Israel's defense minister on Friday said there are no plans for a long-term occupation of Gaza as he explained Israel's intentions for the Palestinian enclave with more than 2.3 million residents.
Speaking to lawmakers about Israel’s long-term plans for Gaza, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant laid out a three-stage plan, according to The Associated Press.
First, Israeli airstrikes and “maneuvering” — a presumed reference to a ground attack — would aim to root out Hamas. Next will come a lower-intensity fight to defeat remaining pockets of resistance. And, finally, “the removal of Israel’s responsibility for life in the Gaza Strip,” Gallant said.
It remains unclear how long this plan will take. As we reported yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he doesn’t expect the war to be over any time soon.
“This is a long war, and we’ll need your continuous support,” Netanyahu said Thursday, after talks with his U.K. counterpart, Rishi Sunak.
Any incursion into Gaza is going to be a very dangerous effort. You can read more about what Israel will face in our deep dive here.
As we pointed out, a big concern for the IDF will be Hamas drones. Hamas on Friday released video of its forces training on how to drop munitions from quadcopter drones on an old BRDM-2 armored vehicle.
Hamas also showed how it fires mortars from camouflaged positions, as you can see in this video below.
So far, health officials in Hamas-controlled Gaza say Israeli strikes have killed almost 3,800 people and wounded almost 12,500 others, a majority of them women and children, according to CBS News. That number includes the disputed figure of more than 470 said to have been killed in the hospital blast, which Israel denies causing. The New York Times on Thursday reported that 100 to 300 people were killed in that explosion.
In Israel, officials say Hamas's attack killed some 1,400 people and wounded 3,500 others, according to CBS News.
Israel has ordered the evacuation of Kiriyat Shemona, one of the largest cities along the Lebanese border, as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Hezbollah continue to trade so far limited but steady attacks.
The move comes as Israel is gearing up for a massive incursion into Gaza. It is a potentially ominous signal that Israel is expecting Hezbollah to open up a northern front in this two-week old war.
"This kind of evacuation, which has already been done in a number of towns on the northern border, allows the IDF to expand its operational freedom to act against the Hezbollah terrorist organization," said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, according to Reuters.
Kiriat Shemona's 20,000 residents will be moved to government guest housing facilities. As we previously reported, Israel had already declared some areas along the frontier as closed military zones, forcing residents to move away. This, however, is the largest evacuation from the hills of the eastern Galilee region, according to Reuters.
The evacuation order came as the IDF carried out what it said was a drone strike on Hezbollah inside Lebanon.
Later, "[t]hree terrorists of the terrorist organization Hezbollah were identified a short time ago in the area of the fence on the Lebanese border,” the IDF reported at about 1:59 p.m. local time (6:59 a.m. (EST). “An IDF aircraft operating in the area attacked the terrorists. In addition, IDF snipers fired a short time ago at armed men who were identified working in the Lebanese border area.”
About two hours after that, Hezbollah opened up a barrage on Israel, according to the IDF.
“A report was received regarding numerous launches from Lebanon toward Israeli territory in the Har Dov area,” the IDF stated shortly after 3:30 p.m. local time (8:30 a.m EST). “IDF soldiers are responding with artillery toward the origins of the shooting.”
The cross-border attacks are having an effect in Lebanon as well.
The Lebanese Army reported a journalist killed by Israeli gunfire on Thursday in an area across the border from Kiryat Shmona where Israeli forces and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group had a heavy exchange of fire.
"We reaffirm that the killing of civilians and the assault on the security of our country will not go without response or punishment," Hezbollah said in a statement, according to Reuters.
According to The Committee To Protect Journalists, at least 21 journalists so far have been killed in this conflict.
As the cross-border exchanges continue, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told CNN about his concern that the war could spread and asked that Israel institute a 24-hour ceasefire. The situation in Gaza, he said, has inflamed the region.
Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an IDF spokesman, said Israel holds Lebanon responsible for Hezbollah's actions.
"Anything that happens from their sovereign territory, they are responsible for," Lerner said of the Lebanese government.
With an absolutely massive arsenal of standoff weapons and well-trained and well-armed foot soldiers, Hezbollah presents a threat to Israel that cannot be overestimated. You can read more about the group's standoff weaponry in our deep dive here.
The IDF and Shabak, also known as the Israel Security Agency (ISA), continued attacks inside Gaza, saying they killed several top Hamas leaders in airstrikes.
“Hamas’ leaders are the driving force behind the terrorist organization’s countless attacks and brutality,” the IDF said on its website. “Whether they are an active part of assault companies and commando terrorist forces or ministers, every Hamas leader is responsible for the murder of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, arming children and exploiting civilian and humanitarian areas for terrorist purposes.”
“As part of the IDF’s mission of defense, it must target and neutralize these leaders to maintain the safety of all civilians.”
The IDF said it wrapped up an operation in the West Bank aimed at routing out terrorists.
"Over 20 wanted persons were arrested and over 12 terrorists were eliminated, the extensive counter-terrorism operation in the Noor al-Shams refugee camp has ended," the IDF said.
At least three Palestinians, including two teenagers, were killed during those operations as we previously reported.
In response, Hamas praised "the resistance’s heroic response to the occupation’s aggression against the Nour Shams camp" and called for "a general mobilization today, Friday, to attack the enemy and its settlers."
