December 11, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Tara Subramaniam, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Elise Hammond and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 12, 2023
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9:05 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Biden pledges unshakeable US support for Israel, but warns that world opinion could shift

From CNN's Donald Judd

Biden gives remarks in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 8.
Biden gives remarks in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 8. Travis P Ball/Sipa/AP

US President Joe Biden on Monday night touted his unshakeable support for “the safety of the Jewish people and the security of Israel and its right to exist” in the wake of the Hamas terror attacks of October 7.

The president pointed to his support for Israel, while acknowledging daylight on issues between himself and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, joking that he had once told the Israeli leader: “I love you, but I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say.” He added: “It’s about the same today.” 

Still, Biden said in remarks marking the fifth night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah that Israel was in “a tough spot,” following the Hamas attack and subsequent war in Gaza.

 “We’ll continue to provide military assistance to Israel until they get rid of Hamas, but we have to be careful — they have to be careful,” Biden said. “The whole world’s public opinion can shift overnight, we can’t let that happen.”

The president also hailed the work his administration has done to secure the release of hostages still held in Gaza and the delivery of humanitarian aid to the region.

“We're working relentlessly for the safe return of the hostages. I personally spent countless hours – and I mean it, probably up to 20 hours with the Qataris and Egyptians, the Israelis – to secure the freedom of hostages, to get the trucks in, to get the humanitarian aid flowing, to convince them to open the gate, to have [Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] El-Sisi — make sure he opened the gate into Egypt,” Biden said. “And there's a whole range of things going on now that are really very, very difficult. We've gotten more than 100 hostages out and we're not going to stop till we get every one of them home.”

Biden was joined by second gentleman Doug Emhoff and a group of White House officials descended from Holocaust survivors who lit the White House menorah.

8:23 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Israel says troops are encircling the last Hamas strongholds in the north. Here's what else to know

From CNN staff

Trucks with aid destined for the Gaza are parked on the side of the road in Rafah, Egypt, on Monday, December 11.
Trucks with aid destined for the Gaza are parked on the side of the road in Rafah, Egypt, on Monday, December 11. Ali Moustafa/Getty Images

Hamas battalions in two areas of northern Gaza are “on the verge of dismantling," according to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have also intensified its operation in the central part of the enclave.

The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) will resume its emergency session on Tuesday, days after the United States vetoed a resolution that included a ceasefire. At the same time, four European Union countries are calling for a discussion at an upcoming EU summit on the necessity of a ceasefire in Gaza.  

Here's what else to know:

  • Intense fighting continues: Israel's operation in central Gaza has intensified in the days since the brief truce ended, resulting in an uptick in fatalities recorded in Al-Aqsa Hospital. The Palestine Red Crescent Society shared footage of a dramatic rescue on Sunday of a husband and wife who were trapped under rubble in central Gaza. In northern Gaza, Israeli troops are encircling Hamas’ last two strongholds in the Jabalya and Shejaiya areas, according to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. The director general of the Ministry of Health in Gaza described heavy fighting and a significant presence of Israel's military around the Jabalya refugee camp. A hospital in the center of Gaza City, Kamal Adwan, is also surrounded by Israeli forces, according to Dr. Ahmed Al-Kahlot.
  • Climbing death toll: The IDF reported Monday that three Israeli soldiers had been killed fighting against Hamas in Gaza, bringing the total number of IDF troops killed in the enclave to 100. Later Monday, the IDF also said five reservists were killed on Sunday during a raid in southern Gaza. Meanwhile, the number of people killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza since October 7 has risen to 18,205, the Hamas-controlled health ministry in the enclave said Monday. 
  • Crossing in and out of Gaza: Sixty-one trucks loaded with humanitarian aid entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Monday, according to an Egyptian official. Israeli authorities have also said they will start conducting security screenings at the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana Crossings. Thirty-four injured Palestinians and four buses carrying an unknown number of foreign nationals also crossed from Gaza into Egypt Monday, a CNN journalist at the Rafah crossing said. So far, more than 1,200 American citizens, residents and family members have left the enclave, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday.
  • Images of detained men: The United States is seeking answers from the Israeli government about the status of the individuals seen in recent images of men detained and stripped down in Gaza and the circumstances around the images. Miller, with the State Department, called the photos "deeply disturbing." A spokesperson for the IDF claimed to CNN last week that the men were members or suspected members of Hamas. However, Hani Almadhoun, the director of philanthropy for the US arm of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA USA) said he knew a dozen people pictured in circulating images, including his brother — all of whom were civilians. 
  • International pressure: The UNGA is scheduled to resume its emergency session on Tuesday. Egyptian and Mauritanian representatives are attempting to revive efforts to secure a ceasefire, invoking a resolution that allows UNGA to make recommendations when the Security Council is judged to have failed to maintain international peace. It comes after the US vetoed a UN resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on Friday. Separately, the leaders of Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Malta wrote a letter to the European Council chief calling for a discussion of a ceasefire at an upcoming European Union summit.
  • Qatar sending money to Gaza: Qatar will continue to make payments to Gaza to support the enclave, as it has been doing for years, the Qatari minister of state for foreign affairs said. Israel approved the deal in a security cabinet meeting in August 2018. The deal is one reason why many Israelis today place part of the blame for the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Netanyahu personally. Numerous people told CNN they believed that allowing the payments made Hamas stronger and, ultimately, made the brutal attacks worse.
7:32 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

