Hamas commander killed ahead of truce; Gallant: War will resume for at least 2 months

IDF to hold northern Gaza positions during pause in fighting; Nahal troops in Jabaliya find Hamas tunnel in mosque, rocket launchers next to homes; Shifa Hospital director detained

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops of the Navy's Shayetet 13 commando unit, November 23, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops of the Navy's Shayetet 13 commando unit, November 23, 2023. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday night it had killed the commander of Hamas’s naval forces in Khan Younis in an airstrike in the Gaza Strip, hours before the expected start of a temporary pause in the war amid a hostage release deal.

The army said Amar Abu Jalalah was killed along with another member of the Hamas naval forces. It said Jalalah was “a senior operative in Hamas’s naval forces and was involved in directing several terror attacks by sea that were thwarted.”

Ahead of the slated lull in fighting, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Thursday that once the “short” temporary truce with Hamas ends, the military campaign would resume “with intensity” for at least two more months.

“What you will see in the coming days is first the release of hostages. This respite will be short,” Gallant told troops of the Navy’s Shayetet 13 elite commando unit. “What is required of you in this respite is to organize, get ready, investigate, resupply arms, and get ready to continue.”

“There will be a continuation, because we need to complete the victory and create the impetus for the next groups of hostages, who will only come back as a result of pressure,” he added.

The hostage release deal, which was mediated by Qatar and the US, is set to begin Friday. It would see Hamas release at least 50 Israeli women and children it took hostage on October 7, over the course of four days, in exchange for a lull in the fighting during those four days and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for terror offenses, all of them women or minors.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi echoed Gallant’s comments earlier in the day, saying that the military is “not ending the war.”

“We are trying to connect the goals of the war, so that the pressure from the ground operation brings about the ability to also achieve the [other] goal of this war to create the conditions for the release of the abducted hostages,” Halevi told commanders during a visit to Gaza.

“We are not ending the war. We will continue until we are victorious, going forward and continuing in other Hamas areas,” he added.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks with troops in the Gaza Strip, November 21, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The comments came hours after a spokesperson for Qatar’s foreign ministry confirmed that the temporary truce between Israel and Hamas will go into effect Friday at 7 a.m. The first group of 13 Israeli hostages will be freed on Friday at 4 p.m.

During the temporary ceasefire, IDF troops will hold their positions inside the Gaza Strip, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari confirmed Thursday evening. “Taking control of northern Gaza is the first stage of a long war, and we’re preparing for the coming stages,” he said.

Hagari also warned that there may be unexpected developments amid the pause, and that Hamas will attempt to use “psychological terror” against the Israeli public.

Meanwhile Thursday, Nahal Brigade troops uncovered a Hamas tunnel inside a mosque and rocket launchers adjacent to homes during operations in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya camp. The IDF said that Nahal troops battled Hamas operatives on the outskirts of Jabaliya.

This image released by the IDF on November 23, 2023, shows a Hamas tunnel entrance inside a mosque in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya. (Israel Defense Forces)

In the area, the IDF said troops found six tunnel shafts, including one in a mosque. A number of rocket launchers and weapons were also found in an orchard next to the mosque and civilian sites, including homes.

Also in Jabaliya, soldiers from the 401st Brigade located four “significant” tunnels dug deep underground, as well as a stash of weapons hidden under the beds of a senior Hamas member’s kids and in closets.

The tunnels were connected to an electricity network, and the military confirmed that they were used by Hamas. One of them was found in a search of the home of another senior member of the terror group. At the home of the first official, in addition to weapons, troops located documents and battle plans, which were transferred to intelligence forces for examination.

The troops also found shafts used to launch rockets, alongside long-range rockets of the type used to target central Israel.

Also Thursday, the IDF released new footage of the elite Egoz unit operating in Gaza City’s Shati camp, showing targeted strikes along with captured Hamas hideouts and seized weapons and military equipment.

As IDF troops continued to battle Hamas gunmen across the Strip, the director of Shifa Hospital was detained on suspicion of enabling the hospital to be used by Hamas as an operations center. Several other senior hospital officials were also detained.

A joint statement issued by the IDF and Shin Bet said Mohammad Abu Salmiya had been arrested and was being interrogated on suspicion of enabling the hospital to be used by Hamas as an operations center.

The Israeli statement noted that “considerable evidence was revealed that the hospital, under his direct management, served as a headquarters of the terrorist organization Hamas,” adding that the terror group used many resources from the hospital, including electricity, to maintain a tunnel system under the facility.

An image grab from a file handout video released by the Hamas Media Office shows doctor Mohammad Abu Salmiya, director of Shifa hospital in Gaza City, giving a press briefing on November 1, 2023, regarding the repercussions of fuel shortages on the hospital. (AFP Photo/HO/Hamas Media Office)

Some 10 kilometers north of Shifa at the Indonesian Hospital, an official with the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said that Israel had ordered a complete evacuation.

Dr. Munir al-Boursh, an official inside the facility, told Al Jazeera television that hospital officials were trying to organize buses to evacuate some 200 patients, including older adults and children with burn injuries.

Fighting has raged outside the hospital for days, and hundreds of people have already been evacuated to the south.

Shifa Hospital has been a major focus of the Israeli operation against Hamas in Gaza, which was triggered on October 7 when some 3,000 terrorists stormed the border with Israel and unleashed an unprecedented attack on the country’s southern communities, killing at least 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and taking some 240 hostages.

Israeli soldiers stand outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, November 22, 2023. (AP/Victor R. Caivano)

In response, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from Gaza and end the group’s 15-year rule, launching an aerial campaign and subsequent ground offensive to meet its goal.

Since the start of the war, Israel has presented evidence to back up the long-standing allegations that Hamas is using Shifa as a major operational hub and command center. The US has corroborated the evidence presented by Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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