October 11, 2023 - Israel-Hamas war news

By Kathleen Magramo, Adam Renton, Christian Edwards, Peter Wilkinson, Aditi Sangal, Dakin Andone, Leinz Vales, Steve Almasy, Elise Hammond, Tori B. Powell, Kaanita Iyer and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 2:51 p.m. ET, October 12, 2023
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10:29 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Biden administration official clarifies president, admin have not seen pictures or verified reports of children beheaded by Hamas

From CNN's DJ Judd and Kayla Tausche 

After President Biden’s remarks earlier today, an administration official told CNN neither Biden nor the administration have seen pictures or confirmed reports of children or infants beheaded by Hamas.

The official clarified that the president’s remarks were referring to public comments from media outlets and Israeli officials.

Biden, speaking from the Indian Treaty Room Wednesday, told Jewish leaders, “It matters that Americans see what's happening — I mean, I have been doing this a long time, I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.” 

A spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that babies and toddlers were found “decapitated” in Kfar Aza, Tal Heinrich. CNN could not independently verify that report, and Hamas said media reports about attacking children were false.

11:39 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

US State Department exploring alternative options for citizens wanting to leave Israel due to limited flights

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Passengers look at a departure board at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 7, 2023, as flights are canceled because of the Hamas surprise attacks.
Passengers look at a departure board at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 7, 2023, as flights are canceled because of the Hamas surprise attacks. Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

The US State Department said it's aware of the limited commercial flights available to citizens wanting to leave Israel and is "exploring other contract options by air, land, and sea to nearby countries," a spokesperson said Wednesday.

"The State Department has teams communicating 24/7 with US citizens and providing them assistance through phone calls, an online form and the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program," the spokesperson said. "Our goal is to assist US citizens who want to leave Israel with a safe means of doing so."  

The spokesperson said US citizens are encouraged to take advantage of commercial flights "that involve transiting a third country if they are unable to book a direct flight to the United States." In order to meet high demand for flights, the spokesperson said "we are also exploring other contract options by air, land and sea to nearby countries."

The spokesperson said the department "will continue to provide updates to US citizens who have registered via our online form as information becomes available."

On Wednesday, the department raised the travel advisory level for Israel to Level 3:Reconsider Travel. 

10:49 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Israel currently conducting "large-scale strike" on Hamas in Gaza, IDF says

From CNN's Elliott Gotkine

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 11, 2023.
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on October 11, 2023. Fatima Shbair/AP

The Israel Defense Forces are "currently conducting a large-scale strike on terror targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip," according to an IDF social media post early Thursday local time.

9:42 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Here's a brief history of the US support for Israel over the last 75 years

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf

Biden speaks during a roundtable with Jewish community at the White House on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.
Biden speaks during a roundtable with Jewish community at the White House on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. Susan Walsh/AP

President Joe Biden’s promise for the US to “stand with Israel” continues a special relationship that dates back to 1948, when President Harry Truman became the first world leader to recognize the Jewish state, moments after its creation.

There’s now a kibbutz named after Truman in Israel, and the US provides billions in military support to Israel each year.

Israel has played an outsized role in US policy, and not just because most recent presidents have tried to play the role of peace maker between Israel and Palestinians and move toward a two-state solution.

Three presidential historians provided context about the US and its relationship with Israel. Douglas Brinkley is CNN’s presidential historian and a professor at Rice University, Julian Zelizer is a CNN contributor and a professor at Princeton University and Mark Updegrove is president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation.

Here's what they had to say about the US relationship with Israel.

President Dwight Eisenhower became infuriated at Israel: Along with France and the United Kingdom, Israel attacked Egypt in 1956 in an attempt to seize the Suez Canal and overthrow Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Eisenhower pressured the countries to remove their troops — which they eventually did.

President John F. Kennedy was concerned about Israel’s nuclear ambitions: Kennedy engaged in a quiet pressure campaign to let US inspectors into its nuclear sites and halt an Israeli nuclear program. Israel is thought to have developed nuclear weapons in the 1960s, although it has never formally acknowledged them.

President Lyndon Johnson used the hotline to calm the Soviets during the Six-Day War: Johnson helped supply Israel in the years preceding the Six-Day War, in which Israel seized land from its neighbors. Egypt, as a result, closed the Suez Canal for years. Johnson agreed to sell some military equipment to the Israelis which was a shift in US policy at the time. 

“This was a very much a product of Cold War tension,” said Updegrove, the president and CEO of the LBJ Foundation. “I think there was a great concern that that would escalate beyond Israel, Egypt and Syria to being a much larger battle.”

President Richard Nixon airlifted supplies to Israel and engaged in "shuttle diplomacy": Nixon ultimately supported Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, a key moment that may have saved the country.

“Most historians of that region think that the US munitions support was essential to Israel’s survival at that point,” Zelizer said.

Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s secretary of state, also engaged in so-called “shuttle diplomacy,” engineering an end to the war and ultimately reopening the Suez Canal under President Gerald Ford.

President Jimmy Carter brokered peace between Egypt and Israel: Carter brought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat together for the Camp David Accords, which created a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt, its Arab neighbor to the South.

Today, Israel enforces its borders on the Gaza Strip, but so does Egypt. That more than two million Palestinians live in the 140 square-mile strip without the ability to easily leave is why it is today frequently referred to as the biggest open-air prison on earth.

Read more about the US-Israel relationship throughout the years.

9:58 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Senior Hamas official says it's too early to exchange Israeli hostages

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq and journalist Ali Younes

Izzat al-Risheq, a senior Hamas official, told CNN Wednesday that it's too early to exchange Israeli hostages while Israel continues to strike Gaza.

"We will only discuss this issue when the Israeli aggression against our people ends," al-Risheq said from Doha, Qatar.

He also denied Hamas had any help from Iran or Lebanon's Hezbollah in executing or planning Hamas' large-scale surprise assault on Israel.

"I say it very clearly that this operation was a 100 percent Hamas operation without any help from any regional party," al-Risheq said.

Some background: Hamas fighters are holding as many as 150 people hostage in locations across Gaza following their raids on southern Israel on Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Abu Obaida, the spokesperson of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, said Monday that Hamas would start executing civilian hostages if Israel targeted people in Gaza without warning.

9:36 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Hostages held by Hamas are likely underground, IDF spokesperson says

From CNN’s Josh Campbell and Larry Register in Atlanta

Israeli authorities think hostages taken by Hamas are being held underground, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, told CNN’s Erin Burnett on Wednesday.  

“Reason dictates that they are underground,” Conricus said. “Reason also dictates that Hamas, since they planned to launch this attack and they planned to take these people hostage, reason dictates that they planned in advance locations to hide these hostages and keep them safe from Israeli intelligence, and efforts to get them out.” 

The situation with the hostages is an “extremely sensitive and complex topic,” Conricus said. Even though Israel has had “some experience” with hostage situations, they have never dealt with anything like this, he added.

“Not in the scope, not in the magnitude and not in the complexity of where our hostages are, Conricus said.

When asked whether an Israeli ground invasion was imminent, Conricus said he would not telegraph Israel’s schedule or intentions in this conflict.

“It is clear and understandable that what needs to be done is that all of Hamas’ military capabilities need to be taken off the map. How that will happen, by what means, and what tactics, that is a few days in the future, maybe more than that.” 

Hamas fighters are holding as many as 150 people hostage in locations across Gaza following their raids on southern Israel on Saturday, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations said Monday.

Abu Obaida, the spokesperson of Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, on Monday said Hamas would start executing civilian hostages if Israel targeted people in Gaza without warning.

10:52 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Wave of Israeli airstrikes have killed 51 and injured scores, Gaza health ministry says

From CNN's Kareem El Damanhoury

An aerial view of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes at the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City on October 11, 2023.
An aerial view of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes at the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza City on October 11, 2023. Yahya Hassouna/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have left at least 51 people dead and another 281 injured as of early Thursday local time, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The casualties were in the residential areas of Zeitoun, Sabra, Al-Nafaq, and Tel al-Hawa, it said.

Some of the victims are still under the rubble, according to Deputy Health Minister Yousef Abu Al-Rish, who accused Israeli forces of intending "to cause as much damage and destruction, hence destroying entire residential areas.” 

Abu Al-Rish added that the death toll in Gaza is nearing 1,200 after the latest airstrikes.

The minister described the situation as an “imminent humanitarian catastrophe” after Israel began a blockade of the densely populated enclave, cutting electricity, fuel, and water supplies. 

“More than 600,000 of Gaza’s population are deprived from water, and entire hospitals are deprived from water," he added, urging the world to stop the Israeli aggression. 
10:52 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli troops are being mobilized near Gaza. Here's what to know

From CNN staff

Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images
Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images

humanitarian crisis is rapidly unfolding in Gaza as it faces a relentless Israeli bombardment. Hospitals are overwhelmed and experiencing shortages of drugs, medical supplies and electricity, Médecins Sans Frontières warned.

Israel has formed an emergency government and war management cabinet in the wake of Hamas' surprise attacks on border communities, and hundreds of thousands of Israeli ground troops have gathered near the Gaza Strip.

Former defense minister Benny Gantz will join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and current Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a wartime cabinet. “There is time for war and time for peace. This, now, is the time for war,” Gantz said Wednesday during a televised address.

Meantime, talks are underway to allow US and Palestinian civilians to leave Gaza through Egypt as a land invasion looms, a senior Israeli official said. Several other countries are sending flights to evacuate their citizens.