EU working on new sanctions against “extremist settlers in the West Bank,” foreign policy chief says

From CNN's Catherine Nicholls, Sugam Pokharel, Andrew Carey and Jennifer Hansler

The European Union’s foreign policy chief says the EU will work on introducing sanctions against Jewish settlers who commit acts of violence against Palestinians in the West Bank.

Josep Borrell’s comments come amid growing concern that Israel is not doing enough to prevent hardcore settlers from launching attacks on Palestinian villages in the occupied West Bank.

“We will work on imposing sanctions against extremist settlers in the West Bank,” Borrell told reporters in Brussels, saying he is alarmed by recent violence in the occupied territory.

United Nations data has shown a sharp increase in attacks by settlers against Palestinians since October 7 — though European and US diplomats working in the region have been expressing concern for years about such violence and the sense that it frequently goes unpunished by Israel.

Borrell's remarks also follow the announcement of a new visa policy by the United States targeting the same violent individuals.

Last week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new visa restriction policy targeting “individuals believed to have been involved in undermining peace, security, or stability in the West Bank, including through committing acts of violence or taking other actions that unduly restrict civilians’ access to essential services and basic necessities."

The State Department will be able to apply the policy to both Israelis and Palestinians who are responsible for attacks in the West Bank, Blinken said.

According to the Reuters news agency, Borrell did not give details of possible EU sanctions, but the news agency said officials believed it would also involve travel bans to the EU. 

Another challenge for Borrell will be to convince all EU members to support any new sanctions policy. Several states, among them Hungary and Austria, are among Israel’s strongest international supporters.

What Israel is saying: Israel itself is reluctant to accept any criticism of its policy toward West Bank settlers, especially at a time when it is still dealing with the aftermath of the October 7 attack by Hamas.

War cabinet member Benny Gantz, seen previously as particularly mindful of the need to get a grip on the sense of lawlessness in some Jewish communities in the West Bank, has recently been seeking to convince international colleagues not to use the term "settler violence" because, he argues, it unfairly characterizes all those Israelis living in the territory.

Borrell also said Monday he would look to introduce a new sanctions package against Hamas, the Reuters news agency reported.  The EU already considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

7:18 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Blinken speaks with Israeli war cabinet member about hostages in Gaza and increasing humanitarian aid

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke Monday with Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz about efforts to " facilitate the safe return of all remaining hostages" in Gaza and also increasing levels of humanitarian assistance.

"Secretary Blinken stressed the urgent need for affirmative steps to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank and reiterated that Israel must take all possible measures to avoid civilian harm," US State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said in a readout. "Secretary Blinken emphasized that the United States remains committed to advancing tangible steps towards the realization of a Palestinian state," he said.

6:07 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Families of American hostages were not invited to the White House Hanukkah reception, hostage relative says

From CNN's MJ Lee

A large menorah  is seen ahead of the Annual National Menorah Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 7.
A large menorah is seen ahead of the Annual National Menorah Lighting ceremony at the Ellipse of the White House in Washington, DC, on December 7. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images/FILE

Several family members of the American citizen hostages missing in Gaza had asked to attend a Hanukkah reception at the White House Monday night but never received invitations, the father of a 19-year-old missing Israeli-American told CNN. 

Ruby Chen — whose son, Itay, has been missing since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel — said a number of the families of American hostages were in Washington, DC, this week, and had reached out to the White House asking to attend Tuesday’s reception but were not invited. 

A White House spokesperson declined to comment.  

The reception, hosted by President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden, celebrates the fifth night of Hanukkah. It will feature some 800 guests, according to the White House, including Holocaust survivors, lawmakers and various Jewish leaders. 

There are still seven American men and one woman unaccounted for since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to the White House. Four Americans  — a four-year-old girl and three women — have been released so far. 

After formal hostage negotiations that had been taking place in Doha, Qatar, fell apart, the Biden administration continues to be in close contact with their Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian counterparts about ways to get more hostages out, according to officials. 

