December 12, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Tara Subramaniam, Sana Noor Haq, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2:08 a.m. ET, December 13, 2023
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2:08 a.m. ET, December 13, 2023

7 Israeli soldiers killed in single incident in northern Gaza, military says

From journalist Tamar Michaelis in Tel Aviv

Seven Israeli soldiers, including a battalion commander, have been killed in a single incident in northern Gaza, Israel's military said on Tuesday.

Lt. Col. Tomer Grinberg, commander of the 13th battalion of the Golani Brigade, was among those killed, it said.

Details of the incident, which marks one of the biggest losses of life for Israeli forces during their ongoing offensive in the enclave, were not immediately made public.

Another soldier was killed in a separate incident Tuesday, bringing the number of Israeli troops killed in Gaza combat to 113, the military said.

At least 18,412 people have been killed in Gaza during Israeli attacks since October 7, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the enclave said Tuesday. 

This post has been updated to reflect the number of Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza combat.

11:40 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Israel strikes targets in Syria and Lebanon amid cross-border exchanges

From CNN's Andrew Carey

Israeli forces struck targets in Syria and Lebanon over the past 24 hours, the military said Tuesday, the latest in cross-border exchanges that have raised fears Israel's war with Hamas could spark a wider regional conflict.

In Syria, Israeli warplanes and tanks struck several Syrian army posts and other military infrastructure in response to three launches from Syrian territory, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.

Only one launch from Syria landed inside open ground in Israel, the IDF added.

It marks the first time in five days that Israel has reported incoming fire from Syrian territory.

By contrast, cross-border exchanges between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants based in southern Lebanon having been taking place daily for weeks.

In Lebanon, Israel said one of its fighter jets hit what it called military infrastructure and a Hezbollah launch post on Tuesday, after identifying incoming anti-tank missile and mortar fire launched across its northern border.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari accused Hezbollah of continuing to “operate from within the villages and urban areas of southern Lebanon,” saying their actions “put Lebanese territory at risk.”

Displacement claim: Hagari also claimed that more than 100,000 people had recently fled their homes in southern Lebanon and moved north inside the country amid the cross-border exchanges. It is the first time Israel’s chief military spokesman has made such a claim about people leaving the region.

Hagari appeared to suggest they were fleeing escalating tensions, though he offered no direct explanation for the move and was not asked about it when taking questions from reporters.

8:20 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

UN demands an immediate Gaza ceasefire. Here's what else you should know

From CNN staff

The UN General Assembly voted Tuesday to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, in a rebuke to the United States which last week blocked a similar resolution in the smaller Security Council.

A majority of 153 nations voted for the resolution during the emergency special session, while 10 voted against and 23 abstained.

While a General Assembly vote is politically significant and seen as wielding moral weight, it is nonbinding, unlike a Security Council resolution.

The vote, hailed as “historic” by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, comes as the war between Israel and Hamas enters its third month, and as medics and aid groups sound alarm bells on the humanitarian situation in besieged Gaza.

Here are other headlines you should know:

  • Humanitarian crisis: Diseases including chicken pox, meningitis and upper respiratory tract infections are spreading in Gaza, Palestinian and international medical authorities said. One emergency aid coordinator told CNN there are barely “living conditions” for the people. And an intense downpour Tuesday displaced families who are struggling to keep water and mud out of their makeshift tents in southern Gaza. More than 18,000 people have been killed in the enclave since fighting broke out, the Hamas-controlled health ministry said Monday.
  • Humanitarian aid: There is currently no plan to allow aid to enter Gaza directly from Israel, an official at Israel's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) told CNN. But the United States is pressuring Israel to open the Kerem Shalom border crossing to allow trucks to go directly into Gaza on an emergency basis, US officials told CNN. On Tuesday, 197 humanitarian aid trucks were screened and transferred to the Gaza Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, Israeli officials said.
  • Flooding Gaza's tunnels: Israel has informed the US it has begun “carefully testing out” flooding some of Gaza's tunnels with seawater “on a limited basis” to test the ability to degrade the tunnel network on a larger scale, a US official told CNN Tuesday. Separately, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said troops inside Gaza are operating deep underground.  Also, the Israel Defense Forces said 13 soldiers have been killed by friendly fire since the beginning of the ground operation in the enclave.
  • Hospital updates: The Israeli military arrested dozens of the medical staff at the Kamal Adwan hospital Tuesday, a senior doctor told CNN. The director of the hospital in northern Gaza was among those detained, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
  • More on the hostage situation: US President Joe Biden on Wednesday is set to meet with families of American hostages abducted by Hamas during the October 7 attack on Israel, a White House official told CNN. Also, the IDF said that the bodies of two Israeli hostages have been recovered in Gaza.
  • International relations: Rifts between the US and Israel spilled into public view as Biden warned that Israel was losing international support for its campaign against Hamas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly rejected American plans for post-war Gaza. The divides, which until now had mostly been contained behind the scenes, reflected growing differences between the two staunch allies as the civilian death toll in Gaza mounts. A pair of top US officials will travel to Israel this week for key meetings during this critical moment for the war.
6:48 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Hamas welcomes UN call for ceasefire in Gaza

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

Hamas welcomed the United Nations General Assembly' demand for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of the Hamas Political Bureau, urged the international community to sustain pressure on what he called the occupying forces and called for compliance with the UN decision.

