Hamas is being routed in northern Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said Wednesday.
"We saw 50,000 Gazans move from the northern Gaza Strip to the south. They are moving because they understand that Hamas has lost control in the north," IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said during an evening broadcast. "Hamas has lost control and is continuing to lose control in the north."
The IDF's tactical success so far in its nearly two-week-old ground incursion into Gaza - cutting the north from the south and entering Gaza City with limited troop casualties - has surprised some observers. There have been 32 Israeli troops killed during the incursion, according to The Times of Israel, which is far fewer than anticipated. The IDF said it is killing fighters and destroying scores of tunnel shafts and other Hamas infrastructure during its advance that has reached the Mediterranean Sea coast. Still, the mounting casualty toll and displacement of civilians remains a grave cause for concern as outrage grows and calls for a ceasefire increase.
“I am surprised by their advancements,” John Spencer, chairman of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point told The War Zone Wednesday. “They are using good tactics and good teaming of combined arms - engineers, armor, mechanized and dismounted enemy.
The IDF is “destroying tunnels as they go and methodically clearing up to their fighting positions, which isolates objectives effectively,” he said.
Hamas “is surprisingly not good at resisting,” said Spencer, who was one of the experts we spoke to in our assessment of the challenges Israel would face in a ground incursion. You can read more about that here.
Spencer’s analysis Wednesday aligns with statements made by a former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. and a former Israeli national security official given to The Times of Israel.
“I’m surprised by how well the ground invasion seems to be going,” Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, told the publication. “It seems to be going smoothly, progressing slowly. There has been no major mishap so far.”
“I think it’s going slightly better than I expected in terms of the rate of advance, the ratio of casualties,” concurred Eran Lerman, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security and past deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council. “Given the extremely complex conditions, they’re doing it very wisely, very carefully.”
“The aggressive aspect of the Israeli operations has allowed them to gain control of key locations and concentrate their military effects on the Hamas network,” retired Army Gen. Joseph Votel, former commander of U.S. Central Command, told The War Zone.
Votel, now a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, estimated the fighting could go on for a while.
“Hard to know how long this might take,” he said, “but my estimate is weeks to months. We moved very deliberately in Eastern Mosul (the area that is most like Gaza City) and it took about nine months.”
Though it remained difficult to obtain a clear picture of where the Israeli forces were operating, fleeing residents told The Washington Post that "troops had reached Ansar roundabout in central Gaza City, a block away from its main port."
Footage of the Gaza City skyline posted by Hamdan Dahdouh, a cameraman with Al Jazeera network, was filled with the sound of gunfire and whistling bullets, the Post noted. He said that “violent clashes” were taking place around the Ansar and al-Azhar neighborhoods in the middle of the city.
The IDF says Hamas's massive network of underground tunnels is a major target.
"Since the beginning of the fighting, 130 tunnel shafts have been destroyed," the IDF said Wednesday. "Combat engineers fighting in Gaza are destroying the enemy's weapons and are locating, exposing and detonating tunnel shafts. With the expansion of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, the soldiers are thwarting Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure. As part of the ground forces' activity in the Gaza Strip, IDF soldiers are currently working to expose and destroy Hamas’ tunnels."
The incursion marks the first time since the 1982 First Lebanon War that an entire IDF reserve division is maneuvering in enemy territory.
"This is a defining moment for the division and for the entire reserve array in which a reserve division maneuvers alongside the regular divisions and proves the strength and quality of the IDF, in both regular and reserve service," said Commanding Officer of the 252nd Division, BG Moran Omer. "We have been preparing for this for years, it is our duty to now restore peace and security to our civilians. Our reservists and their families are the expression of our unity, of being willing to defend our people as much as necessary, and of getting only one result - determined in every encounter with the enemy - until victory."
Reuters reported that the IDF says Hamas has lost control of northern Gaza.
Still, as Israeli political and military leaders have said, there is a long fight ahead.
