October 19, 2023 - Israel-Hamas war news

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Eric Levenson, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer, Tori B. Powell and Emma Tucker, CNN

Updated 9:43 a.m. ET, October 20, 2023
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7:52 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Netanyahu says Israel fighting Iran-led “axis of evil”

From CNN’s Jo Shelley in London

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, on October 19.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Israel, on October 19. Simon Walker/10 Downing Street/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday his country is fighting an “axis of evil” led by Iran.

“Hamas are the new Nazis, the new ISIS, and we have to fight them together,” Netanyahu said during a news conference with visiting British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, adding that it was “the battle of the entire civilised world” and on the other side was “an axis of evil, led by Iran,” which also included Hezbollah.

Netanyahu said Israel was embarking on a “long war” and needed the UK’s “continuous support.”

Britain supported Israel’s “right to defend itself in line with international law,” Sunak said, while also adding to calls for humanitarian aid to be allowed into Gaza.

“We absolutely support Israel’s right to defend itself in line with international law, to go after Hamas, to take back hostages, to deter further incursions and to strengthen your [Israel’s] security for the long term,” Sunak said, addressing Netanyahu.

He added: “We also recognize that the Palestinian people are victims of Hamas too and that is why I welcome your decision yesterday to ensure that routes into Gaza will be opened for humanitarian aid to enter.”

9:03 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

It’s afternoon in Israel and Gaza. Here’s what you need to know

From CNN staff

US President Joe Biden has returned home from his high-stakes visit to Israel, which threatened to be derailed by the fury and confusion surrounding a large explosion at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital on the eve of his arrival, which triggered protests across the Arab world.

Biden was engaged in a difficult balancing act: Seeking to offer support to an ally traumatized by Hamas’ brutal terror attack on October 7, while also trying to prevent Israel’s response from fueling a war across the region. And so he tempered his words of support with a call for restraint.

“Justice must be done,” Biden said in a speech in Tel Aviv on Wednesday. “But I caution this: While you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it. After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is in Israel on Thursday and was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog.

Here are the latest developments:

  • Gaza aid: Egypt has agreed to allow aid trucks into Gaza, as anger rises globally over Israel’s siege of the enclave in response to Hamas’ brutal attacks. Biden said his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had agreed to open the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza to allow aid to reach the Palestinian population. Up to 20 trucks from an aid convoy waiting for days at the closed border gate would be allowed into Gaza, Biden said Wednesday on his way back from Israel. But just how much difference this will make for the 2 million people living in Gaza is not clear. The World Health Organization has warned the humanitarian situation is spiraling out of control.
  • Hospital blast: A large explosion rocked the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday evening, but its cause has been shrouded in uncertainty. Palestinian officials and several Arab leaders initially accused Israel of hitting the hospital amid its ongoing airstrikes in Gaza, but Israel vehemently denied responsibility. Israel has since presented evidence that it said shows the blast was caused by a misfire by militant group Islamic Jihad. Biden backed that explanation Wednesday, citing US intelligence. A National Security Council spokesperson later said that analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information suggested Israel is “not responsible.” Read more here.
  • Hostages latest: The Israel Defense Forces has notified the families of 203 people it believes are being held hostage by Hamas. The military had varying degrees of confidence in its assessment and said it could not be certain about the total number of hostages being held in Gaza. Hamas said the number of hostages captured by its fighters during the attack on Israel was at least between 200-250. Last week, Hamas published a video of Mia Schem, a 21-year-old French-Israeli citizen being held in Gaza – the first footage of hostages it has yet released.
  • Biden visit: The US president said he knew he was risking criticism by visiting Israel, but he “came to get something done.” He said he was “very blunt” with Israeli leaders when he met with them on Wednesday, and warned they would be “held accountable” if they didn’t allow for more assistance for people displaced by the conflict. “Israel has been badly victimized but the truth is if they have an opportunity to relieve the suffering of people who have nowhere to go, that’s what they should do,” Biden cautioned. Referring to “wartime decisions” he had made in the past, Biden also stressed the need for “clarity about the objectives” of any military operations, ahead of a potential Israeli ground incursion into Gaza. 
  • Jordan fallout: Jordan’s King Abdullah II will travel to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, just a day after the two leaders were set to hold a summit with Biden in Amman, Jordan, along with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority. But Jordan, Egypt and the PA canceled the planned meeting with Biden less than 24 hours before he was set to arrive, following the blast at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital.
  • More on the conflict: In a special episode of CNN 10, a student news show, CNN’s chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, talks about how the war is affecting people on the ground and around the world. A mental health expert also explains how you can take care of your mind. CNN talks to two students caught in the war, and Sara Sidner gives a behind-the-scenes look at how a CNN is reporting from Tel Aviv. Watch the episode here.
7:25 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Death toll in Gaza rises to more than 3,500 people, health ministry says

From CNN's Celine Alkhaldi in Abu Dhabi

More than 3,500 people have been killed and more than 12,000 injured in Gaza since October 7, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza said Thursday.

