3 senior terror officials reported killed in Gaza; number of Israeli hostages at 203

Hamas political official and a top commander slain in strikes; IDF says can’t rule out possibility some terrorists still hiding in Israel; British PM in Israel to show support

This picture taken from Sderot shows smoke billowing over the northern Gaza Strip on October 19, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)
This picture taken from Sderot shows smoke billowing over the northern Gaza Strip on October 19, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Three senior officials in Gaza Strip terror groups were reported killed overnight Wednesday as Israel continued its intense bombing campaign of terror targets in the enclave amid its war with Hamas.

The Israel Defense Forces said an airstrike in the southern Gaza city of Rafah had killed Rafat Abu Hilal, the head of the military wing of Gaza’s Popular Resistance Committees terror group, the third-largest terror faction in the Strip after Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Hamas-affiliated media in Gaza reported that Jamila al-Shanti, the widow of Hamas co-founder Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, was also killed in an Israeli strike.

Al-Shanti in 2021 became the first woman elected to the Hamas political bureau, its highest decision-making body.

The reports gave no details on the location of the strike, saying only that it occurred at dawn.

Al-Shanti’s death brings to four the number of members of Hamas’s political bureau killed by Israel in strikes since the October 7 Hamas onslaught that started the war. Zakariya Abu Moammar, the head of the terror group’s internal relations, and Jawad Abu Shamala, who managed the terror group’s funds, were killed October 10. Osama Mazini, former head of Hamas’s Shura Council and a Hamas education minister, was killed on October 16.

Hamas official Jamila al-Shanti in an undated photo (Social media)

Also Thursday, Palestinian media outlets reported that the head of the Palestinian National Security Forces in the Gaza Strip was killed in an Israeli airstrike.

The reports said Jihad Muheisen was killed in a strike on the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City.

The Israel Defense Forces did not immediately comment on Al-Shanti’s and Muheisen’s reported deaths.

Separately, the IDF said it targeted several members of Hamas’s so-called Nukhba commando forces, who led the October 7 massacre, when some 2,500 terrorists blasted through the Israeli border fence, streamed into Israel via land, sea, and air under a barrage of thousands of rockets, and killed some 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Terrorists also took more than 200 hostages of all ages into Gaza and are holding them captive.

The military said more than 10 Nukhba members were killed in the strikes.

In addition, the IDF said it destroyed hundreds of Hamas sites in the past 24 hours, including anti-tank missile launch sites, tunnel shafts, intelligence infrastructure, and various command centers.

Number of confirmed hostages surpasses 200

In a briefing to the press Thursday morning, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military had so far notified the families of 203 hostages that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip.

He said the number was not final, as the IDF is constantly investigating new information on Israelis who have been missing since the October 7 onslaught.

He said that in some of the cases, the families were notified that the military suspects with high confidence that they were being held in Gaza.

But in other cases, he said the military has moderate-to-low confidence that they are hostages. Hagari said the IDF has also ruled out some cases, and updated the families that their loved ones are not being held hostage. The military has been scanning the Gaza border area for bodies of missing Israelis, locating some, and many bodies are still waiting to be identified.

Some family members of Israelis being held captive in Gaza fumed on Wednesday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would allow humanitarian aid to be transferred into the territory via Egypt without any concessions for their loved ones in exchange.

People walk near posters featuring Israelis being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

After prodding by Washington, Israel said it would allow water, medicine, and food to reach southern Gaza from Egypt.

“The decision to allow humanitarian aid to the murderers of Gaza has caused great anger among the family members,” the Bring Them Home Now organization, formed to represent families of those kidnapped, said in a statement.

“We remind you that children, babies, women, soldiers, men and the elderly — some of whom have serious health issues, are wounded and shot — are being held underground like animals without any human conditions, and the government of Israel is treating the murderers to baklava and medicine,” the group said.

Danger within Israel

Hagari said the military cannot yet rule out the possibility that there are still Palestinian terrorists in Israeli territory from the October 7 infiltration.

“We haven’t finished scanning the [Gaza border area] yet,” he said.

