MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 21 NOVEMBER 2023
Hostage talks progress as heavy fighting grips Gaza; three Hamas commanders killed – Israeli military
Israeli forces were engaged in heavy fighting with Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip overnight which erupted around the Indonesian Hospital as the US said it was optimistic about a deal to free hostages.
The Israeli military and Shin Bet, the country’s domestic security service, said they killed three Hamas commanders, while fighter jets bombed more buildings and sites used by Hamas.
The main thrust of Israel’s ground offensive is eastwards into Gaza City, which the military describes as Hamas’ “centre of gravity”. Israeli forces have taken control of many parts of the city’s al-Shifa Hospital and over the weekend showed videos they said prove Hamas exploited the facility, building a command centre and tunnels underneath it.
- China hosts Middle East diplomats to discuss Israel-Hamas war
- Israeli vessel’s capture reignites fears over Middle East shipping
- Release of Hamas hostages is closer, says Biden aide
Release of some hostages is closer, says Biden
US President Joe Biden said on Monday that Israel and Hamas were closing in on a deal to free a group of hostages.
“I believe so,” Biden said when asked if a deal was near. He said he wasn’t prepared to offer details.
US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said in an interview on Sunday with NBC that the parties were “closer than we have been in quite some time, maybe closer than we have been since the beginning of this process, to getting this deal done”.
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, is engaged in the talks and has agreed in principle for more than 50 women and children to be released, Axios reported. In return, Israel would pause its military attacks for a specified time each day and release some Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Qatar, which hosts some of Hamas’s political leaders, is helping broker the talks.
Israeli military turns attention to south
While Israel has concentrated its airstrikes and ground assault on northern Gaza, it is now turning its attention to the south, signalling the possibility of sending troops there. In recent days, it dropped leaflets on Khan Younis, telling residents to leave the southern city.
“We’re approaching the end of our campaign in northern Gaza to root out Hamas infrastructure and will turn to the rest of the Gaza Strip,” Israeli government spokesperson Eylon Levy told Bloomberg Radio on Monday.
Israel has urged civilians to evacuate to southern Gaza since the beginning of the war. The conflict erupted on 7 October when Hamas swarmed southern Israel from Gaza, killing around 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage. Israel’s retaliatory attacks have led to more than 13,000 deaths, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Palestinian enclave.
China hosts Middle East delegates to discuss Israel-Hamas war
An Arab delegation headed by Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat visited China on Monday and met Foreign Minister Wang Yi. They called for de-escalation in Gaza to end the “catastrophe” there.
Israeli vessel’s capture reignites fears over Middle East shipping
The seizing of an Israeli-owned ship in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in retaliation for the war in Gaza has raised fears of more widespread disruption in one of the world’s busiest shipping routes.
The Galaxy Leader, beneficially owned by a unit of Israeli businessman Rami Ungar’s Ray Shipping Group, was taken in the southern part of the Red Sea on Sunday. A spokesperson for the Houthis said Israeli ships would continue to be targeted until the military operation against Hamas ends.
Ships have often been caught up in the tensions between various groups in the Middle East, at times disrupting flows of energy and other goods. The Houthis have regularly claimed attacks in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Oman. They have also targeted sites in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia with drones and missiles — including in 2019 when they briefly knocked out half the kingdom’s oil production.
But the oil market on Monday shrugged off the latest seizure of the ship that’s used to transport vehicles as traders focused on a key Opec meeting this weekend. Natural gas in Europe rose initially but gave up some of the gains.
The Houthis said on Sunday they had taken the vessel to the Yemeni coast. Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen KK, which had chartered the ship, said it was unaware of the current location of the vessel, which has a crew of 25 and is carrying no cargo.
Iran denied any role in the seizure, with Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani saying resistance groups in the Middle East make and implement their own decisions based on their own interests.
Israel military says video shows tunnel under hospital
Israel released a video it says proves its assertion of a Hamas tunnel beneath Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital, which the military raided last week amid broad international criticism. The footage shows a shaft to a fortified tunnel that the military said is 10m deep and 55m long leading to a blast-proof door.
Hamas chief ‘returns to hostage talks’
Hamas’ leader, Yahya Sinwar, had re-engaged in talks on a hostage release, Axios reported. He had agreed in principle to increase the number of women and children to be freed to more than 50, Axios said, citing three unnamed sources. In return, Sinwar wants the release of all Palestinian women and children in Israeli prisons and a six-hour daily halt in Israeli aerial surveillance of Gaza during a pause in fighting.
Axios quoted two sources as saying that Qatari mediators had narrowed the differences but not enough for a deal.
Hostage was killed in al-Shifa Hospital complex, says Israel
An Israeli hostage, whose body was recovered a few days ago in Gaza, was taken alive by Hamas to al-Shifa Hospital and killed there, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Daniel Hagari said at a press briefing.
Hagari also presented camera footage that showed that two non-Israeli hostages, a Nepali and a Thai, were taken to al-Shifa Hospital by gunmen on 7 October. An additional photograph showed that an Israeli military vehicle that was stolen during the attack was taken to the hospital.
“These findings add to previous evidence presented regarding Hamas’ use of the hospital area as infrastructure for its terrorist activities in a systematic and ongoing manner,” the IDF said.
Palestinian death toll rises above 13,000, says Hamas
The Palestinian death toll in Gaza had on Monday surpassed 13,000, the Hamas-run government media office said.
More than 5,500 children were among the dead and more than 6,000 people were reported missing or trapped under rubble. Injuries exceeded 30,000.
Israel ‘arrests more than 100 Hamas operatives’ in Gaza
Israeli troops had arrested more than 100 Hamas operatives in Gaza and transferred them to Israel for questioning, the military said, adding that the operatives disclosed the locations of underground tunnels, storage compounds and weaponry, as well as operating methods used by the organisation. DM