In the occupied West Bank, 69 people have been killed and more than 1,300 injured, according to the health ministry, which is controlled by Hamas.

10:30 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Israel detained Hamas spokesperson in occupied West Bank, Palestinian Prisoners Club says

From CNN's Kareem Khadder, Abeer Salman and Eyad Kourdi

Hassan Yousef, leader of the Hamas Islamist movement in the West Bank, speaks to the media after he was released from Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 19, 2014.
Hassan Yousef, leader of the Hamas Islamist movement in the West Bank, speaks to the media after he was released from Israeli prison, in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 19, 2014. Majdi Mohammed/AP/File

Israeli forces detained prominent Hamas spokesperson Sheikh Hassan Yousef in his home in the Occupied West Bank on Thursday, according to a statement from the Palestinian Prisoners Club, a non-governmental organization that says it is dedicated to addressing the concerns of Palestinian detainees in Israeli prisons and detention centers.

“Occupation forces arrested Hamas leader Sheikh Hassan Yousef from his home in Beitunia, as part of a wide-scale arrest campaign in the occupation West Bank,” the statement said.

Who is Sheikh Hassan Yousef: He is a leading Palestinian political figure, serving as the official Hamas spokesperson in the West Bank and holding a seat on the Palestinian Legislative Council. He acted as spokesperson during the first intifada and was a regular guest in international media in 1993. He has been arrested by Israeli forces on several occasions and has spent a total of 24 years in Israeli jails on various charges of incitement, entering Jerusalem without permission and for being a Hamas member.

Just on Wednesday, Yousef participated in a protest in the West Bank, expressing deep admiration for the Palestinian people, and urging unity among all Palestinian factions, according to a video obtained by CNN.

It is unclear what the reasons were for his detention and whether they were related to his remarks during the protest.

At least 120 Palestinians were arrested on Thursday morning, and a total of 850 Palestinians have been detained in the occupied West Bank since October 7, according to the club statement Thursday.

The arrests include lawmakers, prominent figures, journalists, and former detainees who have served extended terms in Israeli jails, it said.

"There is a massive Israeli operation to arrest Palestinians," Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Palestinian National Initiative, told CNN. "And every night, they are conducting more and more arrests. The number of Palestinian prisoners now in Israeli jails is up to 6,300."

Barghouti added, "They’re not charged, they’re not taken to court. They’re no due legal process and that’s what they call administrative detention, including no less than 200 children who are now in Israeli jails.”

CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment on Yousef's detention.

Read more.

7:25 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Airstrikes kill at least 13 and destroy entire block in Gaza's Khan Younis, hospital director says

From CNN's Kareem Khadder and Eyad Kourdi

The father of a child from the al-Majaida family killed when an Israeli air strike hit their home carries their body during a funeral in Khan Younis, Gaza, on October 19.
The father of a child from the al-Majaida family killed when an Israeli air strike hit their home carries their body during a funeral in Khan Younis, Gaza, on October 19. Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images

An entire city block in Khan Younis was decimated by airstrikes on Thursday, according to Dr. Mohammad Zaqout, the general director of Gaza hospitals and the director of Al-Nasser Medical Center in the southern Gaza city.

“An entire city block was targeted and destroyed by airstrikes this morning, which killed 13 people from the families of al-Majayda and al-Batta and Fares families in Khan Younis, and 25 others are missing under the rubble," Zaqout told CNN on the phone.

Rescue workers are "working tirelessly" to find the missing, he added.

Remember: Many Palestinians fled to southern Gaza earlier this week after Israel’s military told 1.1 million people in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes immediately, as it appeared to prepare to ramp up retaliation for Hamas’ October 7 terror attacks.

6:34 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Analysis: What Biden did and didn’t achieve during his trip to Israel

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

Miriam Alster/AP
Miriam Alster/AP

 US President Joe Biden left for home after seven hours in the Israeli war zone with an increasingly tense Middle East in worse shape than when he arrived.

Biden told reporters on Air Force One that he was satisfied he got a job done – notably on the issue of unblocking humanitarian aid to besieged Gaza, which has been under heavy Israeli bombardment since the horrific Hamas terror attacks on October 7.

But his mission also showed the limits of US leverage in a region on the brink of wider violence as conflicting narratives between Israel and Arab states about a blast at a hospital in Gaza City believed to have killed hundreds of people deepened the crisis.

The president did accomplish one key goal of his mission – expressing his deep respect for Israel, movingly shouldering the country’s trauma and grief and invoking Holocaust analogies in vowing to stand forever with the Jewish people.

But he also pleaded with Israeli leaders not to allow the rage over the killings of “your fathers, your grandparents, sons, daughters, children, even babies” to blur the clarity over their objectives in trying to destroy Hamas.