Hagari said that on Wednesday night, troops found and captured an “exhausted terrorist” who was trying to head back to Gaza.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari gives a statement on October 17, 2023 (Screenshot)

There have been no new infiltrations into Israel in recent days, according to the IDF.

British prime minister arrives

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak arrived in Israel Thursday morning in a show of support, and was set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog.

“I want you to know that the UK and I stand with you,” Sunak said after landing in Tel Aviv as he condemned the “unspeakable, horrific acts of terrorism” by Hamas.

After meeting Netanyahu and Herzog, Sunak is expected to travel to a number of other regional capitals for talks on the war.

During his visit to Israel, Sunak is also expected to insist that humanitarian aid, which London recently announced would be increased for the Palestinians, be allowed to enter Gaza from Egypt, and that Britons stranded in Gaza be allowed to leave.

Rockets and hospitalizations

Wednesday evening saw Gaza terror groups fire several salvos of rockets at central Israel after US President Joe Biden concluded his wartime visit and departed the country. Terror groups in Gaza appeared to have been careful not to fire at Tel Aviv and nearby cities while Biden was on the ground.

Rockets were fired at southern communities throughout the day.

There were no casualties or significant damage in the attacks.

Iron dome anti-missile system fires interception missiles ats rockets fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, as it seen from Moshav Neve Ilan, October 18, 2023.(Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The Health Ministry said Thursday that as of 8 a.m., 309 people injured since the devastating Hamas attack on Israel were still hospitalized.

Of those, 80 were in serious condition, 159 were in moderate condition, and 70 were in lightly hurt. A total of 4,629 injured individuals have been treated at hospitals around the country since October 7.

Gaza developments

Hagari said Thursday that the IDF was continuing to prepare for “the next stages” of the war against Hamas, which is expected to include a major, lengthy ground offensive.

Israel has declared its intention of toppling and eradicating Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. It has for the past week urged all residents of northern Gaza, some one million people, to evacuate to the center and south of the Strip as it prepares to intensify operations in the north. Hundreds of thousands have done so, according to the military, despite Hamas urging them not to leave their homes and in some cases putting up roadblocks.

On Wednesday evening, Egypt’s foreign ministry confirmed an agreement between Egypt, Israel and other international actors to allow aid to enter the Gaza Strip through Rafah.

Israeli tanks move in an undisclosed location along the border with the Gaza Strip on October 18, 2023 (GIL COHEN MAGEN / AFP)

Firmly backing Israel’s right to go to war against Hamas, Biden on Wednesday urged Israelis to learn the lessons from US campaigns after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Justice must be done,” Biden said in Tel Aviv. “But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it… After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

Betraying an unease with the possibility that Israel’s campaign against Hamas could get derailed by civilian losses, Biden warned that wartime leadership “requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.”

US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport following a solidarity visit to Israel, on October 18, 2023 (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

The White House said Wednesday that a current intelligence assessment showed that Israel was “not responsible” for a Tuesday night explosion at a Gaza hospital. There have been conflicting claims of who was responsible for the Al-Ahli Hospital blast. Officials in Gaza quickly blamed an Israeli airstrike. The Hamas-led Gaza health ministry said it killed hundreds of Palestinians.

Israel denied it was involved and released a flurry of video, audio, and other information that it said showed the blast was caused by a missile misfire by Islamic Jihad, another terror group operating in Gaza.

Footage of the scene of the blast that surfaced online Wednesday showed the hospital buildings were largely intact, and that the blast occurred in the facility’s parking lot. Open-source intelligence analysts have indicated evidence from the scene is inconsistent with an airstrike and supports it was indeed a Palestinian rocket misfire.

Palestinians check the site of an explosion at al-Ahli hospital, in Gaza City, October 18, 2023. (Abed Khaled/AP)

Palestinians and much of the Arab world quickly blamed Israel. Jerusalem was swiftly condemned by Jordan, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others. The countries haven’t provided evidence for their claim that the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike.

The IDF has accused global media outlets of accepting Hamas’s “lies” about the incident.

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