As Blinken meets PM, IDF airs call it says shows Hamas storing fuel under Gaza hospital

Israel working to resist international pressure to allow fuel into Strip; military ground op death toll reaches 24; US said to be flying drones over Gaza in hunt for hostages

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

As US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Israel on Friday, the Israel Defense Forces on Friday published a recording of what it said was a phone call from a day earlier in which a Gazan medical official acknowledged that Hamas’s fuel reserves were stored directly under Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in the Strip.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Israeli officials planned to present the call, as well as other evidence on the matter, to Blinken, in an attempt to lower the international pressure to allow fuel to enter the Strip.

“The call confirms that Hamas controls the energy and fuel resources in the Gaza Strip and chooses to direct them for terrorism,” the IDF said in a statement.

“Moreover, if fuel is allowed to enter the Gaza Strip, Hamas plans to seize those resources,” the IDF said.

“The IDF will continue to expose information that proves that the Hamas terrorist organization uses the resources of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip for terrorism,” the military added.

Last week, the IDF said Hamas’s main base of operations is under Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, providing visuals and intercepted audio as evidence of the terror organization’s activities.

Israel has repeatedly refused to allow fuel into Gaza, citing concerns that it could be used by Hamas to bolster its efforts against Israel.

Israel has accused Hamas of stealing and hoarding fuel in the Strip intended for hospitals and humanitarian use, and diverting it for terror purposes, a claim that was confirmed by Western and Arab officials to the New York Times last week.

The IDF also released images last week of half a million liters of diesel it said the terror group was holding in the Strip.

On Thursday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said that Israel would allow fuel to enter Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt should Israel determine that hospitals have run out of fuel.

Hospitals in Gaza, which rely on the fuel to power generators, have warned for over a week that they are about to run out, Halevi noted, but none have as of yet.

“We have not brought fuel in to this point,” he said. “We check the situation in the Strip every day. For over a week, they tell us that the fuel in the hospitals will run out, and it hasn’t. We’ll see when that day comes. Fuel will be transferred, with oversight, to the hospitals, and we will do everything to ensure that it doesn’t reach Hamas infrastructure and won’t serve [Hamas’s] war aims.”

Shortly after Halevi’s comments, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a terse statement noting only that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “has not approved the entry of fuel into Gaza.”

Also Friday, the IDF announced that five soldiers were killed fighting in the Gaza Strip a day earlier, bringing the military death toll since Israel began its ground offensive against Hamas to 24.

They were named as Cpt. Beni Wais, 22, a company commander in the 460th Armored Brigade’s 195th Battalion, from Haifa; Master Sgt. (res.) Uriah Mash, 41, a reservist soldier in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 52nd Battalion, from Talmon; Master Sgt. (res.) Yehonatan Yosef Brand 28, a reservist soldier in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 52nd Battalion, from Jerusalem; Sgt. Maj. (res.) Gil Pishitz, 39, a tank driver in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 9th Battalion, from Harish; Staff Sgt. Itay Saadon, 21, a tank commander in the 401st Armored Brigade’s 52nd Battalion, from Har Halutz.

Additionally, a reservist of the 551st Brigade’s 7008th Battalion was seriously wounded during operations in the Gaza Strip.

IDF forces operate in the Gaza Strip, in an image released by the military on November 3, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Troops continued their push deeper into the enclave on Friday, as the IDF said it had killed Mustafa Dalloul, the commander of Hamas’s Sabra-Tel al-Hawa battalion who “took a key role in the management of the fighting against IDF forces in the Gaza Strip,” in an overnight strike.

In addition, fighter jets, combat helicopters and artillery struck and killed several other Hamas terrorists, and the Air Force and Navy carried out strikes against several Hamas sites in the Gaza Strip, including buildings used by operatives to fire at ground forces and anti-tank missile launch positions.

Troops also located weapons — assault rifles, submachine guns, grenades, explosive devices, RPGs and ammunition, as well as intelligence materials — maps and communication equipment — during searches in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

Backed by punishing air power as well as naval backup, Israeli soldiers and armored columns continued their push into Gaza City after several days of fighting on the city’s outskirts, including raining large airstrikes on parts of Jabaliya, a Hamas stronghold crowded with residential high rises.

“IDF troops are encircling Gaza City and its surroundings from the air, land, and sea. Troops are advancing in the battles, and destroying terror infrastructure above ground and below it, and eliminating terrorists,” IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Friday.

In this handout photo released by the military on November 3, 2023, Israeli forces are seen in the Gaza Strip during the ongoing war against Hamas. (Israel Defense Forces)

Conquering the city, Gaza’s largest and a stronghold of the Strip’s Hamas rulers, will be a daunting task for Israel’s military, whose aspirations of ousting the terror group will force soldiers to fight through the crowded urban labyrinth thought awash with bombs and booby traps and undercut by a vast network of tunnels used by terrorists to ambush or surprise troops.

Hagari also said the military has revised the number of hostages believed to be held in the Gaza Strip as a result of the October 7 Hamas assault to 241, down from the previous 242.

He said the number is not final as the military investigates new information on those missing since October 7, and does not clarify why the number was adjusted.

The figure does not include four released hostages and an Israeli soldier who was rescued by the IDF, or the two civilians who have been held in Gaza for several years.

The Reuters news agency reported Friday that the US is flying surveillance drones over the Gaza Strip to help gather intelligence on the locations of the hostages, which are believed to include roughly 10 Americans.

The report came as Blinken landed in Israel for his third visit since the start of the war, where he met Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials before he was set to continue to an Arab summit in Jordan.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and his team meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second right) and members and observers in the war cabinet, at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Blinken aims to build support for humanitarian pauses in the fighting in Gaza, US officials told The Times of Israel, in what will likely be an uphill task.

The US, while aware that pauses may allow Hamas to regroup, believes that they would be necessary to help locate hostages and work for their release, as well as prevent a total humanitarian collapse in the enclave.

Before his departure, Blinken said he would be seeking “concrete steps” to minimize harm to Gaza civilians during his trip to the region, which includes a stop for a summit of Arab foreign ministers in Jordan.

An estimated 800,000 Palestinians have fled south from Gaza City and other northern areas following repeated Israeli calls to evacuate, but hundreds of thousands remain in the north, including many who left and later returned because Israel is also carrying out some airstrikes in the south.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said Thursday that more than 9,000 Palestinians have been killed since war broke out more than three weeks ago, including 3,760 children. Hamas figures cannot be independently confirmed, and the terror group has been accused of artificially inflating the death toll. The figures do not differentiate between terrorists and civilians nor between those killed in Israeli strikes and those killed by the hundreds of terror group rockets that have fallen short inside the Strip.

Israel declared war, with the aim of eradicating Hamas, following the terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught, in which some 1,400 people, mostly civilians, were brutally murdered in their homes and at a music festival, and hundreds more were abducted.

Twenty-eight days after Hamas terrorists carried out the rampage, plunging the region into war, Palestinian terror groups continued to fire rockets at southern Israel. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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