IDF thwarts drone attacks from both Gaza, Lebanon

Israel steps up strikes on Hamas targets as 222 confirmed being held hostage in Gaza

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis arrives in Israel on solidarity visit; Dutch and French leaders expected later in day; US said calling for delay in ground offensive

Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, October 23, 2023. (Ariel Schalit/AP)
Rockets are fired toward Israel from the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, October 23, 2023. (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Israeli forces continued to strike Hamas positions across the Gaza Strip on Monday as the military confirmed that it had so far notified the families of 222 hostages that their loved ones are being held by terror groups in the enclave.

The Israel Defense Forces said it struck some 320 targets belonging to the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups in the Gaza Strip over the past day.

As the IDF prepares for a ground offensive in Gaza, the military said the strikes are focusing on sites that could potentially endanger its forces.

Overnight, the military said, the air force struck tunnels where Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives were hiding, military sites, observation positions, and mortar and anti-tank guided missile positions.

Additionally, the IDF said infantry, artillery, and tank forces struck a number of Hamas terror cells in Gaza, including one planning to carry out a missile attack on the border.

Also Monday, a barrage of rockets was fired from Gaza at the Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and a number of Gaza border communities, ending a lull of some 14 hours. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On Monday afternoon, drones from both Gaza and Lebanon were shot down in Israeli airspace. The IDF said that the Iron Dome air defense system shot down a drone that entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon via the sea, intercepting over Ein Hamifratz, south of Acre.

Around the same time, the IDF said it “thwarted” two drones launched from the Gaza Strip. The IDF said the drones entered Israeli airspace, setting off sirens in the southern communities of Nir Oz and Ein HaBesor. Hamas had claimed to have launched two “suicide drones” at two IDF positions in the south.

On Monday evening, the IDF confirmed that it had killed the head of Hamas’s anti-tank guided missile array in northern Gaza, Ibrahim al-Sakher, in an airstrike that worning.

The IDF said al-Sakher was responsible for the missile attack that killed Staff Sgt. Omer Tabib during the May 2021 war, as well as for “planning and directing multiple anti-tank guided missile attacks toward Israeli territory and specifically against IDF soldiers.”

The IDF added that in recent days it has killed five commanders in Hamas’s aerial forces in strikes in the Gaza.

The Hamas aerial array, according to the IDF, is responsible for air defenses in the Strip, and also took “a significant part” in the October 7 massacres in southern Israel. On October 14, the IDF announced that it had killed the head of Hamas’s aerial array, Murad Abu Murad. In the last few days, the IDF said it has killed four more commanders in the aerial array.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said that the number of confirmed hostages has risen to 222. He said that the number includes a not-insignificant number of foreign nationals and that it has taken time for them to be identified and for their families to be notified.

The number does not include Judith Raanan and her daughter Natalie, who were released by Hamas on Friday night.

When asked whether the ground operation is being delayed to allow more time for attempts to secure the release of further hostages, Hagari said, “We are working in all ways to free the hostages and bring them home.”

Israel supporters show placards with the faces and names of people believed to be taken hostage and held in Gaza, during a protest in Trafalgar Square, London, Oct. 22, 2023 (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

His comments come after reports that the White House wants Israel to delay its ground operation in the Gaza Strip to allow more time for negotiations to release the hostage and for aid to enter the Palestinian enclave.

The Sunday report in The New York Times, which cited several unnamed US officials, said the Biden administration also wants to increase preparedness for any potential attacks on US targets in the region from Iran-based groups, which it believes are likely to increase as the war goes on.

Officials said that the US is not asking Israel to abort the ground invasion but is advising it to wait, and that Washington still fully supports Israel’s aim to destroy Hamas in the wake of the deadly onslaught.

Photographs of people killed, missing or abducted in the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7 are displayed on empty seats in an exhibit held under the motto “UNITED AGAINST TERRORISM” in the Smolarz Auditorium at Tel Aviv University, October 22, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Israel on Monday continued to receive solidarity visits from allies.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis landed in Israel to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and French President Emmanuel Macron were also expected to arrive later in the day for meetings with Netanyahu.

Haredi men who decided to join the military amid the war between Israel and Hamas, at the IDF recruiting offices in Tel Hashomer, near Tel Aviv, October 23, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

War between Israel and Hamas began on October 7 when the terror group abruptly launched a ground, air, and sea assault on the Jewish state. Under the cover of a barrage of thousands of rockets fired at towns and cities across the country, over 2,500 gunmen crossed the border and rampaged murderously through southern areas. They slaughtered over 1,400 people — the vast majority of them civilians, of all ages.

Some 200,000 Israelis have been displaced from both the south and the north, which has also come under barrages from the Lebanon-based Hezbollah terror group.

Hagari said Monday that the military has carried out strikes to eliminate 20 Hezbollah cells in southern Lebanon since the start of the war.

Israel has responded with intensive strikes on Hamas targets while vowing to destroy the terror group and remove it from power in Gaza, where it has ruled since 2007. Gaza civilians residing in the north of the Strip have been told to evacuate, and the IDF has massed troops ahead of an expected ground incursion.

Israel repeated its calls for people to leave northern Gaza, including by dropping leaflets from the air. It estimated 700,000 have already fled. But hundreds of thousands remain and Hamas has urged them to stay.

Men fill plastic jerricans with portable water in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip on October 23, 2023 (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Palestinian and international aid workers claim that the humanitarian situation in the Strip is deteriorating. The Israeli military said the humanitarian situation was “under control,” even as the UN called for the entry of 100 trucks a day.

On Saturday, 20 trucks entered Gaza in the first aid shipment into the territory since Israel imposed a complete siege at the start of the war. A second convoy of 15 trucks was allowed into Gaza on Sunday and a third convoy on Monday. All entered from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, the only way into Gaza not controlled by Israel.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs, said the aid was allowed in at the request of the United States, and included water, food and medical supplies. It said Israel inspected everything before it entered Gaza.

Israel has ruled out allowing fuel in and warned that shipments would stop if their contents were allowed to reach Hamas.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said that more than 4,600 people in Gaza have been killed since the start of the war. The numbers can’t be verified and include those killed in a blast at a hospital, which Hamas blamed on Israel, but which Israel, several Western governments, and the AP, said appeared to have been caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket falling on the hospital parking lot.

Israel says more than 550 rockets fired by terror groups at Israel have landed inside the Strip.

Additionally, Israel said it had killed some 1,500 of the terrorists who infiltrated Israel on October 7.

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