Update(1730ET): Amid the expanding ground operation which has seen Israeli tanks positioned outside of Gaza City and heavy firefights with Hamas militants erupt, Axios has revealed that the head of Mossad, David Barnea, made a secretive weekend trip to Qatar where he met with senior Qatari officials as part of mediation efforts to secure the release of Israeli and foreign hostages.
According to the latest update, over 235 are in Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) captivity, and Qatar remains the chief third party communicating with both Tel Aviv and Hamas. But Israeli officials have described that the ground offensive was launched after it became clear that the talks had born no fruit. Barnea was in Doha as the ground invasion kicked off and progressed. According to the Israeli side's conclusions reached as a result of the meetings, per Axios:
- Israel made the decision [to invade] in part because Hamas refused to give Israel via Qatar a list of names of all the hostages it is holding, the officials said.
- Hamas told the Qatari officials it is still in the process of finding out where all the hostages are located and their identities. But the feeling in Jerusalem was that this was just a tactic to buy time and prevent an Israeli ground operation, the Israeli officials said.
On Monday the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) made the unexpected announcement that one hostage, a military member who had been taken on Oct.7, has been rescued alive from the battlefield...
She is home.— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 30, 2023
PVT Megidish was abducted by Hamas on October 7. Tonight, she was rescued during ground operations.
Ori is now home with her family. pic.twitter.com/SZsqpvPQux
But also on Monday, Hamas released a new hostage video featuring three women. They've been identified by Israeali sources as Yelena Tropenov, Daniel Aloni and Rimon Kirsht. Netanyahu has denounced this as an example of "cruel Hamas-ISIS psychological warfare" - and Axios has detailed of the video:
- Aloni, who speaks in the video, blames Netanyahu for abandoning them when the attack happened and after they were taken hostage.
- "Free us now. Release their civilians. Release their prisoners. Release us now," Aloni yells in the Hamas video.
New released video of Israeli hostages. pic.twitter.com/HbvmglYNE0— Mohammed El-Kurd (@m7mdkurd) October 30, 2023
The White House has meanwhile reiterated Monday that "We do not believe that a ceasefire is the right answer right now," according to National Security Council spokesman John Kirby. "We do not support a ceasefire at this time."
And the US has also signaled it is winding down chartered evacuation flights of American citizens from Israel:
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller says Washington will cease operating charter flights for civilians looking to flee Israel during the war due to a lack of demand.
“We have consistently seen the demand for our charter flights go down to where we’ve had a lot of flights going out with 50% capability,” Miller says. “I think that the number of seats that we have offered, we’ve had something like 25% of them actually be filled.”
* * *
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says it has killed dozens of Hamas militants, among them commanders, as it pushes deeper into Gaza, with tanks being seen Monday on the outskirts of Gaza City, blocking a key road linking the northern and southern halves of the Strip.
Hamas has also announced it is engaged in "heavy fighting… with the invading occupation force", after the IDF confirmed more Israeli troops have been surged into the Strip. It appears the warring sides are in some locales engaged in building-to-building and door-to-door fighting in the dense urban zone.
"Overnight, troops eliminated dozens of terrorists who barricaded themselves in the buildings and tried to attack the forces that were moving in their direction," IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said. "We are carrying out an expanded ground operation into the Strip… forces are moving towards the terrorists, the terrorists are barricading themselves in staging grounds, and we are attacking them from the air."
Israel is signaling its intent to encircle Gaza City with tank and ground units - a significant challenge given its size of 18 square miles with a pre-conflict population of over 650,000 people. In total some 1.1 million people live in the northern half of the Strip.
Recent reports have estimated that hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have defied Israel's order to flee south. By Saturday the IDF had utilized open spaces like the beach to quickly allow tank units to plunge two miles deep into the Strip.
IDF has been publishing brief clips of forces operating in Gaza:
צה"ל המשיך במהלך הלילה בהרחבת הפעילות הקרקעית ברצועת עזה.— דובר צה״ל דניאל הגרי - Daniel Hagari (@IDFSpokesperson) October 30, 2023
בהיתקלויות עם מחבלים ברצועת עזה, חיסלו לוחמי צה"ל עשרות מחבלים אשר התבצרו במבנים וניסו לפגוע בכוחות. במהלך אחד מהאירועים, כלי טיס בהכוונת הלוחמים בשטח תקף מבנה כינוס של ארגון הטרור חמאס ובו מעל ל-20 מחבלים >> pic.twitter.com/IlGkMyoiSG
Gazans have told Al Jazeera that they are receiving emergency phone calls at their residences (after communications were switched back on this weekend) with messages like the following: "This is the Israeli army, we are telling you to evacuate south because in the coming hours it is going to be very dangerous in the area where you are at."
