith and Natalie Raanan, were freed on Friday.
Israel says more than 200 people are still being held hostage. The husband of Nurit Cooper, who was also freed on Monday night, is believed to be among them.
As part of its effort to recover the remaining hostages, Israel said it showered Gaza with leaflets offering a monetary reward and promises of security guarantees for information leading to the location of those still held by Hamas.
“If your will is to live in peace and to have a better future for your children, do the humanitarian deed immediately and share verified and valuable information about hostages being held in your area," the IDF leaflet reads. "The Israeli military assures you that it will invest maximum effort in providing security for you and your home, and you will receive a financial reward. We guarantee you complete confidentiality."
One hostage expert we spoke told us that she has had “mixed results” over the years with similar appeals.
“Interesting messaging appeal to the people in Gaza,” said Zorka Martinovich, who retired in 2018 from the FBI as a supervisory special agent in the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit as a negotiator and served on the National Security Council Hostage Working Group.
“At this point it seems the basic needs of food, water, utilities, etc would be of greater immediate value than compensation,” she said. “I can't imagine people feel particularly secure in the middle of the ongoing fighting.”
While it “makes sense to have a platform and entice people to provide information,” Martinovich said Israel needs to “manage expectations on what they get out of this initiative.”
“When you create these types of platforms you also invite bogus information to be shared,” she said. “People working a scam, people manipulating the platform (Hamas sending information).”
Martinovich said that in her experience, these kind of appeals have “had mixed results. They may get some useful info. They can only get that with having a platform and doing an effective job of marketing it to the targeted audience. I would look at it as one tool which may help better understand what is happening on the ground.”
You can read more about what Martinovich and three others with deep hostage rescue experience have to say about the challenges facing Israel in any rescue effort here.
CNN is reporting that talks to secure the release of a large number of hostages held by Hamas "are ongoing," two sources familiar with the matter and one western diplomat familiar with the discussions told CNN. The negotiations, however, "are being complicated by a number of factors."
The U.S., Israel, Qatar, Egypt and Hamas are engaged in the ongoing deliberations with the hope of "reaching a deal for a bigger group of hostages released at once," CNN reported.
"Israel is pressing for a comprehensive plan for such a release, another source said, after seeing just two sets of two hostages released so far," according to CNN. "Israel has so far held off on making a ground incursion into Gaza, and the US has pressed Israel to further delay its invasion to allow for the release of more hostages held by Hamas."
The sources said the timing of the ground invasion is a moving target.
"There is no specific timeline to that delay, and the sources said they don’t believe the Israelis will hold off for more than a few days," CNN reported. "As part of the negotiations, Hamas wants more fuel allowed into the coastal enclave, according to a person familiar with the group’s demands, but Israeli officials have made clear publicly that that isn’t negotiable."
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news about the Israel-Hamas war.
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