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Herzog: Israel ready for pause in fighting Hamas to enable release of hostages

Israel’s president says responsibility lies “fully with Sinwar” • IDF identifies 1,500 tunnel shafts and underground passages in Gaza so far • Gazan hospital director confesses his facility was a Hamas terror headquarters.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog lights Chanukah candles at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, Dec. 14, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog lights Chanukah candles at “Hostage Square” in Tel Aviv, Dec. 14, 2023. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.

Israel is prepared to accept an additional pause in its battle against Hamas to enable the release of Israeli hostages in the Gaza Strip, Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday during a briefing to more than 80 ambassadors and diplomats.

He added that the responsibility for the situation “lies fully with [Hamas senior leader in Gaza Yahya] Sinwar and the leadership of Hamas.”

During the ceremony, diplomats received a briefing on the current situation from Col. Elad Goren, head of the Civil Department of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), who detailed the ongoing efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans.

“First and foremost, we must remember that there are dozens of humanitarian cases within the group of hostages, such as babies, the elderly, sick, wounded, and, of course, many women,” stated Herzog.

“It is really important for us to reiterate, we are not fighting the people of Gaza. They are not our enemies. We are fighting Hamas; they are the enemy. And in this respect, we are taking all possible humanitarian steps according to international humanitarian law,” he said.

“For the last two weeks, there was a failure by the United Nations, predominantly, and other partners in the inflow of trucks into Gaza—only about 125 or 100 trucks a day. You can triple the amount of trucks easily if there was only an effort by the United Nations and its partners. The world has to know that you could have had tens of thousands of tons a day more going into Gaza,” Herzog explained.

Also on Tuesday, Mossad director David Barnea reportedly met with CIA director Bill Burns and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Warsaw to discuss options for moving a new hostage-release deal forward.

‘Reaching all places that need to be reached’

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant visited the Gaza area on Tuesday with senior military commanders and stated that Israel’s operations are “very ordered—aerial strikes, artillery strikes, armored-forces maneuvers—reaching all of the places that need to be reached.”

He added that in northern Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces are focused on final mopping up operations and entering deep underground tunnels built by Hamas, which have seen IDF soldiers recover Hamas capabilities.

Gallant said in southern Gaza, Khan Yunis “has turned into the new terror capital.”

“We are working there, focusing the efforts,” he said. “The operation will pass through stages and continue until we reach our objectives. We will not let up from this place. We will bring the leaders of the murderous organization to where they belong, either the cemetery or prison.”

War Cabinet minister and former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz toured the south on Tuesday and stated: “While Hamas’s murderers continue to hide in tunnels until we get them, alive or dead, southern residents will return to the western Negev, and will be under broad protection.”

He added that “even when we pass into the next stage in combat, IDF soldiers will continue to operate deep in the Strip, until we reach all of our objectives … our operational plan has a long way ahead.”

IDF Fire Artillery Towards Gaza
An Israeli artillery unit fires shells towards the Gaza Strip from southern Israel on Dec. 19, 2023. Photo by Flash90.

 Also on Tuesday, the IDF said its elite Shaldag special force conducted operations within Hamas’s tunnel network.

“Underground warfare is a combat strategy used by the Hamas terrorist organization. Since the beginning of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip, IDF troops have identified about 1,500 tunnel shafts and underground passages belonging to Hamas. Most of these subterranean structures have been found beneath schools, hospitals, mosques, U.N. facilities and civilian institutions,” said the military.

Troops from the IDF’s 162 Division in the areas of Al-Atatra and Jabalia in northern Gaza located new weapons production sites and a storage facility containing a large stockpile of armaments, the military added. Soldiers located missiles, rockets and explosives inside a building.

“During the operation, the soldiers conducted targeted raids on the residences of terror operatives, where they located weapons, maps of significant tunnel routes and intelligence findings,” it said. “While scanning a building, a rocket lathe was discovered with hundreds of missiles and a truck intended for their transportation to launchers.”

‘They hide in hospitals … a safe place’

Meanwhile, the Shin Bet announced that Ahmad Kahalot, director of the Kamal Adwan Hospital in Jabalia in northern Gaza, admitted that Hamas turned hospitals into military facilities under their control.

In his confession, which was filmed and released to the public, Kahalot said: “I was recruited to Hamas in 2010 with the rank of brigadier general. There are employees in the hospital who are military operatives of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades—doctors, nurses, paramedics, clerks and staff members.”

Humanitarian Aid for Gaza
Trucks with Humanitarian aid arrive at the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on Dec. 18, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

He described how Hamas uses hospitals for military purposes—hiding its operatives, carrying out military activity, moving around Hamas members and even bringing a captured soldier to the hospital.

“They hide in hospitals because for them, a hospital is a safe place. They won’t be targeted when they are inside a hospital,” said Kahalot. ”I know 16 employees in the hospital—a doctor, nurse, paramedic, or clerks … who also have different positions in al-Qassam.”

“There are offices where the Hamas leader and two of the senior officials were. There’s a place where the soldier was,” he added, referring to the kidnapped soldier. “There’s a place for the interrogators, internal security and special security. All of them have private telephone lines inside the hospital.”

“They [Hamas] have a private ambulance, even its color and the way it’s painted are different, and it doesn’t have a license plate. They used it to transport the soldier [kidnapped] and transport bodies. … It didn’t assist us with transporting the injured,” he said. “I begged him to take someone to the Indonesian Hospital, take to Shifa [Hospital], but he refused. His mission is more important.”

“The leaders of Hamas are cowards,” said Kahalot. They left us in the field while they hide in secret places. … They have destroyed us.”

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