October 20, 2023 - Israel-Hamas war news

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3:56 a.m. ET, October 20, 2023

Greek Orthodox church in Gaza hit in an airstrike, church officials say

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq, Kareem Khadder, Abeer Salman and Ibrahim Dahman 

People inspect an area around the Greek Orthodox Church after an Israeli attack in Gaza City, on October 20.
People inspect an area around the Greek Orthodox Church after an Israeli attack in Gaza City, on October 20. Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/Getty Images

The St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church was hit in an Israeli airstrike on Thursday night, according to its owners and Hamas. 

The church's campus in Gaza City is owned by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which said in a statement they "remain committed to fulfilling its religious and moral duty in providing assistance, support, and refuge to those in need, amidst continuous Israeli demands to evacuate these institutions of civilians and the pressures exerted on the churches in this regard."

"Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past thirteen days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored," the Patriarchate's statement read.

An Israeli airstrike caused one of the buildings belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church in central Gaza City to collapse, the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Interior and National Security said in a statement on Thursday, adding that many people who were taking shelter in the building were injured.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Friday acknowledged that "a wall of a church in the area was damaged" as a result of the IDF strike.

"Earlier today, IDF fighter jets struck the command and control center belonging to a Hamas terrorist involved in the launching of rockets and mortars toward Israel," IDF told CNN in a statement.

"The command and control center was used to carry out attacks against Israel and contained terrorist infrastructure belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization," the statement continued.

"We are aware of reports on casualties. The incident is under review," the statement read.

"Hamas intentionally embeds its assets in civilian areas and uses the residents of the Gaza Strip as human shields," the IDF said.

11:34 p.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Increased military activity along Israel-Gaza border, CNN reports

From CNN's Nic Robertson

Several illumination flares were seen floating down in the distance while red tracer rounds can be seen accompanied by the sound of heavy machine gun fire. 
Several illumination flares were seen floating down in the distance while red tracer rounds can be seen accompanied by the sound of heavy machine gun fire.  CNN

Early Friday morning, CNN's Nic Robertson witnessed increased military activity along Israel's border with Gaza.

Several illumination flares are seen floating down in the distance, while red tracer rounds can be seen accompanied by the sound of heavy machine gun fire.  

In the video, Robertson recalled hearing heavy machine gun fire, and distant explosions.

CNN is unable to provide further detail on the type of military activity seen along the border.

When asked for comment on the military activity, Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson Lt. Colonel Jonathan Conricus told Burnett, "The reserves are ready, equipped, mission-oriented, and standing by for the next stage of our operations. But at this time, of course, we will not advertise when, where, and how we will advance or do or enhance our military activities."

Israeli politicians have given Israel's military the "green light" to enter Gaza, officials told Robertson on Thursday, and it is now up to the military to decide when to go in.

11:34 p.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Rafah crossing not expected to open today for vital Gaza aid, sources tell CNN

From Jake Tapper, Jennifer Hansler and Alex Marquardt

The Rafah crossing is not expected to open today for a convoy of humanitarian aid to get to Gaza, multiple sources told CNN, despite expectations voiced by US President Joe Biden and others that it would be open.

“I would not put money on those trucks going through tomorrow,” one source familiar with the discussions told CNN.

Road repairs need to be done on the Egyptian side of the buffer zone and there are a lot of other details to make sure the aid is sustained, not a one off, the source said. 

It’s “a really volatile situation,” the person said. “These people have been waiting for food, for medicine and for water. If they’re told 20 trucks are coming in and we don’t know when is next it’s going to create a really dangerous situation. If I were in that situation, if I didn’t think there would be more trucks, I’d do everything I could to get what’s inside.”

US officials now expect that the first convoy of trucks carrying humanitarian aid into Gaza from Egypt will cross the border this weekend, possibly by Saturday. 

A US official cautioned that the situation remained fluid as preparations continued to allow the humanitarian aid through.

US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said at a briefing Thursday afternoon that former Ambassador David Satterfield, the US special envoy for Middle East humanitarian assistance, was “on the ground negotiating with the Israelis” and working on the details “even as we speak.”

“With respect to trucks, I don't want to speak to what the exact agreement will look like because that is a matter that continues to be negotiated, that Ambassador Satterfield is on the ground negotiating,” Miller said.

The agreement is for 20 trucks but there are 200 parked outside so aid could be sustained if there’s an agreement. 

Israel is going to want to be involved in the control mechanism, the source says, to make sure they approve what’s going in. 

“Things can change quickly for the better and for the worse,” they said.

