IDF troops inside the Gaza Strip > IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED, via Wikimedia Commons.

Military situation in Gaza

  • This week saw the heaviest single day losses for the IDF in the Gaza Strip since the beginning of the ground operation, with 24 soldiers killed on 22 January. Some 21 were killed after being hit with RPGs while preparing explosives to demolish buildings in eastern Khan Younis, close to the Israeli border, as part of an operation to create a buffer zone. The military fatalities in the ground invasion have reached 219.
  • Confronting Hamas in the dense urban areas continues to take a heavy toll on Gazan civilians. On 24 January, twelve people were reportedly killed when IDF tank shells struck a building in the Khan Younis Training Centre being used as an UNRWA shelter. The IDF has ruled out that the incident was the result of an air or artillery strike by its forces and is reviewing Israeli operations nearby, as well as examining the possibility it was caused by “Hamas fire”.
  • International agencies also report intense fighting close to hospitals in the area. The IDF stresses that it is committed to protecting civilians, and that IDF officers have ongoing coordination with international agencies to try and avoid harming civilians in shelters, but that Hamas routinely uses civilian infrastructure as cover. Israel continues to issue localised evacuation orders for blocks where it is operating.
  • The losses come amid a new Israeli offensive into the west of Khan Younis that began on Monday, six weeks after the beginning of operations in the city. The IDF is aiming to dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure in the area. Their latest discoveries have included an 800 metre long tunnel complete with tiled bathrooms and cells that had been used to hold hostages. Hamas’s leaders in Gaza are believed to be hiding in tunnels in Khan Younis, likely surrounded by hostages. Clashes are typically skirmishes between IDF units and small squads of Hamas gunmen, with the IDF reporting killing scores of Hamas fighters in recent days.
  • Hamas fatalities are uncertain, though the IDF estimates that some 50-60% of the around 40,000 militants before 7 October are estimated to be out of action, whether killed (9,000), wounded (8,000) or arrested (2,300).
  • Palestinian fatalities overall remain high, with Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry claiming unverified figures of some 25,295 Palestinians killed (as of 24 Jan) without distinguishing military and civilian casualties, or those killed by misfiring Hamas or Islamic Jihad rockets.

Intensification of diplomatic activity

  • Reports from US and Israeli media indicate an intensification of diplomatic efforts to secure a further hostage release deal and ceasefire. Reports refer to proposals for three stages of prisoner releases beginning with the most urgent humanitarian cases, followed by other civilians and finally soldiers, in return for the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners. One report claims Israel submitted a proposal through Qatari and Egyptian mediators that would see it agree to pause fighting for as long as two months as part of the deal, but this falls short of Hamas’s demand for a complete end to the fighting.
  • There are also reports of ongoing talks between representatives of Fatah and Hamas leaders based outside the Gaza Strip on the shape of the Palestinian national movement and the governance of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the conflict, including discussions about how Hamas might be incorporated into the PLO.

Increased domestic pressure on Netanyahu

  • Anti-government protests are increasing in scale and frequency in Israel, with the main focal point being the demands of hostage families to strike a deal for the release of Israeli captives. On Monday family members pitched tents outside Netanyahu’s home in Jerusalem vowing not to leave until a deal was agreed. Also on Monday hostage families burst into a Knesset committee meeting and lambasted Knesset members for the failure to bring about the release of their loved ones. In a Knesset hearing on Tuesday, female hostages who have been released gave horrific account of sexual abuse suffered by women still held.
  • Calls for an election in Israel are growing, including demonstrations attended by thousands on Saturday evening and a small but diverse group who blocked the entrance to the Knesset on Tuesday. Whilst still small in number compared to the massive anti-government protests preceding October 7, this movement is gaining momentum.
  • The leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, has also called on Netanyahu to negotiate a date for new elections. “After the greatest disaster in the country’s history, we need a government that will regain the trust of the public, the trust of the security system, that will have a plan for the day after,” Lapid said, asserting that he is “willing to discuss any reasonable offer.” Polling in Israel suggests that the current coalition would be heavily defeated and that Benny Gantz would be best placed to form a new coalition.

Humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip

  • The largest daily number of aid trucks since October 7 (260 trucks) entered the Gaza Strip on 21 January, with typical daily totals over the last week ranging between more than 100 to 250. The IDF’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) unit insists that daily totals are determined by the supply and distribution capability of UN agencies and not by limitations set by Israel. Most aid is channelled through Egypt and then checked in Israel before entering the Gaza Strip, though some has also come via Jordan. Daily imports of diesel fuel and cooking gas continue to enter through the Rafah crossing via an Israeli-US-Egypt-UN deal.
  • Israel has agreed to allow flour to enter the Gaza Strip via Israel’s Ashdod port, according to the readout of a call between President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu on 19 January, with discussions ongoing about options for direct maritime access for humanitarian aid. Israel continues to coordinate regular localised pauses in its operations to enable the movement of aid.
  • There has been a gradual restoration of telecommunications services after a blackout that began on 12 January.
  • The UN reports that 14 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functional. In addition field hospitals donated by Jordan and the UAE are operational in Khan Younis and Rafah, while a Red Crescent field hospital at the Al Amal Hospital and an International Medical Corps (IMC) field hospital are treating patients in Khan Younis and Rafah, respectively. France and Italy have established floating hospitals at the Al-Arish port.
  • Overall UNRWA estimates 1.7m of the Gaan population are internally displaced, and the destruction of 65,000 housing units. The UN reports nearly 1.4 million sheltering in 154 UNRWA facilities and many more taking shelter in makeshift structures around Rafah, close to the Egyptian border. They face very poor sanitary conditions and limited access to food and water. Passage of supplies to northern Gaza remain very restricted.

West Bank and East Jerusalem

  • Israel’s Security Cabinet agreed on Sunday to an arrangement that will see the transfer of PA tax revenues held by Israel. Israel said in November it would deduct from the transfers sums intended for the Gaza Strip, leading the PA to refuse to accept any of the funds and exacerbating its difficulties funding public services, including Palestinian West Bank security services. There has been a sharp debate within the cabinet over the funds, with Defence Minister Yoav Galant stressing the need to strengthen the Palestinian Authority, and far right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich resisting any move to support the PA. West Bank Palestinians continue to be barred from entering Israel to work.
  • Israeli police are investigating following the fatal shooting by the IDF of a 17-year-old Palestinian-American in a vehicle in the West Bank on Friday 19 January. Initial reports indicate shots were fired towards Palestinians throwing stones at the Route 60 highway. The family of the deceased deny he was involved in any rock throwing.
  • There is ongoing violence in the West Bank resulting from raids by IDF forces targeting 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.

Israel-Hezbollah front

  • Hezbollah has launched rocket salvos and drone attacks and Israel has carried out airstrikes against Hezbollah targets in ongoing exchanges of fire across the Israel-Lebanon border in recent days. An airstrip used by Hezbollah for drone attacks was targeted by Israel in one of the latest strikes on Thursday 25 January. The Israeli Air Force’s Mount Meron air traffic and radar station suffered slight damage when targeted on Tuesday for the second time this month. Also on Tuesday the IAF announced that it had struck “a military asset operated by Iranian forces” in Lebanon.
  • There is significant domestic pressure in Israel for a wider military campaign to force Hezbollah forces back from the border and prevent an attack similar to that carried out by Hamas on October 7. Some 80,000 Israelis have been evacuated from the area, with many saying they will not return without Hezbollah being pushed back from the border.

Red Sea

  • The RAF participated directly in airstrikes against the Houthis in Yemen alongside US forces for the second time on Tuesday, after continued attacks by the group on international shipping in the Red Sea. Speaking in the House of Commons Keir Starmer gave his backing to the “necessary and proportionate” strikes.

UK role

  • Foreign Secretary David Cameron visited Israel and the West Bank on Wednesday and Thursday, meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, as well as Israeli war cabinet ministers Benny Gantz and Ron Dermer, and then with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Cameron stated the focus of his visit was securing the release of hostages, increasing aid to the Gaza Strip, and “an immediate humanitarian pause then progress towards a sustainable ceasefire.” Earlier this week Cameron and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with hostage families.
  • David Lammy, speaking on Radio 4 on 20 January described as “unacceptable” the remarks of Netanyahu rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state, and committing Labour’s support for a two state solution.

ICJ ruling expected on Friday

  • The International Court of Justice has announced that it will give a ruling on Friday at 12pm UK time relating to the allegations brought by South Africa that Israel is violating its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention of Genocide. Whilst a judgement on the charge of genocide would take years to reach, South Africa’s case includes a ‘Request for the indication of provisional measures’, which could constitute a form of emergency injunction against Israel. Arguments from South Africa and Israel were heard by an international panel of 17 judges on 11 and 12 January. Israel rejected entirely South Africa’s charges that it intended acts of genocide against Palestinians, and argued that it was acting in self-defence and fulfilling its obligations to protect Israeli civilians from Hamas.