November 19, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Heather Chen, Andrew Raine, Antoinette Radford and Seán Federico O'Murchú, CNN

Updated 0600 GMT (1400 HKT) November 20, 2023
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11:17 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

Hostage negotiations "closer than we have been perhaps at any point," White House says

From CNN’s Priscilla Alvarez

Family and supporters participate in a solidarity march calling for the return of hostages held by Hamas, in Jerusalem, on Saturday, November 18. 
Family and supporters participate in a solidarity march calling for the return of hostages held by Hamas, in Jerusalem, on Saturday, November 18.  Mahmoud Illean/AP

Negotiations to secure the release of hostages held by Hamas are close, and disagreements among parties have been narrowed amid intensive talks, deputy national security adviser Jon Finer said on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“We think that we are closer than we have been perhaps at any point since these negotiations began weeks ago — that there are areas of difference and disagreement that have been narrowed, if not closed out entirely,” Finer told CNN’s Jake Tapper, stressing that these are sensitive negotiations and there is no deal currently in place.

Finer declined to dive into the details of the talks, but said officials are working around the clock and that it remains a priority for US President Joe Biden.

Asked about how many hostages the US believes are still alive, Finer responded that they do not have exact numbers.

“One of the challenges associated with this is, we're not on the ground in Gaza, the United States. We are not in direct contact with Hamas. We do that only through intermediaries. And so, we don't have perfect fidelity about exact numbers of hostages, including numbers who are still alive,” Finer said.

“We do believe that there is a significant number of Americans being held, that those Americans are our highest priority, the president's highest priority. They include, by the way, a 3-year-old girl who is an orphan because her parents were murdered by Hamas on October 7,” he added, referencing the youngest American hostage known to be held in Gaza.

Some background: Finer's comments came soon after Qatar's prime minister — whose country is involved in the talks — also touted progress.

“The sticking points honestly at this stage are more practical, logistical, not really something that represents the core of the deal,” Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani said.

Hamas abducted about 240 people during the October 7 attacks, according to Israeli officials, though official accounts have varied as intelligence about the situation in Gaza develops.

11:09 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

"Good progress" made in negotiations for hostages taken by Hamas, Qatari prime minister says

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

Qatar's prime minister said "good progress" has been made during discussions for the release of hostages taken by Hamas, following the militant group's deadly incursion into southern Israel last month.

“The sticking points honestly at this stage are more practical, logistical, not really something that represents the core of the deal,” according to Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who has been mediating negotiations between Hamas and Israel.

“It is a long way. When you come closer to the goal, you feel your confidence levels are increasing, and we hope that we are reaching to that point,” the prime minister told reporters in a joint press conference with the European Union’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, in Doha.

��The deal is going through ups and downs from time to time throughout the last few weeks, but ... I’m more confident that we are close enough to reach a deal that can bring the people back to their homes,” he said, adding there are "logistical" challenges ahead.

“We’ve been focused in the past four to five weeks now in these negotiations, we’ve tried every way — all possible ways — in order to ensure that civilians are released, and we think all human beings are the same,” the Qatari leader said. 

Some context: Pressure is growing on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a deal for the safe return of about 240 people abducted by Hamas on October 7, when at least 1,200 people were killed.

On Saturday, the Israeli leader denied reports that Israel was considering a proposal for the release of at least 50 abductees, saying that when the government had something to say, they would report it. 

CNN’s Michael Rios contributed reporting.

7:38 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

IDF announces brief suspension of military activities in Rafah city on Sunday

From CNN’s Tim Lister and Sugam Pokharel

A relative tries to salvage items from a destroyed home in Rafah, Gaza, on November 19.
A relative tries to salvage items from a destroyed home in Rafah, Gaza, on November 19. Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli military announced a brief suspension on Sunday of “military activities” in the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, for "humanitarian purposes." 

The pause took place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time (3 a.m. to 7 a.m. ET) Sunday, according to an IDF spokesperson. 

At the southern part of Rafah city is the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt– the only crossing in and out of Gaza that is not controlled by Israel, making it the sole option for foreigners trying to leave the besieged enclave.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army says it carried out military operations at two neighborhoods in Gaza City’s to “identify and destroy Hamas infrastructure and assets.”

“During the operations, the soldiers located approximately 35 tunnel shafts as well as a large number of weapons and eliminated terrorists,” the IDF said in a statement Sunday. 

The military also said that it carried out a raid on the homes of senior Hamas officials in al-Rimal, the city’s once vibrant business district and social epicenter.

“Embedded in the Rimal area are the residences of senior Hamas officials, who took control of the buildings in the area to conduct and direct terrorist activities,” the IDF said.