Since the start of the war, families of the missing Americans have had opportunities to speak or meet with President Biden, his national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Vice President Kamala Harris.

But as CNN has previously reported, the seeming lack of progress on this front is fueling the families’ growing anxiety.

Some of the families have called on the White House to consider making a side deal with Hamas that focuses on just the American hostages, and have even floated the idea of cutting the Israeli government out of initial negotiations altogether. 

Multiple families told CNN that while they felt supported by the Biden administration’s outreach and support so far, the Israeli government has, in stark contrast, been minimally engaged. 

6:03 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Kamal Adwan hospital in northern Gaza remains under siege, doctor says

From CNN's Ibrahim Dahman and Jennifer Deaton

As the Israeli military steps up its campaign to defeat Hamas in northern Gaza, hospitals there remain under siege, according to doctors.

Dr. Ahmed Al-Kahlot told CNN on Monday the hospital he runs in the center of Gaza City, Kamal Adwan, is surrounded by Israeli forces. 

The maternity ward was hit Monday afternoon local time by tank shelling, killing two women and leaving two more so badly wounded their legs required amputation, he said.

"The hospital has no water, no food, no fuel. I make an appeal to lift this siege and bring in water and fuel," he said. 

CNN has asked the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for comment.

On Friday, the IDF said clashes near Kamal Adwan were "in response to Hamas' barbaric attacks.” The Israeli military says it only carries out operations in and around hospitals where they are being used by Hamas and other armed groups.

Separately, Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, the director general of the Ministry of Health in Gaza, told CNN that the Al Awda hospital in northern Gaza has been under siege for many days.

“There is no food, or water, or medicine there — where approximately 250 people are still trapped inside. Anyone who tries to leave the hospital is shot at,” he said.

This post was updated with the time of when the tank fire allegedly hit a maternity ward.

3:55 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Surgeon injured after being shot inside northern Gaza hospital, medical group says

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), or Doctors Without Borders, was injured inside Al Awda Hospital in north Gaza by a shot fired from outside the facility on Monday, the organization said.

“Our colleagues report snipers surrounding the hospital, firing on those inside,” MSF said.

Renzo Fricke, MSF's head of mission, added in a statement, that "reports coming out of Al-Awda hospital are harrowing and we are gravely worried for safety of patients and staff inside.” 

He said Al Awda is a functioning hospital “with medical staff and many patients in vulnerable condition." He called any targeting of medical workers "utterly reprehensible, utterly inhumane.”

MSF said two of its doctors have been among five health workers killed at Al Awda Hospital since October 7.

“The hospital building has also sustained substantial damage in the bombing and fighting, along many other hospitals in the north of the Strip, and supplies are running low, further compromising the doctors' capacity to treat patients," Fricke said.

CNN has asked the Israel Defense Forces for a response to the MSF allegation.

3:40 p.m. ET, December 11, 2023

Leaders from 4 European Union countries call on EU Council chief to discuss Gaza ceasefire at summit

From CNN’s James Frater and Niamh Kennedy in London 

The leaders of Ireland, Spain, Belgium and Malta have written a letter to the European Council President Charles Michel calling for a discussion at an upcoming EU summit on the necessity of a ceasefire in Gaza.  

"We are writing to you in view of the step taken by United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, invoking Article 99 of the United Nations Charter for the United Nations Security Council to address urgently the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Gaza," the leaders said in the opening paragraph of their letter.

The Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Spanish President Pedro Sanchez, Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo described the death toll, the destruction and the humanitarian situation brought about by the war in Gaza as "alarming."

CNN obtained a copy of the letter from an EU official. 

All four leaders have previously called publicly for a ceasefire in Gaza and provided some of the strongest condemnations of Israel's actions in Gaza from EU leaders. 

"Given the gravity of the situation and the potential of an escalation in the West Bank and regionally, it is imperative for us to hold a serious debate on the war during the upcoming European Council that will take place on December 14 and 15," the leaders stressed. 

The leaders also called for "effective measures" to be taken to protect the “innocent civilians” of Gaza being impacted by the conflict. Humanitarian aid must be delivered "unhindered" to the enclave, the leaders said. 

In the letter, they also highlighted the “urgent need” for a “political process on the basis of the implementation of the two-state solution.” 

The letter added, "We cannot go back to the status quo before October 7, with Hamas in control of Gaza and with the Palestinian Authority undermined by the lack of any serious political perspective,"

They suggested convening an international peace conference with Israel and Hamas “in order to implement the two-state solution.” 

The leaders ended the letter by warning that the EU’s “credibility is at stake.”  

"These are dark hours for millions of people in Palestine and Israel. Across Europe anti-Semitic incidents have resurged and this cannot be tolerated. It is time for the European Union to act," they said.