Here's what to know:

The latest death toll: At least 1,100 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began airstrikes in response to Hamas' attacks, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said. Israel has reported at least 1,200 people have been killed since Saturday. Israel amassed more than 300,000 reservists along its southern border, IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said.

Horrifying details: More gruesome details are emerging from the scenes of Hamas' assault on border communities. Houses in Israeli kibbutz Kfar Aza were ransacked and set ablaze. Overturned mattresses, destroyed furniture, broken trinkets and unexploded grenades lay strewn across the grounds, along with bodies. Babies and toddlers were found with their “heads decapitated," a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said — a claim Hamas has denied. US President Joe Biden also weighed in on the atrocities. "I never really thought that I would see it and have confirmed pictures of terrorist beheading children,” he said.

Hamas preparations: Hamas militants had been preparing for the attack for two years, a senior Hamas official based in Lebanon said. Ali Baraka, head of Hamas National Relations Abroad, said the group manufactured rockets, various ammunition and firearms, according to an edited interview with Russia Today’s Arabic news channel RTArabic.

Involvement of Iran?: Intelligence collected by the United States casts doubt on the idea that Tehran was directly involved in the planning, sourcing and approving of Hamas' attack on Israel, sources said. Though the intelligence community is not ready to reach a full conclusion, government officials have pointed to Iran's support for Hamas, including weapons and financing, that would have helped them even if not in a direct way.

Saudi diplomacy: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Saudi Arabia "is making unremitting efforts" to stop the escalation in fighting in Israel, according to Saudi state-run SPA news. The crown prince held a phone call with Iran’s President Ebrahim Rais — the first call since both countries renewed diplomatic ties, an Iranian presidential aide said. The leaders discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the aide said.

Warnings from the US: The State Department is asking Americans to reconsider traveling to Israel in the wake of the weekend’s deadly Hamas attacks by raising its travel advisory to "Level 3: Reconsider Travel." Federal agencies are also warning of the potential of attacks in the US, citing the pervasiveness of antisemitism in violent extremist groups.

Working to rescue hostages: The US is working closely with Israel to get American hostages home safely. FBI and Pentagon personnel are on the ground in Israel providing support to Israeli special operators. An interagency team from the State Department, National Security Council, and FBI is also receiving input about people missing or deceased, a US official said.

Note: After President Biden’s remarks Wednesday, an administration official told CNN neither Biden nor the administration have seen pictures or confirmed reports of children or infants beheaded by Hamas. The official clarified that the president’s remarks were referring to public comments from media outlets and Israeli officials.

11:22 p.m. ET, October 11, 2023

American who hid under bodies as Hamas attacked music festival describes the gruesome horror

From CNN's Sharif Paget

Lee Sasi described her terrifying experience during the Hamas attack at a music festival to CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. 
Lee Sasi described her terrifying experience during the Hamas attack at a music festival to CNN's Jake Tapper on Wednesday, October 11, 2023.  CNN

Warning: This post contains graphic descriptions of violence.

Lee Sasi, 25, hid under bodies in a bomb shelter for seven hours after Hamas attacked a music festival near the Israeli border with Gaza on Saturday.

Sasi, who told CNN's Jake Tapper she's a US citizen from California, went to the Nova Festival with some family members to support her cousin who was DJ'ing. 

The attack began at 6:30 a.m. and "hell broke loose," Sasi said.

"We had to run for our lives. We saw rockets shooting in the air so we ran to the car and we went to the nearest bomb shelter that was down the street outside of the festival," she said. 

There were about 35 to 40 people in the bomb shelter huddling for safety, she said, and Hamas terrorists fired weapons and threw grenades into the shelter.

Hours later, when they were rescued, only nine to 10 people came out alive, she said. 

"My soul was shattered ... I can't even cry because it's like my tears are frozen from what I saw," Sasi said. 

Sasi said she witnessed her uncle and a woman in the shelter get hit by grenades. 

"I saw so many things that I can't even explain. I saw guts, I had flesh all over my body. We had to bury ourselves under these dead corpses to protect ourselves from these grenades that were hitting, and from the rifles and the RPG," she said. 

"I was in shock. I couldn't even cry. I was in survival mode," she added. 

In a video Sasi recorded in the shelter, people can be seen crammed together and what appear to be bullet piercings are seen in one of the shelter's walls. Half the people near that wall were dying, she said.

Survivors are heartbroken. 

"The people that survived with us can't even speak," she said. "They're not eating. They're not sleeping."

Sasi's cousin, who hid in a different shelter, was killed when he attempted to flee, she said.

Sasi told CNN that her uncle, Avi Sasi, was killed in the attack. 

In one of Sasi's Instagram stories, she thanked her uncle for protecting her.

"I know the only reason we came out alive was because of you," she wrote.