6:41 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

31 neo-natal babies evacuated from Al-Shifa hospital, Red Crescent says

The Palestine Red Crescent Society has said 31 neo-natal babies have been evacuated from Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza.

The PCRS said in a short statement Sunday that its ambulance crews, working alongside the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), were "able to evacuate 31 premature babies from Al-Shifa Hospital.”

“They were transported by Red Crescent ambulances to the south, in preparation for their transfer to the Emirates Hospital in Rafah," the statement said.

The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza confirmed the evacuation.

Dr. Medhet Abbas, a spokesman for the ministry, told CNN in a message Sunday that “30 premature babies were evacuated from Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza by the United Nations team.”

It is unclear why the ministry's figure differed from that given by the PCRS – the WHO earlier said there were 32 babies remaining at Al-Shifa.

The hospital and its immediate vicinity have seen heavy shelling in the past week, and it has been unable to run incubators for the babies for lack of fuel. Several neo-natal babies in Al-Shifa have died.

6:43 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

Fresh exchanges of fire reported across Israel-Lebanon border

From CNN's Ben Wedeman, Sarah El Sirgany and Amir Tal

Israeli airstrikes and shelling hit south Lebanon on Sunday, the country's National News Agency reported.

The network said Al-Tayba and Al-Qal’iya, in the eastern sector of the border area, as well as Al-Naqoura ad Al-Labouba in the west, were among the places shelled, and said there had been an airstrike Sunday morning near Aita Al-Shaab in the western sector.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said that air defense fighters successfully intercepted a suspicious aerial target that crossed from Lebanon. It said IDF aircraft had destroyed infrastructure belonging to the militant organization Hezbollah.

“In addition, about ten launches of mortar bombs were detected towards a peaceful area that fell in an open area [near Shlomi]. The IDF is attacking the source of the shooting in Lebanese territory,” it said.

The IDF later said more suspicious “aerial targets” had crossed the border from Lebanon on Sunday, but said no injuries were reported.

Isreal's warning: Intense shelling and exchanges of fire have taken place almost daily along the border for weeks, with Hezbollah acting in solidarity with Hamas and Israeli officials pledging to repel the militant group’s strikes. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Lebanese armed group earlier this week “not to test Israel,” saying that it would be the "mistake of their lives."   

5:59 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

Plan ready to evacuate neo-natal babies from Al-Shifa, Hamas-run Health Ministry says 

From CNN's Chloe Liu and Abeer Salman

Tents and shelters used by displaced Palestinians stand at the yard of Al Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital, in Gaza City, on November 12.
Tents and shelters used by displaced Palestinians stand at the yard of Al Shifa hospital during the Israeli ground operation around the hospital, in Gaza City, on November 12. Ahmed El Mokhallalati via Reuters

The Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health has said there are plans to evacuate more than 30 neo-natal babies from Al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza on Sunday.

A spokesperson from the ministry told CNN that the World Health Organization, using ambulances of the Palestinian Red Crescent, planned to carry out the evacuation of the babies on Sunday, adding that they were waiting for Israeli military bulldozers to open the way.

The WHO told CNN that it could not confirm the evacuation would take place but Richard Brennan, the WHO emergency director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, said that the agency was working on a detailed plan with partners including the Palestine Red Crescent and the UN relief agency in Gaza, UNRWA, as well as UNICEF.

“I can't go into details on that plan right now but we hope to have some more encouraging news later in the day,” Brennan told CNN. He added that moving the babies was a major priority.

After an assessment mission led by WHO that visited Al-Shifa Saturday, the agency said that “over the next 24–72 hours, pending guarantees of safe passage by parties to the conflict, additional missions are being arranged to urgently transport patients from Al-Shifa to Nasser Medical Complex and European Gaza Hospital in the south of Gaza. Patients include 32 babies in extremely critical condition.”

Brennan also told CNN: "We expect to have a series of convoys over the coming days to bring patients down to two main hospitals in the south, the European hospital and Nasser hospitals."

3:22 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

IDF updates number of soldiers killed in ops since October 7

From CNN's Amir Tal

The Israel Defense Forces has updated the number of soldiers killed in operations since October 7, when Hamas launched its attack on southern Israel.

The IDF said on Sunday two soldiers were killed in northern Gaza, adding to the six deaths it announced on Saturday.

It brings the total number of soldiers killed to 58 since Israel launched its offensive in Gaza.

Including those soldiers killed in the initial Hamas assault on October 7, the total IDF losses stand at 380.

3:28 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

Another blast at a UN school in Gaza leaves dozens dead, video shows. Here’s what you should know

From CNN staff

Many women and children were among those killed when a blast rocked a United Nations school in northern Gaza on Saturday, a UN relief agency confirmed. Video from the scene shows bloodied bodies in a series of rooms on two floors of the building, which had been used as a shelter for displaced Palestinians.

