Hamas leader Sinwar said to narrowly evade capture by IDF two separate times

Military deploys additional brigade to Khan Younis, where Gaza terror leader is said to be hiding; troops declare operational control over northern neighborhood of Jabaliya

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters during a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/ Adel Hana/ File)
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters during a meeting with leaders of Palestinian factions at his office in Gaza City, April 13, 2022. (AP Photo/ Adel Hana/ File)

IDF troops have twice managed to reach tunnels in Gaza in recent days where they believe Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar was hiding just before they arrived, Hebrew media outlets reported Tuesday.

Citing unnamed sources, Channel 13 reported that the IDF has primarily focused its activities in and around the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis in order to achieve its goal of assassinating Sinwar.

The intelligence information gathered by the IDF while moving in on the Hamas leader has indicated that he is on the move rather than remaining in any one place for an extended period.

The report said that during the manhunt for Sinwar, troops uncovered a previous hiding space of Muhammad Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing.

Sinwar is currently believed to be hiding in Khan Younis, after fleeing the north of the Strip by hiding in a humanitarian convoy heading south early in the terror group’s war with Israel.

On December 6, the IDF was reported to have surrounded his home in Khan Younis despite there being no indication that he was residing there, as he is in hiding and owns multiple homes.

Sinwar was selected to replace Ismail Haniyeh as the leader of the terror group inside Gaza in 2017. Haniyeh currently resides in Qatar and serves as the chair of Hamas’s political bureau.

Sinwar was sentenced to four life sentences by Israel in 1989 for planning the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers and four Palestinians but was released 22 years later as part of the deal Israel made for the return of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

He has been accused of overseeing the preparations and planning for the October 7 onslaught, during which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists poured into Israel from the land, air and sea, killing more than 1,200 people and seizing some 240 hostages.

In response to the attack, the deadliest in the country’s history, Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas from Gaza and end their 16-year rule, and launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation.

Troops of the 7th Armored Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis, in a handout image published by the military on December 17, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

On Tuesday evening, IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the military had deployed an additional brigade to Khan Younis.

“In southern Gaza, in the Khan Younis area, we are expanding our operations, and deepening them. We added a full brigade and additional combat engineering forces for operations in the area, to improve our operations,” Hagari said.

On Hamas’s vast tunnel network and other infrastructure that the IDF is working to destroy, Hagari said, “We must dismantle Hamas, and it will take as long as needed.”

During a tour of the Gaza border on Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that Israel’s ground operation will soon “expand to additional areas” of Gaza, apparently referring to the Strip’s center or the southernmost city of Rafah, where Palestinians reported at least 28 people to have been killed in airstrikes earlier in the day on Tuesday.

“Khan Younis has become the new capital of terror. We will not let up in our action there until we get to the senior Hamas officials,” he said, according to a statement from his office.

Palestinians inspect the damage after an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, December 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

Meanwhile, the commander of the 162nd Division, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, said on Tuesday evening that forces have managed to “break the operational abilities” of Hamas’s northern Gaza City brigade, as troops gained full control of the Jabaliya neighborhood.

“Jabaliya is not the Jabaliya it used to be, we killed hundreds of terrorists in Jabaliya and arrested around 500 suspects in terror activities, some of whom took part in the events of October 7,” Cohen said.

According to military assessments, some 1,000 Hamas operatives have been killed by troops in Jabaliya. Another 3,500 Palestinians have been captured by the IDF, of whom at least 500 are suspected of being involved in terror, including the October 7 attacks on southern Israel.

At least 70 of the estimated 3,000 terrorists who carried out the October 7 attacks lived in Jabaliya, and so far 57 of their homes have been destroyed by the military.

The IDF said that some of the terror suspects who surrendered to troops in Jabaliya were holed up in civilian sites, including hospitals and schools.

Many Hamas sites, including training grounds, command centers, weapon production plants and tunnels, have been destroyed in Jabaliya, the military added.

The commander of the 162nd Division, Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen (center) walks with other officers in Gaza City’s Jabaliya, in a handout image published December 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The 162nd Division also located Hamas intelligence material during the operations in Jabaliya, which has helped further operations in the area.

Cohen said his division had “led to the dismantling of the military capabilities” of Hamas’s northern Gaza City brigade.

According to Palestinian sources, Israeli troops raided the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City overnight. The church that operates the hospital stated that the majority of the staff still working at the hospital were detained, and a wall at the front of the building was destroyed.

The hospital was the scene of an explosion early in the war that killed dozens of people and was determined to have been caused by a misfired Palestinian rocket.

Don Binder, a pastor at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral, which runs the hospital, said the overnight raid left just two doctors, four nurses and two janitors to tend to over 100 seriously wounded patients, with no running water or electricity.

He added that an Israeli tank was parked on the rubble at the hospital’s entrance, blocking anyone from entering or leaving.

Israel has long asserted that Hamas uses hospitals inside Gaza for military purposes, and since the start of the war, the IDF has operated inside hospitals in northern Gaza, producing evidence to back up its claims.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has said that since the start of the war, more than 19,600 people have been killed, most of them civilians.

These figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include some 7,000 Hamas or Hamas-affiliated terror operatives, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. Another estimated 1,000 terrorists were killed in Israel during the October 7 onslaught.

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