"We emphasize making today, Friday, a new and distinctive page in the history of this battle, by escalating the confrontation and clashes and confusing the occupation in all regions and using various means and tools," Hamas said on its Telegram channel.
On the way back from his visit to Israel, U.S. President Joe Biden said that he had a conversation with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi assuring that 20 truck loads of badly needed aid would soon pass through the Rafah crossing for the 2.3 million Gazans lacking food, water, medicine and other supplies.
There were some early indications, like the removal of barriers you can see below, that the crossing - the key border checkpoint between Egypt and Gaza - would reopen.
However, as of Friday, those trucks were still waiting at on the Egyptian side of Rafah.
"After the White House announced the deal earlier this week to allow 20 trucks of aid into Gaza, negotiations over the logistics of the delivery continued into Friday morning," NPR reported. The delay was "in part to address Israel's concerns about how to keep the aid out of the hands of Hamas."
Egypt's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said the crossing was open and that Egypt was not responsible for any delay in aid getting in.
A United Nations spokesperson told Reuters on Friday that a first aid delivery was due to start "in the next day or so."
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who arrived at the Egyptian side of the border crossing on Friday, called for aid to be allowed into Gaza as soon as possible.
"Civilians in Gaza lack all necessities of life," Guterres said at a press conference. "I call for a humanitarian cease-fire to deliver aid to Gaza."
As the wait for aid continues, there are growing protests at the crossing.
Supplies are also a concern in Israel as it has amassed hundreds of thousands of troops for its looming incursion into Gaza.
"In recent days, the logistics and technology system completed the preparation of the forces for the maneuver," the IDF said. It has set up six "spatial logistics centers to improve the response to forces in the field. Procurement processes of combat equipment including thousands of ceramic vests, means of survival, winter equipment and more were accelerated."
Israel has also dispersed food and supplies across the country.
"So far, a tailored food response has been provided to all the forces in the field," the IDF said. "From the words of the head of the technology and logistics department, Major General Michel Janko: "The technology and logistics systems work day and night so that each fighter has the equipment required for combat, depending on the nature of the activity he will perform."
- Strengthen Israel’s defense from vicious terrorist attacks and bolster the Israeli Defense Forces through Department of Defense (DOD) assistance.
- Ensure Israel’s air and missile defense systems’ readiness with support for the Government of Israel’s procurement of Iron Dome and David’s Sling missile defense systems and components, and development of Iron Beam.
- Replenish DOD stocks that are being drawn down to support Israel in its time of need.
- Strengthen Israel’s military and enhance U.S. embassy security with foreign military financing from the Department of State.
"The United States unequivocally condemns the horrific terrorist attacks by Hamas in Israel. More than 1,300 innocent civilians were murdered, including at least 32 American citizens. Additionally, there are 12 Americans unaccounted for, some of whom we know to be held hostage by Hamas. President Biden directed his Administration to take immediate action and do everything we can to ensure the government of Israel has what it needs," the White House said in a letter to Congress.
The package invests "in the U.S. military industrial base to ensure our military readiness, including replenishing resources to meet our defense needs as we support Israel and Ukraine, as well as the growing security requirements in the Indo-Pacific," according to the White House.
"This supplemental request invests over $50 billion in the American defense industrial base—ensuring our military continues to be the most ready, capable, and best equipped fighting force the world has ever seen," according to the White House.
The announcement of the supplemental aid request comes after Biden delivered a speech from the White House Thursday assuring Israel as well as Ukraine of continued U.S. support.
"The security package I’m sending to Congress and asking Congress to do is an unprecedented commitment to Israel’s security that will sharpen Israel’s qualitative military edge, which we’ve committed to — the qualitative military edge," Biden said in his address.
"We’re going to make sure Iron Dome continues to guard the skies over Israel," he said. "We’re going to make sure other hostile actors in the region know that Israel is stronger than ever and prevent this conflict from spreading."
Biden also addressed both Russia and Iran.
"Hamas and Putin represent different threats, but they share this in common: They both want to completely annihilate a neighboring democracy — completely annihilate it," he said of Russia.
"Iran is — is supporting Russia’s [war] in Ukraine, and it’s supporting Hamas and other terrorist groups in the region," Biden said. "And we’ll continue to hold them accountable, I might add."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Friday thanked Biden.
"We appreciate President Biden's support and the strong bipartisan support in America," Netanyahu's office told ABC News in a statement on Friday, when asked for comment.
This is a developing story. We will update it when there is more to report about the Israel-Hamas war.
Update: 2:56 PM EST -
Hamas said it has released two hostages.
"In response to Qatari efforts, Al-Qassam Brigades released two American citizens (a mother and her daughter) for humanitarian reasons, and to prove to the American people and the world that the claims made by Biden and his fascist administration are false and baseless," Hamas said on its Telegram channel Friday.
"The two have been handed over to the Red Cross and are 'on their way out,'" a source familiar with negotiations told CNN.
Fox News reported "that the family of the hostages was notified. They were initially taken from Nahal Oz. Their names are Judith and Natalie Raanan."
Hamas said that about 200 people were taken hostage. Of those, it said 50 more are held by other armed groups in the enclave, according to Reuters. Hamas said more than 20 hostages have been killed by Israeli air strikes, but has not given any further details.
You can read more about the challenges Israel will face in any hostage rescue attempt in our deep dive here.
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