IDF knows where Hamas leader is, but won’t strike at him because of hostages – reports

Multiple sources say Israel has identified Yahya Sinwar’s hiding place, but his use of Israeli human shields is keeping military from attacking

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
Yahya Sinwar, head of Hamas in Gaza, greets his supporters upon his arrival at a meeting in a hall on the sea side of Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

Israel appears to know the exact location of Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar, the ruler of the Gaza Strip and the mastermind of the October 7 terror attacks, according to multiple reports.

However, Sinwar has surrounded himself with a large number of living Israeli hostages, which is preventing the Israel Defense Forces from carrying out a strike on him, Israel Hayom reported Monday.

It followed a similar statement on Kan public radio on Sunday by former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin.

Jonathan Schanzer, vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC, tweeted that he had heard similar reports from “informed people” for weeks.

“The reports coming out of Israel over the last two days echo what I have heard for a few weeks,” he told The Times of Israel. “Namely, the Israelis have a good idea where Yahya Sinwar is hiding.”

“My assumption, although not confirmed, is that he is in the tunnels under Khan Younis,” Schanzer continued. “But what I heard specifically is that he had surrounded himself with Israeli hostages. He is using them as human shields.”

The IDF did not respond to requests for comment.

Sinwar reportedly spoke to hostages in nearly unaccented Hebrew in a bid to reassure them shortly after they were dragged into Gaza during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

Hundreds of shoes on the Tel Aviv boardwalk to make people think about what it’s like to be in the hostages’ proverbial shoes, including brothers, Yossi and Eli Sharabi, taken hostage on October 7, 2023 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

“Hello, I am Yahya Sinwar. You are the most protected here. Nothing will happen to you,” Sinwar told the group, according to Channel 12. A hostage who was present recounted the incident to family and also briefed security officials, who confirmed the story, the report said.

One of the hostages, Yocheved Lifshitz, 85, who was released from Hamas captivity in October, revealed in an interview that she met Sinwar during her time held in Gaza — and was not afraid to tell him what she thought.

“Sinwar was with us three-four days after we got there,” Lifshitz told the Davar news outlet. “I asked him how he wasn’t ashamed, to do such a thing to people who for years support peace? He didn’t answer. He was quiet.”

In recent weeks, the IDF demolished a hideout apartment belonging to Sinwar in the north of Gaza along with a large tunnel system underneath it.

The IDF regularly claims to be closing in on Sinwar but the terror chief has not been captured, robbing Israel of a major morale-boosting operational achievement.

In December, Sinwar released his first public message since October 7, claiming that the terror group was on its way to crushing the IDF, and, in a reference to Israel, saying Hamas will not submit to “the occupation’s conditions.”

Israeli soldiers are seen in a tunnel that the military says Hamas terrorists used to attack the Erez crossing in the northern Gaza Strip, December 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Sinwar falsely claimed that the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, had “targeted” over 5,000 Israeli soldiers and officers, and killed about third of them — that is, over 1,500.

Israel declared Hamas’s leaders “dead men walking” following Hamas’s October 7 massacre, but has yet to reach the terror group’s most senior officials in Gaza, who are believed to be sheltering inside the vast network of tunnels in the enclave while holding hostages alongside them.

Israel is believed to be behind the killing of Hamas terror chief Saleh al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital of Beirut last week, which would make him the most senior leader in the terror group to be killed by Israel in the ongoing war.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 23 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Over 240 hostages were taken on October 7, when Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border and rampaged across southern communities, killing some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

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