Saturday’s incident was the second time in 24 hours that a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees had been hit, the agency said. It did not have any further details about what caused the explosion or who was responsible.

Here are other headlines you should know:

  • No deal on hostages: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says there is still no deal to release some of the hostages captured by Hamas during the militant group's October 7 attacks. Netanyahu denied what he called false reports that Israel was considering a proposal for the release of at least 50 abductees. The Israel Defense Forces said Friday that the military’s official estimate of hostages being held in Gaza is 237. 
  • Biden rejects ceasefire: US President Joe Biden has rejected the mounting calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, saying in an op-ed published Saturday that it would not achieve peace, because it would allow Hamas to regroup and continue its attacks. Biden called for Israel to respect humanitarian law and minimize the loss of civilian life. The US leader also used the piece to condemn extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank — which has been a concern among officials — saying the US is prepared to issue visa bans against the perpetrators.
  • Fuel in, evacuees out of Gaza: Six hundred and seventy-four foreign nationals and nine injured Palestinians, along with 11 companions, have left Gaza for Egypt through the Rafah crossing Saturday, according to a statement by the Rafah crossing administration. Meanwhile, 50 trucks made their way into Gaza, including fuel trucks delivering 127,000 liters of fuel designated for UN relief workers, the statement added. The delivery is part of a new Israeli commitment to daily fuel shipments for Gaza, which has proven controversial domestically.
  • Al-Shifa evacuations: Several doctors from Al-Shifa told Al Jazeera on Saturday morning they had left the hospital after the Israel Defense Forces ordered them to evacuate – a claim the IDF denies. Dr. Munir Al-Bursh said the hospital director had received the order over a phone call, when he was told to evacuate the entire hospital and instruct those leaving to wave white flags or handkerchiefs. Six doctors will stay behind to take care of 120 patients who cannot move due to poor health conditions, the head of plastic surgery, Ahmed El Mokhallalati, wrote on X (formerly Twitter) Saturday. Meanwhile, the UN has called for access to the hospital so it can investigate Israel's claims that Hamas is using the medical center for combat purposes. Hamas and Gaza medical officials deny that claim.
11:20 a.m. ET, November 19, 2023

WHO led a "very high risk" UN mission to Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital on Saturday

From CNN’s Jo Shelley

A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows Al-Shifa hospital and surroundings in Gaza City on November 11.
A satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows Al-Shifa hospital and surroundings in Gaza City on November 11. Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies/AP

A group of United Nations humanitarian workers visited the Al-Shifa Hospital in northern Gaza on Saturday, the World Health Organization said in a post on the social media platform X.

The group spent one hour inside the hospital, during which time there was heavy fighting in close proximity to the facility, the WHO said.

UN staff described the hospital as a “death zone” where “signs of shelling and gunfire” were evident.

"The team saw a mass grave at the entrance of the hospital and was told more than 80 people were buried there," it said.

The WHO said several patients had died over the past two to three days due to the lack of medical services.

"There are 25 health workers and 291 patients remaining in Al-Shifa, with several patient deaths having occurred over the previous two to three days due to the shutting down of medical services," it said.

It added: "Patients include 32 babies in extremely critical condition, two people in intensive care without ventilation, and 22 dialysis patients whose access to life-saving treatment has been severely compromised."

Staff and patients who spoke to UN workers were “terrified for their safety and health," WHO said, adding that they "pleaded for evacuation."

The WHO says it is “urgently developing plans” to evacuate staff and patients to two hospitals in southern Gaza.

"The vast majority of patients are victims of war trauma, including many with complex fractures and amputations, head injuries, burns, chest and abdominal trauma, and 29 patients with serious spinal injuries who are unable to move without medical assistance," WHO said.

"Many trauma patients have severely infected wounds due to lack of infection control measures in the hospital and unavailability of antibiotics."

Some context: Israel launched a “targeted” operation against Hamas early Wednesday morning inside Gaza’s largest hospital, where thousands of displaced Palestinians had been sheltering alongside patients and medical staff.

Israel claims Hamas is using the hospital complex for military purposes and has built a command center under the facility – allegations repeatedly rejected by both Hamas and hospital officials. CNN has not verified the claims of either Israel or Hamas.

The intervening days have seen the hospital turn from civilian sanctuary to battlefield, with heavy fighting taking place in and around the complex, amid an already rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.

Israel is facing mounting international pressure to prove its claims about Hamas’ infiltration of the hospital, in order to justify some of its military decisions, which could otherwise constitute a possible serious violation of international humanitarian law.