'What stands between them and collapse is an IDF decision'

Gallant: Hamas seeking to replace Sinwar, Khan Younis Brigade is defeated

Defense minister says no leadership on ground in Gaza, Hamas left with ‘marginal’ forces; troops at Nasser Hospital find vehicles used in Oct 7 attack, others looted from Israel

IDF troops operate at Nasser Hospital, in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published by the IDF on February 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)
IDF troops operate at Nasser Hospital, in southern Gaza's Khan Younis, in a handout image published by the IDF on February 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Hamas’s leadership abroad is looking to replace its Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar, as the terror group’s battalions in Khan Younis have been dismantled and an offensive in Rafah looms, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Sunday.

Security forces have yet to get their hands on Sinwar, or Hamas’s military commander Mohammad Deif and his deputy Marwan Issa. But Sinwar has reportedly been out of contact with the terror group’s leadership abroad since the end of January and his involvement in ongoing hostage negotiations is in question.

“Hamas does not trust its commanders — this is a very, very noticeable thing,” Gallant said following an assessment with the head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman.

“Hamas-Gaza is MIA, there is no one to talk to among leadership on the ground,” he said, alleging that Hamas leadership abroad was looking for new leaders in Gaza. “That means there is a tender [in Hamas] for who will run Gaza,” he said.

In Khan Younis, Gallant said some 200 terror suspects had surrendered to troops at Nasser Hospital, and dozens more at Al-Amal Hospital, which he argued indicated the loss of Hamas’s “fighting spirit.”

“People armed with RPGs, weapons, and guns came to the moment of truth and did not fight. This indicates something of their understanding of the power differential, that they understood their fate was to surrender or die — there is no third option,” he said.

Yahya Sinwar (C), Hamas’s Gaza Strip chief, waves to supporters in Gaza City, on April 14, 2023. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP / File)

Gallant said Hamas’s Khan Younis Brigade had been “defeated and does not function as a military entity in any way.”

“Hamas is left with marginal [forces] in the central camps and with the Rafah Brigade, and what stands between them and a complete collapse as a military system is a decision by the IDF,” he said.

“There is no one here to come to their aid, no Iranians, no international aid,” Gallant said, vowing that the army would dismantle the remaining six Hamas battalions — two in central Gaza and four in Rafah.

“We have no right to stop as long as there are 134 hostages” held by Hamas, he added.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) speaks with the head of IDF Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, at the unit’s HQ in Beersheba, February 18, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Also Sunday, the IDF said special forces operating at Nasser Hospital had located vehicles used by Hamas terrorists who participated in the October 7 onslaught, as well as Israeli-owned cars stolen during the massacre.

The operation at Nasser Hospital, which began Thursday, is being carried out by the Commando Brigade, Navy’s Shayetet 13, Shin Bet agents, and other special forces.

One of the stolen cars found at the medical center belonged to a Nir Oz resident, according to the IDF. In a Hamas vehicle, troops found several weapons, including grenades.

The IDF said some of the terror operatives detained at the hospital were dressed up as hospital staff. Other suspects who were holed up at the hospital included many who participated in the October 7 massacre and have links to the hostages held by the terror group, it said.

Troops also seized several firearms, explosive devices, and other military equipment belonging to terror operatives, the IDF said.

Also at Nasser Hospital, IDF troops found closed boxes of medications bearing the names of hostages.

The medications, which were reportedly delivered to Gaza in a secretive initiative coordinated by the families of some of the hostages, apparently did not reach their destinations.

The IDF released footage showing the medication with the names of the hostages, some of whom are still being held captive by Hamas.

The IDF asserted that its searches of the Nasser Hospital premises ensured that the medical center was able to continue its operations “without harming the patients and medical staff, and in accordance with the values ​​of the IDF and international law.”

This contrasted with a statement by the head of the World Health Organization, who said Sunday that Nasser Hospital “is not functional anymore,” during the raid.


Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a WHO team was not allowed to enter on Friday or Saturday to assess patients and medical needs. In a post on X, he said about 200 patients remain there, including 20 who need urgent referrals elsewhere.

It is not clear where the WHO tally is from, since its teams did not enter the hospital. Hamas said Saturday that 120 patients remain at the hospital.

Gaza health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra told Reuters that water supply to the hospital had halted because generators had been out of action for three days, sewage was flooding emergency rooms, and the remaining staff had no way of treating intensive care patients.

A lack of oxygen supplies — also a result of having no power — had caused the deaths of at least seven patients, he asserted.

While Gazans sheltering at the facility were told to evacuate ahead of the incursion, the IDF claims it has taken pains to keep the hospital functioning for patients, including transferring fuel and medical supplies to the facility.

Elsewhere in Khan Younis, the IDF said troops of the 98th Division raided several Hamas positions, killing gunmen and locating weapons in the process, the IDF said.

The division’s 7th Armored Brigade killed some 20 Hamas operatives with tank shelling and directed airstrikes on additional gunmen in western Khan Younis, according to the IDF.

A picture taken from Rafah shows smoke billowing over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment on February 18, 2024. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Another 15 Hamas operatives were killed and a weapons depot was destroyed in a series of airstrikes in the city, the IDF said.

In central Gaza, the IDF said the Nahal Brigade killed at least 10 Hamas operatives during the past day, including by calling in airstrikes.

According to local residents and Hamas media officials, Israeli planes carried out attacks on two areas in Rafah Sunday, including an empty building near the border with Egypt.

Strikes and fighting killed at least 10 people in Rafah and central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah overnight, said the official Palestinian news agency Wafa.

At the morgue of a Rafah hospital, mourners bent down to give a final kiss to a loved one wrapped in a white body bag.

“That’s my cousin — he was martyred in Al-Mawasi, in the ‘safe area,'” said Ahmad Mohammed Aburizq.

“And my mother was martyred the day before. There’s no safe place. Even the hospital is not safe.”

In the central Gaza town of Zawaida, people dug through rubble from a Saturday airstrike to search for bodies, including those of children. “Our message is to the Israeli government and the Hamas government present in Gaza: Please stop the war. Enough war,” said Samah al-Karnz, who lived near the building hit in the strike.

The war broke out on October 7, when Hamas carried out a devastating attack on southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 253 hostages.

Palestinians inspect the destruction in Rafah following an Israeli airstrike on February 18, 2024. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

In response, Israel launched a war with the aim of securing the release of the hostages and toppling Hamas from power in Gaza. The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Sunday that 28,985 people had been killed in the enclave since the start of the war.

These figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between Hamas members and civilians. They also include Palestinians killed as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed nearly 11,000 Hamas operatives in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

The war has caused a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, with most of the population displaced and at risk of starvation.

Over half of the Strip’s 2.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge in the southernmost city of Rafah — the last city in the enclave where the IDF ground forces seek to operate.

In response to international concern about what would happen to the people in Rafah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said residents will be evacuated before a ground offensive begins there, though it is unclear where they will be able to go.

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