Hamas on Wednesday claimed via Telegram that it destroyed numerous Israeli tanks and other armored vehicles in the fight.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad released the first video it says shows its forces fighting in Gaza.
There is also mounting pressure on Israel to stand down as the number of civilians killed in Gaza by massive Israeli bombardment increases. The IDF says it has carried out more than 14,000 airstrikes and artillery attacks since Oct. 7. That's nearly three times the number of munitions than was dropped on Iraq and Syria in a month during the height of the counter-ISIS campaign over an area 100 times the size of Gaza, said Charles Lister, Senior Fellow & Director of @MEI_Syria and @MEI_CTEprograms at @MiddleEastIns.
"Palestinian officials said 10,569 people have now been killed, 40% of them children," Reuters reported Wednesday. "The level of death and suffering is 'hard to fathom', U.N. health agency spokesperson Christian Lindmeier said in Geneva."
Hamas accused Israel of targeting schools and mosques in Gaza.
The video below shows "the moment of the bombing of Al-Mustafa Mosque in the Sheikh Nasser neighborhood in the center of Khan Yunis, in the south of the Gaza Strip," the Hamas-affiliated Shehab Agency news outlet said on Twitter.
Shehab also said a school was bombed.
"Occupation aircraft destroy the Khaled bin Al-Walid Mosque in the Al-Maskar area, west of Khan Yunis, minutes after the destruction of Al-Sahwa Mosque in the western line of the city," according to Shehab.
The IDF on Wednesday said it struck a tunnel shaft near a school.
"IDF soldiers from the 551st Brigade in cooperation with soldiers from the Yalam unit operate in the Beit Hanon area, locating and destroying terrorist tunnels," Hagari said. "The fighters located a terrorist tunnel shaft near a UNRA school and destroyed the tunnel."
Both sides have committed war crimes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Wednesday.
"The atrocities perpetrated by Palestinian armed groups on 7 October were heinous, they were war crimes - as is the continued holding of hostages," Volker Turk said at the Rafah crossing in Egypt on the border with Gaza, according to Reuters. "The collective punishment by Israel of Palestinian civilians is also a war crime, as is unlawful forcible evacuation of civilians," he added.
Turk also called for a ceasefire.
In Tokyo for the G7 summit Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken repeated the Biden administration's call for a temporary pause in the fighting to assist Palestinian civilians.
"We all agreed that humanitarian pauses would advance key objectives to protect Palestinian civilians, to increase the sustained flow of humanitarian assistance, to allow our citizens and foreign nationals to exit, and to facilitate the release of hostages," Blinken told reporters. "I briefed my colleagues about my conversations with Israeli leaders on pauses, and on concrete steps to minimize harm to Palestinian civilians in Gaza and to stop extremist violence in the West Bank."
Blinken also said that despite Netanyahu's suggestion that Israel might indefinitely occupy Gaza, that is not a U.S. goal.
"The reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict, but it is imperative that the Palestinian people be central to governance in Gaza and in the West Bank as well, and that, again, we don’t see a reoccupation," he said. "And what I’ve heard from Israeli leaders is that they have no intent to reoccupy Gaza and retake control of Gaza.
"So the only question is are – is there some transition period that might be necessary, and what might be the mechanisms that you could put in place for that to make sure that there is security? But we’re very clear on no reoccupation, just as we’re very clear on no displacement of the Palestinian population. And, as we’ve said before, we need to see and get to, in effect, unity of governance when it comes to Gaza and the West Bank, and ultimately to a Palestinian state."
Blinken also laid out a series of red lines that neither side should cross.
"The United States believes key elements should include no forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza – not now, not after the war," he said. "No use of Gaza as a platform for terrorism or other violent attacks. No reoccupation of Gaza after the conflict ends. No attempt to blockade or besiege Gaza. No reduction in the territory of Gaza. We must also ensure no terrorist threats can emanate from the West Bank."
