ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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After criticism, IDF pics show terror suspects fully clothed

Gallant: Hamas battalions once ‘considered invincible’ now ‘on verge of collapse’

IDF says 500 terror suspects held in past month, some took part in Oct. 7 slaughter; Kerem Shalom crossing to open to ease aid flow as clips show apparent theft, looting of goods

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with soldiers near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks with soldiers near the Gaza border, October 19, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Hamas battalions in the Jabaliya and Shejaiya neighborhoods in the northern Gaza Strip were on the verge of collapse Monday, said Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, amid ongoing heavy fighting in and around the terror stronghold of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, and rocket fire on central Israel during the day.

“We have encircled the last strongholds of Hamas in Jabaliya and Shejaiya, the battalions that were considered invincible, that prepared for years to fight us, are on the verge of being dismantled,” Gallant said at a press conference Monday.

He said hundreds of Hamas operatives had surrendered to Israeli troops in recent days, which “shows what is happening” to the terror group.

The military and the Shin Bet said Monday that forces have arrested more than 500 terror operatives in the Gaza Strip in the last month. They have been taken for questioning by the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate’s Unit 504 and the security agency.

According to the joint statement, more than 140 of the operatives were arrested since the ceasefire ended on December 1.

Palestinian suspects are detained by the IDF in the Gaza Strip, in a handout image published by the IDF on December 11, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Some of the operatives were arrested while hiding in civilian buildings, including schools and shelters for civilians, the IDF said, adding that some 350 are members of Hamas, and a further 120 are members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The photos issued by the IDF on Monday showed fully-clothed detainees, unlike other photos coming out of Gaza in recent days showing suspects stripped down to their underwear, sights that caused backlash.

On Sunday, both National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari criticized the dissemination of photographs showing arrested terror suspects after they were searched for explosives, and vowed to stop the circulation of such images.

Palestinian men surrender to troops in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya, on December 10, 2023. (Social media; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Speaking on Monday, Gallant said that among those arrested by the IDF were terrorists who participated in the October 7 shock terror onslaught on Israeli communities two months ago.

That Saturday morning, some 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages — mostly civilians — under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. Some 1,000 of those terrorists were killed by Israel on October 7 and the following days.

Those captured, said Gallant, “are telling us very interesting things,” apparently alluding to intelligence gleaned from those prisoners.

He encouraged terrorists to surrender. “Whoever surrenders — his life is spared.”

Gallant also threatened Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the October 7 onslaught, saying his fate and that of “any other senior commander in Hamas, and the fate of the [low-ranking] terrorist is the same: surrender or die. There is no third option.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi (L) and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar hold an assessment with senior officers in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, December 11, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Earlier Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar held an assessment in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, as the military pressed on with its ground offensive.

In a video published by the IDF, Halevi said: “We are deepening the achievement in the north of the Gaza Strip, in the south and beneath the ground,” referring to Hamas’s tunnel network in the Strip.

In one instance of Hamas’s use of its tunnel network, reservists from the Jerusalem Brigade foiled an attempted attack on their encampment in Gaza last week, the IDF announced Monday.

Forces of the Jerusalem Brigade’s 9207th Battalion received an intelligence alert of a planned attack by Hamas last Sunday night, the IDF said. The troops cleared their encampment and entered a state of readiness for the expected Hamas attack.

The Air Force then carried out strikes in the area while the ground troops opened fire at the Hamas gunmen who came out of a tunnel. According to the army, amid the gun battle and strikes, an explosive device detonated inside the Hamas tunnel shaft, leading to several secondary blasts.

The IDF later destroyed the tunnel entrance used to carry out the attempted attack, as well as other tunnel infrastructure found in the area.

Also Monday in northern Gaza, Nahal Infantry Brigade troops discovered a Hamas training site inside a mosque in northern Gaza’s Jabaliya.

Footage published by the IDF showed an officer giving a tour of the mosque, revealing on the third floor a room used by Hamas for combat simulation, along with a machine gun, an RPG launcher, a computer and a projector. The IDF said it found equipment used to make explosive devices in an adjacent room.

As international pressure for a ceasefire in Gaza mounts, Gallant added in his comments that the war against Hamas will end once Israel has achieved its goals.

“I take into consideration everything the US asks and says, and take seriously, along with all the members of the cabinet, what America is doing,” Gallant said in response to a question. “We will find a way to help the Americans help us.”

Gallant’s comments echoed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said Saturday that Israel, not the US, will decide when to end the war in Gaza.

“These are decisions for Israel to make,” Blinken told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Humanitarian aid in Gaza

Israel has been facing heightened criticism for the humanitarian situation and mounting Palestinian death toll in Gaza. Over 18,200 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in the Strip, though those figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include both civilians and terrorists, as well as Palestinians killed by rockets fired from Gaza that fall short.

According to the UN, more than 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents have been displaced since the start of the war, some of them more than once.

While Israel has urged people to seek refuge in the south, there are few safe places for civilians to go as the war continues to expand.

In an effort to ease the crisis, the IDF and COGAT, the military’s liaison to the Palestinians, announced Monday that the Kerem Shalom Crossing would open Tuesday for the examination of aid entering the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Until now, aid trucks entering Gaza have been examined by Israeli authorities at the more southern Nitzana Crossing between Israel and Egypt, causing delays in the entry of food, water, and medical supplies to the Strip.

Israel has accused the United Nations of not doing enough to process humanitarian aid into Gaza and charged that the world body is responsible for supplies not reaching the Strip at a fast enough pace.

Kerem Shalom will be used to examine the aid trucks in addition to Nitzana, to speed up the process, Israel announced.

No aid will enter Gaza directly from Israel. Rather, all the trucks will be examined in Israel at Kerem Shalom and Nitzana, and then make their way to Egypt’s Rafah border crossing to enter the Palestinian enclave.

Videos from Gaza circulating on social media Monday showed fights breaking out over the limited humanitarian aid entering the territory.

One clip showed an armed gunman atop a truck, as civilians rushed to grab supplies left in the street. Some media reports claimed Hamas stole the truck.

Another video showed residents looting a truck as it moved to its destination.

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