Miller on Thursday reiterated that the concerns voiced by the Israeli government that Hamas will try to divert the assistance for Gaza and noted “we think that's a legitimate concern.” 

Speaking to reporters en route back to the US from Israel Wednesday, Biden said Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi agreed to open the Rafah crossing to “let up to 20 trucks through to begin with.” The road into Gaza had to be fixed and potholes filled before the trucks could pass, the president said. He said it would take about eight hours on Thursday to get the work done, and he expected the trucks to be rolling Friday.

On Thursday, Egyptian state media and an Egyptian security official also indicated that the crossing would be open Friday.

11:34 p.m. ET, October 19, 2023

UN warns of "increasingly dire conditions" in Gaza amid electricity blackout and shortages of food and water

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

About 1 million internally displaced people in Gaza are living in "increasingly dire conditions" amid shortages of critical resources, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday.

Gaza is under a full electricity blackout for the ninth consecutive day, food and water supplies are dwindling, and hospitals are on the brink of collapse, the office said.

"Water production from municipal groundwater sources is at less than five percent of the level prior to the latest crisis. The lack of fuel, insecurity and road damage have brought water trucking operations to a halt in most areas," OCHA said.

Nutritional health is deteriorating amid the "extremely limited water supply, raising the risk of dehydration and leading to people consuming water that is unfit to drink," OCHA said.

The office also stressed that commercial stocks of essential food commodities in shops are set to last for "only a few more days."

OCHA said the World Food Programme (WFP) is providing food and cash assistance every day, aiding a total of 522,000 Palestinians since the start of the crisis.

Separately, UN experts called for a ceasefire in a statement from the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

"The wilful and systematic destruction of civilian homes and infrastructure, known as 'domicide', and cutting off drinking water, medicine, and essential food is clearly prohibited under international criminal law," according to the statement. 

“We are sounding the alarm: There is an ongoing campaign by Israel resulting in crimes against humanity in Gaza. Considering statements made by Israeli political leaders and their allies, accompanied by military action in Gaza and escalation of arrests and killing in the West Bank, there is also a risk of genocide against the Palestine people,” the experts said.

11:34 p.m. ET, October 19, 2023

Israeli defense minister says troops near Gaza will "soon see it from the inside"

From CNN’s Tamar Michaelis and Daniel Oz in Jerusalem

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told troops gathered not far from the Gaza Strip on Thursday that they will "soon see" the enclave "from the inside," according to a press release from his office.

"You see Gaza now from a distance, you will soon see it from inside. The command will come," he said, according to the release.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on a separate visit to an area bordering the Gaza Strip on Thursday, told troops stationed there: "The entire nation of Israel stands behind you and we will give the hard blow to our enemies so that we can achieve victory. For victory! Ready?"

Also Thursday, the commanding officer of Israel Defense Forces Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, told troops at another section of the border: "This maneuvering will shift the war to the enemy’s side and we will win on their ground. This maneuvering will be long, difficult, long, intense, but we have the best commanders and fighters the IDF has to offer."

Earlier this week: Israel's ambassador to the United Nations said Israel "has no interest" in occupying Gaza but will do "whatever is needed" to eliminate Hamas.

12:09 a.m. ET, October 20, 2023

Authorities are still preparing for Rafah crossing opening

From Asmaa Khalil and CNN's Sarah El Sirgany and Mohammed Tawfeeq

Egyptian authorities on Thursday started removing cement blocks at the entrance of the Rafah crossing, preparing for its opening, several drivers at the crossing told CNN.

"Currently there's a miles long convoy of humanitarian assistance between Arish and Rafah with trucks on the sides of the road awaiting the possibility of entering Gaza," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told CNN's Christiane Amanpour Tuesday.

Egyptian Red Crescent aid trucks were lining up on the highway in Al-Arish, preparing to move to the crossing once it is open, journalist Asmaa Khalil, who's currently close to Rafah, told CNN. Red Crescent trucks are carrying international aid that arrived in Egypt, security officials said.

Located in Egypt's north Sinai, the Rafah crossing is the sole border crossing between Gaza and Egypt. It falls along an 8-mile (12.8-kilometer) fence that separates Gaza from the Sinai desert.

The crossing is currently shut, with aid unable to get into Gaza. It's no longer expected to open today despite an announcement from President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Thursday, multiple sources told CNN.

Shoukry said the crossing has been bombed four times recently, with one bombing occurring while people tried to repair it. He said four Egyptian workers were injured.

After speaking with US President Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi agreed to open the Rafah crossing to allow aid to enter Gaza. Egypt has said it won't allow refugees to flood its territory and has instead insisted that Israel allow it to deliver aid to Gazans.