Blinken's comments followed President Joe Biden's urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a three-day pause in the fighting to allow progress in releasing some of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, two U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios on Tuesday.
Votel, the former CENTCOM commander, told us that the pressure on Israel to reduce casualties will continue.
"I do think International pressure will continue to mount on Israel over civilian casualties," he said. "As I, and others, have said before - how this is done is as or more important than what they are actually doing. It is in Israel's long-term interest to maintain international support."
The latest war in Gaza is taking a huge toll on Netanyahu, a former Israeli prime minister told Politico.
Netanyahu has been “destroyed emotionally” by his massive failure on national security and is now miscalculating by preparing to take overall control of Gaza’s security for an “indefinite period” after Hamas has been crushed, according to former leader Ehud Olmert.
In an interview with Politico, Olmert argued Netanyahu was in a state of “nervous breakdown,” as he sought to avoid being thrown out of office for failing to safeguard national security in the murderous Hamas attacks of October 7. This meant Israel was now steering off course strategically, Olmert went on, insisting the priority should be to negotiate an endgame with the international community — involving a return to talks on the formation of a Palestinian state, rather than turning back the clock to full military oversight over Gaza.
The global outcry about the civilian casualty toll in Gaza is part of the Hamas calculus behind the Oct. 7 surprise invasion, The New York Times reported through interviews with its leaders.
"...in the bloody arithmetic of Hamas’s leaders, the carnage is not the regrettable outcome of a big miscalculation. Quite the opposite, they say: It is the necessary cost of a great accomplishment — the shattering of the status quo and the opening of a new, more volatile chapter in their fight against Israel," the publication reported.
It was necessary to “change the entire equation and not just have a clash,” Khalil al-Hayya, a member of Hamas’s top leadership body, told The New York Times in Doha, Qatar. “We succeeded in putting the Palestinian issue back on the table, and now no one in the region is experiencing calm.”
“I hope that the state of war with Israel will become permanent on all the borders, and that the Arab world will stand with us,” Taher El-Nounou, a Hamas media adviser, told The Times.
Hamas amassed a huge cache of weapons for its invasion, many of which were ultimately captured by the IDF.
In addition to destroying tunnels and fighting positions, the IDF on Wednesday said it killed another top Hamas leader, Mohsen Abu Zina, a leading weapons developer.
The exodus of civilians from Gaza City continues.
The UN office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs has said that about 15,000 people fled on Tuesday, the Guardian reported. By comparison, 5,000 fled on Monday and 2,000 on Sunday, suggesting the number of people attempting to evacuate has been increasing as northern Gaza continues to be bombarded and Israeli troops carry out ground operations there.
Meanwhile, fighting on the northern front continues.
"A short while ago, IDF soldiers struck a number of anti-tank missile launching posts belonging to the Hezbollah terrorist organization," the IDF said Wednesday. "Furthermore, terrorists launched an anti-tank missile toward IDF soldiers in the area of Dovev. The IDF responded with artillery fire toward the origin of the launch. Two IDF soldiers were injured – one lightly and the other moderately – and have been evacuated to a hospital for medical treatment. Their families have been notified."
Hezbollah confirmed that it fired on Israeli troops there, according to Al Arabiya.
The IDF also said there were attacks on Shtula and Yiftah in northern Israel as well.
"The IDF responded with tank and artillery fire toward the origin of the launches. No injuries were reported."
The Israeli Air Force posted video it says shows an attack on a Hezbollah position in Lebanon.
However, Lebanese journalist Ali Mortada mocked the IDF attacks, claiming that the Israeli strikes were hitting piles of "cow shit."
An official with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp said Hamas is not the only group in the region with hostages and threatened to kill the ones it is holding should Iran be attacked.
A loose-knit organization of Iranian-backed militias said they carried out more missile and drone attacks on a U.S. base in Al-Shaddadi, Syria, south of Al-Hasakah.