At this point amid the fog of war as well as the desire of each side present that they have the battlefield edge, it's not expected that military casualty rates will be published, but the Israeli media has cited a series of IDF statements to compile the following accounts:
- In one incident, ground troops directed the Air Force to carry out a drone strike on a Hamas staging ground, killing more than 20 terrorists, according to the IDF.
- In another incident, the IDF said a fighter jet struck an anti-tank guided missile launch position and a number of Hamas operatives who were identified by ground troops near Al-Azhar University in Gaza City.
- Later Monday, the IDF said troops encountered a number of Hamas cells attempting to attack them during the morning hours. Ground forces directed air force combat helicopters and drones to strike the terror cells and kill their members.
- Forces also demolished anti-tank guided missile and rocket launch positions, as well as other infrastructure belonging to Hamas, the IDF said.
As for Israeli forces having reportedly gained control of a key road that runs north-south, AFP has also cited eyewitnesses who say "They have cut the Salah al-Din road and are firing at any vehicle that tries to go along it."
Palestinian photojournalist Youssef Al Saifi exclaimed in the below video that "they are shooting at a whole family":
🚨 JUST IN: Israeli Forces Block Key Gaza North-to-South Road, Raising Speculation of an Advance on Gaza City— Mario Nawfal (@MarioNawfal) October 30, 2023
- An Israeli tank and armored vehicle reported having cut Salah-al-Din road near Gaza City, with speculation of an advance on the territory's largest city.
- A video… pic.twitter.com/SfoQuzY0JP
Additionally Hamas has claimed to have stalled the IDF's advance deeper into Gaza City:
Later on Monday, Salama Maarouf, the head of the Hamas government office in Gaza, said the Israeli tanks had retreated from the outskirts of Gaza City.
"There’s absolutely no ground advance inside the residential neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip. What happened on Salah al-Din Street was the incursion of a few occupation army tanks and a bulldozer,” Maarouf said in a statement.
The Hamas official then asserted, "These vehicles targeted two civilian cars on Salah al-Din Street and bulldozed the street before the resistance forced them to retreat. There is currently no presence of occupation army vehicles on Salah al-Din Road, and citizen movement has returned to normal on the road."
Now with the death toll in Gaza having far surpassed 8,000 - with an estimated half of these women and children - Israel is facing growing international pressure and condemnation, including from some European countries, as we detailed Sunday. Statements of PM Netanyahu and his top officials essentially declaring a scorched earth campaign over the densely populated land have drawn rebuke from some corners of Europe, but receive scant mention in US mainstream media...
Netanyahu declaring invasion: "You must remember what Amalek has done to you, says our Holy Bible"— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) October 28, 2023
1 Samuel 15:3
"Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" pic.twitter.com/5QF9PkGhjJ
Meanwhile, the Israeli military's Chief of the General Staff, LTG Herzi Halevi, has defined the mission as follows: "The IDF is focused right now on one thing—victory and dismantling Hamas." But the question of the fate of millions of Palestinian civilians across the West Bank and Gaza hangs in the balance, with Palestinian leaders and their supporters expressing alarm over Netanyahu's "smite the Amalek" reference.
Israel has been seeking retaliation for the Oct.7 Hamas terror raids into southern Israel, which killed over 1,400 Israelis and foreigners, and resulted in at least 220 hostages still held captive somewhere in the Strip. But more tragic news has emerged concerning one one woman who had been taken from the Nova music festival, and who had been seen half-naked in the back of a pick-up truck, possibly deceased or at least badly wounded:
Shani Louk, a German-Israeli woman kidnapped by Hamas gunmen during the October 7 attack and taken to Gaza, has been found dead, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.
"We are devastated to share that the body of 23 year old German-Israeli Shani (Louk) was found and identified," the ministry posted on X, formerly Twitter, on Monday.
The images, including graphic video, of what appeared her lifeless body underneath several smiling Hamas militants in the bed of a pick-up truck was among the first to go viral on Oct.7 - and underscores the utter brutality and mercilessness of the Hamas terror raid.