IDF troops in operation protective edge 2023. (Israel Defense Forces), via WikiMedia

Latest developments

  • Israel continues intensive ground and air attacks on Hamas fighters and infrastructure, including its tunnels. The main focus of operations is the southern city of Khan Younis, with the IDF continuing to give instructions to Gazan citizens to evacuate the areas of its operations within the city. Fighting continues in the northern Gaza Strip including Jabaliya, where resistance has reportedly diminished somewhat, and Shajaiya, where fighting remains intense. Israel miliary fatalities in the ground invasion now exceed 100, with eight soldiers killed in the fighting on 12 December. The IDF reports increasing number of Hamas fighters surrendering. IDF soldiers are dealing with extensive Hamas preparations which include booby-trapped homes and large caches of arms. Firing of rockets into Israel continues.
  • There are reports that the IDF has begun to use a tactic of flooding tunnels with seawater.
  • There are unconfirmed reports that Israel may be seeking to restart negotiations via Egypt and Qatar for the release of hostages and another humanitarian pause, with a priority on the release of the remaining women and children, as well as the sick and elderly.
  • The IDF has announced that it believes 19 of the 135 Israelis taken into the Gaza Strip are dead. The IDF announced on 12 December that it had recovered the bodies of two hostages, civilian Eden Zacharia and IDF warrant officer Ziv Dado, while on 14 December the bodies of two more, Cpl Nik Biezer and Sgt Ron Sherman, both 19, were  recovered.

Humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip

  • In an attempt to expand the quantities of humanitarian aid entering Gaza, Israel opened on 12 December its Kerem Shalom crossing with the Gaza Strip for inspection of trucks that will then enter via Egypt’s Rafah crossing. Inspection is also taking place at the Nitzana crossing between Israel and Egypt. This brought a substantial increase in material entering the Gaza Strip on 12 December with 195 trucks of aid in addition to 129,000 litres of fuel and 45,020 kilos of gas for essential infrastructure. The IDF insists it is committed to increasing volumes and has announced localised pauses to enable movement of aid. Equipment for Jordanian and UAE field hospitals have also entered, along with bathroom stalls for aid shelters. French and Italian ships are treating wounded Gazans evacuated via Egypt, and three additional field hospitals are in preparation. The expansion of aid and fuel is despite clear indications that some of it is taken by Hamas.
  • UNRWA estimates 1.9m people, or 85% of the Gazan population, are internally displaced. UN agencies report the spread of infectious diseases and hunger and are calling for Kerem Shalom to be opened fully for the entry of aid and commercial goods.
  • Hamas authorities in Gaza claim that more than 18,787 Gazans have died since the start of the operation, with 70% of them children and women. These figures cannot be independently verified, and include both civilians and Hamas members killed, and those killed by misfiring rockets from within the Gaza Strip. The IDF said on Sunday 10 December that about 7,000 terrorists had been killed in the two northernmost governorates of Gaza.

West Bank and East Jerusalem

  • Violence is continuing in the West Bank, with US agencies reporting five Palestinians killed in an IDF raid in Jenin on Tuesday which included a drone attack that targeted members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
  • The Israeli cabinet has been deliberating on lifting restrictions on West Bank Palestinians entering Israel to work. The security and defence establishments support the move that they argue will reduce tensions, but there is opposition from the far right parties in the coalition. Prior to October 7, approximately 140,000 West Bank Palestinians had permits to enter Israel to work.
  • Since 7 October some 282 Palestinians have reportedly died in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, primarily in clashes resulting from raids by IDF forces to arrest suspects associated with Hamas or other armed groups, or clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian rioters. There are also ongoing Palestinian attacks on soldiers and civilians, and acts of violence by extremist settlers. Since October 7, Israeli troops have arrested large numbers of wanted Palestinians across the West Bank.

Northern border and Red Sea

  • Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups in southern Lebanon continue to fire daily at northern Israel, with Israel targeting Hezbollah launch sites and infrastructure in response. On Tuesday, Israel also identified three launches from Syria.
  • Israel is calling for Hezbollah forces to be pushed back from the border to north of the Litani river in line with UN Security Council resolution 1701, with Defence Minister Yoav Galant threatening that Israel will achieve this by force if it cannot be achieved diplomatically. Approximately one hundred thousand of Israelis have been evacuated from their homes in northern Israel.
  • Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to attack shipping in the Red Sea. They attacked a Norwegian fuel tanker on Tuesday that they said was delivering fuel to Israel. A French warship intercepted two drones heading towards it on Sunday.

International diplomatic picture

  • In remarks on Tuesday, President Biden criticised the nature of Netanyahu’s coalition saying, “I think he has to change and — with this government.  This government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move.” He also stressed the need to return to the two-state solution, and criticised Palestinian governance. Biden warned that Israel was losing international support because of “the indiscriminate bombing that takes place,” whilst reiterating, his commitment ensure Israel has what “they need to defend themselves and to finish the job against Hamas.” The IDF insists that it does distinguish between combatants and civilians. Biden said there was still desire in the region to develop the India–Middle East–Europe corridor announced in September, but he stressed, “we have to make sure that Bibi understands that he’s got to make some moves to strengthen the [PA].”
  • UAE ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that “we’re not going to be as fully invested in the rebuild” without a roadmap to a two-state solution.
  • The United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire”. The resolution garnered 153 votes in favour, while 23 countries abstained from the vote, including the UK. Amendments to insert references to Hamas and its actions including the taking of hostages failed to secure two thirds majority. This follows the US vetoing a Security Council vote last Friday calling for a ceasefire, in which the UK abstained. UK Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward said at Security Council debate: “Calling for a ceasefire ignores the fact that Hamas has committed acts of terror and is still holding civilians hostage.” She also reiterated the importance of working meaningfully towards a two-State solution “which delivers statehood for the Palestinians, security for Israel and peace for people on both sides.”
  • The fallout continues from a hearing in Congress at which the Presidents of Harvard, Penn and MIT universities failed to affirm that calling for genocide against Jews would violate their codes of conduct. Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania quit following backlash to her responses, whereas Harvard ad MIT’s governing bodies have said their presidents, Claudine Gay and Sally Kornbluth, would stay.

Israeli politics

  • Israeli Labor leader Merav Michaeli announced her intention to step down as party leader in a surprise announcement on 7 December. She told a press conference: “The State of Israel is currently in a major crisis. Out of this terrible rupture, Israel needs to have a new beginning, a restart. And for that to happen, elections must be held, and I am convinced that Israel will go to elections in 2024.”
  • In a Knesset hearing on Monday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said he believed the UAE and Saudi Arabia would support the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, whilst reaffirming his opposition to the return of the PA.

The coming days

  • The IDF remains intensely focus on destroying Hamas’s brigades, top leaders and underground infrastructure including tunnels, which it believes will take another one to two months, but the Israeli government is aware of mounting international pressure, including from the US. Against this backdrop, the expansion of Israeli efforts to facilitate the entry of aid are likely to continue.
  • As the conflict drags on there is increasing public attention in Israel on its political future, and accusations levelled against Netanyahu that his hardline against a PA return to the Gaza Strip, and his public attacks on the Oslo process (which created the PA), are intended to sure up his base ahead of a forthcoming election. The duration of the conflict is taking a heavy toll on the Israeli economy, and concerns increase daily for the fate of hostages still in the Gaza Strip.

In the UK

  • Since 7 October, the Community Security Trust has recorded at least 2,093 antisemitic incidents across the UK, the highest ever total recorded, many involving “symbols and language of pro-Palestinian politics as rhetorical weapons”.