"The Mujahideen of the Islamic Resistance in Iraq targeted, for the second time today, the American occupation base in Al-Shaddadi, south of the Syrian city of Al-Hasakah, with missiles, and it was directly hit," the group claimed on Telegram.
U.S. Central Command told The War Zone it is aware of the reports but can not yet confirm the attacks took place. Yesterday, Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said not including these claims, there have been 40 attacks on U.S. forces, 22 separate times in Iraq and 18 separate times in Syria.
The flow of people out of Gaza at the Rafah crossing continues.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the first group of 43 Ukrainian nationals have left through that key border checkpoint between Gaza and Egypt.
The U.K. says more than 150 of its citizens have left as well.
Netanyahu's office said the Mossad, along with Brazilian security services, foiled a plot by Hezbollah to carry out a terror attack in Brazil, financed by Iran.
Israel is upping its information operations, taking aim at Hamas leaders who it says have amassed great wealth while living a life of luxury abroad as Gazans suffer.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more news to report about the Israel-Hamas war.
Update: 5:40 PM Eastern -
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a U.S. airstrike in eastern Syria on a facility used by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRCG).
"Today, at President Biden’s direction, U.S. military forces conducted a self-defense strike on a facility in eastern Syria used by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and affiliated groups. This strike was conducted by two U.S. F-15s against a weapons storage facility. This precision self-defense strike is a response to a series of attacks against U.S. personnel in Iraq and Syria by IRGC-Quds Force affiliates. The President has no higher priority than the safety of U.S. personnel, and he directed today’s action to make clear that the United States will defend itself, its personnel, and its interests."
"The United States is fully prepared to take further necessary measures to protect our people and our facilities. We urge against any escalation. U.S. personnel will continue to conduct counter-ISIS missions in Iraq and Syria."
Update: 9:41 PM Eastern -
In the wake of the airstrike in Syria, a senior U.S. defense official (SDO) and a senior U.S. military official (SMO) briefed reporters, including from The War Zone, about what happened. This is the highlight of what they said:
To protect U.S. forces against drone attacks, in addition to sending additional Patriot batteries to the region, the U.S. is increasing defensive counter-air patrols. Today’s attack was on a weapons storage facility used by the IRGC and Iranian-backed militias near the town of Maysulun [which is near the Turkish border] in eastern Syria. The airstrike was aimed as a message to Iran, which the U.S. holds responsible for the attacks on its troops.
A senior U.S. military official watched the attack unfold and said there were likely secondary explosions indicating weapons were there that probably have been used against U.S. troops. Asked what might have been in the warehouse, the senior U.S. military official said “bad things” that could have been rockets, drones or artillery shells “being used against U.S. troops.”
While the U.S. does not believe there were any civilian casualties, it is unknown if any militia or IRGC troops were killed or injured or if any Iranians were present. The Russians, who also have troops in the region, were notified ahead of time via the deconfliction line set up at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
In addition to the briefing, another U.S. military official answered questions posed by The War Zone about several attacks in Syria and Iraq today claimed by the Hezbollah-linked Al Mayadeen Telegram channel and one belonging to a loose-knit group of Iranian-backed militias calling itself the Islamic Resistance in Iraq.
The official confirmed one attack, bringing the total confirmed against U.S. troops since the Israel-Hamas war began to 41. The official is researching our questions about additional attacks.
The latest confirmed attacks were:
November 8 (41)
- On the morning of Nov. 8, a multi-rocket attack was launched against US and Coalition forces at Shadaddi, Syria. No casualties and no damage to infrastructure.
November 7 (39-40)
- On the morning of Nov. 7, a one-way attack drone was launched against US and Coalition forces at Erbil Airbase, Iraq. The drone did not detonate upon impact. No casualties and no damage to infrastructure.
- On the morning of Nov. 7, a multi-rocket attack was launched against US and Coalition forces near Mission Support Site Euphrate, Syria. No casualties and no damage to infrastructure.
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