Hamas operatives holding hostages have ‘standing orders’ to kill them if they think IDF is coming — NYT

Screen capture from bodycam video during the rescue of hostages from Gaza on June 8, 2024. (Screen capture: IDF)
Screen capture from bodycam video during the rescue of hostages from Gaza on June 8, 2024. (Screen capture: IDF)

Hamas terrorist leaders have given “standing orders” to operatives who are holding hostages “that if they think Israeli forces are coming, the first thing they should do is shoot the captives,” Israeli officials tell the New York Times.

In a report two days after the IDF’s rescue of four hostages from Nuseirat in central Gaza, the newspaper writes that if other hostages were killed on Saturday, as Hamas has claimed, “it might have been at the hand of the militants, not because of an Israeli airstrike.” It also notes that the IDF has directly denied a Hamas claim that three hostages were killed by Israeli airstrikes.

The Times report also says that the US military has flown surveillance drones over Gaza to help in hostage-rescue efforts since almost immediately after the October 7 Hamas invasion and slaughter in southern Israel. “At least six MQ-9 Reapers controlled by Special Operations forces have been involved in flying missions to monitor for signs of life,” it reports, citing US officials.

British and US drones have provided information that Israeli drones do not collect, the Times reports, with the “sheer numbers of American aircraft” involved enabling more territory to be surveilled “more frequently and for longer periods of time.”

While Israel is using ground-based sensors to map out the vast Hamas tunnel network, something the drones cannot do, the drones’ infrared radar “can detect the heat signatures of fighters or other people going into or out of tunnel entrances on the surface,” the report says, citing officials.

Intelligence sharing between the US and Israel has expanded beyond hostage-recovery efforts, it cites current and former US officials saying. Overall, the US and the UK “are part of the largest intelligence effort ever conducted in Israel, and probably ever,” Avi Kalo, a lieutenant colonel in the IDF reserves tells the paper.

A “small group of hostages” are believed to be held near Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, serving as human shields and making it harder for Israel to target him, the Times reports.

Sinwar, it says, hid in tunnels below Rafah for a while, but is now “likely back under Khan Younis,” where there is a vast subterranean network, it says, citing US officials. “Neither the United States nor Israel has been able to fix his precise location,” it cites a US official saying.

“Early in the war, some intelligence officials believed most hostages were being held in tunnels,” the paper says. That may not have been the case, since “living underground has proved tough for Hamas commanders, and… keeping hostages in the apartments of supporters of the organization has turned out to be easier.”

In the wake of Saturday’s rescue operation, however, Hamas is expected to move more hostages into tunnels and potentially out of reach of commando forces, the paper says.

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