The president drew a firm distinction between Palestinian people and their radical Hamas rulers, whom he accused of using civilians as human shields for weapons and tunnels, and bemoaned the “innocent” lives lost in Gaza after days of Israeli bombardments.

But as protests over the hospital blast raced across the region, the dire possibility of Israel’s war with Hamas escalating beyond its borders loomed even larger when Biden climbed aboard Air Force One to fly home on Wednesday. The president admitted to reporters that his emergency mission had been a risk but insisted he had pulled off a success.

Still, given the huge political investment of American prestige and leverage involved in a sudden presidential trip, it’s fair to raise the question of what exactly Biden’s trip delivered.

More analysis of Biden's trip

6:10 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Jordanian king travels to Cairo to meet with Egyptian president

From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh in London

Jordan's King Abdullah II has departed on a short visit to Cairo, Egypt's capital, to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, according to Jordan's Royal Court. 

"His Majesty King Abdullah II departs on a short visit to Cairo, during which His Majesty will meet with Egypt President Abdel Fattah El Sisi to discuss means of ending the Israeli aggression on Gaza," the Royal Court said in a social media post.

The king had been set to welcome US President Joe Biden to Amman, his country's capital, on Wednesday, along with other Middle Eastern leaders.

But Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority canceled the planned meeting with Biden less than 24 hours before he was set to arrive for the four-way summit.

The cancelation followed a blast in Gaza's Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital. Palestinian officials accused Israel of hitting the hospital amid its ongoing airstrikes in Gaza.

But Israel laid out evidence that it said shows a misfire by militant group Islamic Jihad caused the blast, and Biden on Wednesday backed that explanation, citing US intelligence. A spokesperson for the National Security Council later said that analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information suggested that Israel is “not responsible.”

6:29 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

US State Department official resigns over Biden administration's handling of Israel-Gaza conflict

From CNN's Sharif Paget

A State Department official has resigned from the agency over the Biden administration's approach to the ongoing conflict between Israel and Gaza, the official announced on LinkedIn Wednesday.  

Josh Paul -- who says he has worked in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) for more than 11 years -- said in his LinkedIn post that he resigned "due to a policy disagreement concerning our continued lethal assistance to Israel." 

"Let me be clear," Paul wrote. "Hamas' attack on Israel was not just a monstrosity; it was a monstrosity of monstrosities. I also believe that potential escalations by Iran-linked groups such as Hezbollah, or by Iran itself, would be a further cynical exploitation of the existing tragedy. But I believe to the core of my soul that the response Israel is taking, and with it the American support both for that response, and for the status quo of the occupation, will only lead to more and deeper suffering for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people -- and is not in the long term American interest."

The official described the administration's response as "disappointing" and "entirely unsurprising."

"This Administration's response -- and much of Congress' as well -- is an impulsive reaction built on confirmation bias, political convenience, intellectual bankruptcy, and bureaucratic inertia," Paul adds. "Decades of the same approach have shown that security for peace leads to neither security, nor to peace. The fact is, blind support for one side is destructive in the long term to the interests of the people on both sides."

Paul said that he cannot work to support a set of policy decisions that include sending over arms, which he believes to be "shortsighted, destructive, unjust, and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse."

In an interview with the New York Times, the former State Department official said legal guardrails that are intended to keep American weapons out of the hands of human rights violators are failing, as the US backs Israel while the nation has cut of water, food, medical care and electricity in Gaza.

“There’s a moment where you can say, OK, well, you know, it’s out of my hands, but I know Congress is going to push back,” he told the Times. “But in this instance, there isn’t any significant pushback likely from Congress, there isn’t any other oversight mechanism, there isn’t any other forum for debate, and that’s part of what got into my decision making.”

Reached for comment, a State Department spokesperson told CNN the agency declines to comment on "personnel matters."

6:00 a.m. ET, October 19, 2023

In Sderot, the sounds of war echo through the deserted streets

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová in Sderot

Sderot, Israel, on October 19.
Sderot, Israel, on October 19. Ivana Kottasova

Every now and then, a cat walks down the empty road of Sderot, trying to find food in this deserted place.

The people of Sderot are long gone. The town of 30,000 people, just a kilometer from Gaza, was evacuated as Israel gears up for the next stage of its war with Hamas, whatever that may be.

Every few minutes, the silence is interrupted by loud, earthy thuds coming from the direction of the Gaza Strip.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has been pounding the enclave with strikes since Hamas launched a deadly terror attack on Israel on October 7 which killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians.

Sderot was one of the first towns to be attacked by Hamas. Dozens of people — civilians and local police — were killed in the ambush in the early hours of that Saturday. Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Sderot over the past few days.

These attacks continue even now. The intensity of the fight is clearly visible in Sderot. The local police station has been razed to the ground by the IDF after a group of Hamas fighters was holed up there. The battle went on for more than a day and the entire area is now destroyed.

Just up the road, children’s playground stands abandoned. The kids may not return for some time.

Watch CNN's report from the "ghost town" of Sderot.