In a short statement, he also condemned the "war of genocide and ethnic cleansing" against the Palestinian people.

On Tuesday, the General Assembly voted to demand an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza with a majority of 153 nations voting in favor.

The brief resolution called for a ceasefire, for all parties to comply with international law, and for humanitarian access to hostages as well as their “immediate and unconditional” release.

7:02 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Wading through mud and puddles, displaced Gazans struggle to cope with harsh weather 

From CNN’s Abeer Salman in Jerusalem 

Downpours have caused flooding in the tent camp in Deir al-Balahmsouthern Gaza.
Downpours have caused flooding in the tent camp in Deir al-Balahmsouthern Gaza. CNN

Displaced families in Deir al-Balah in southern Gaza were struggling to keep water and mud out of their makeshift tents following intense downpours on Tuesday. 

A CNN video from a camp for internally displaced people shows children wading through mud and deep, dirty puddles. One woman can be seen trying to push water out of her tent where at least nine children, including a baby, are seeking shelter. 

"Look at our children and how the water has entered! Look at the water outside! Damn Hamas and Israel! It's enough for us! Stop this ongoing series we are living in! Have mercy on us and stop, or let Israel kill us all and give us relief. But this situation is unbearable,” said the woman, who identified herself as Fatma. 

Multiple downpours on Tuesday caused flash flooding of many of the tents in the camp, soaking mattresses and leaving families with no dry place to sleep or seek refuge. 

While some children were seen playing in the water, splashing around the puddles inside their makeshift homes, Rana Al-Najjar said she finds no joy in the rain. 

Walking around barefoot, the 13-year-old girl told CNN: "We are nine people living in this tent. Our tent is flooded with water, my siblings are freezing, and we don't know what to do. We want to go back to our homes and not drown." 

According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), almost 1.9 million people in Gaza, or nearly 85% of the besieged enclave’s population, were estimated to be internally displaced as of December 11. Some have been displaced multiple times. 

6:19 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

One family's plight in Gaza: From work and a home to a tent and destitution

From CNN's Ibrahim Dahman and Magdy Abbas

A UN tent camp for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis, as seen on November 19
A UN tent camp for displaced Palestinians in Khan Younis, as seen on November 19 Fatima Shbair/AP/FILE

Not so long ago, Wajih Ajour had a steady job in Gaza City delivering bread in a bus. Now the 38-year-old, his wife and three children are destitute, sleeping in a tent in Khan Younis in southern Gaza and subsisting on lentils and beans. 

“We started the war, and the people are the greatest victims,” he told CNN in a phone interview from Khan Younis.

When the Israeli military warned civilians in northern Gaza and Gaza City to move south in October, Ajour piled his extended family into his bus and headed south.

“We were approximately 40 people,” Ajour said. “This bus would not take more than 13 passengers. However, due to the difficulty in getting transportation we crammed into it and did not take anything from our homes, no clothes, nothing. We thought the war would not last long.” 

The journey south was a nightmare, with nearby shelling causing the children to cry. Ajour remembers people jumping out of cars and running in panic. Eventually, they reached Khan Younis, a trip of only a few miles, long after dark.

“We didn't know where to go and didn't know anyone in southern Gaza. We went to more than one school, but found the schools full and there was no possibility of staying there. We kept asking where to go and in the end, we heard that there was a place belonging to UNRWA [the UN agency in Gaza] west of Khan Younis.”

That first night away from home, they slept on the ground with no covers or mattresses. That became the new normal.

“They provided us with one mattress for my father-in-law because he is sick. My pregnant sister didn't get anything, and the kids didn't get anything.”

Ajour said that even people who had left home with cash soon ran out because of high prices. 

“The longer the war lasts, the more the crisis increases for the people. So far, we are waiting for the return to our homes.”

Until then – even if the family home is still standing – Ajour and much of his family are living in a tent, which they had to buy.

“As for food, of course there is nothing but lentils, beans, tuna and rice,” cooked on a wood fire.

Ajour said his family was receiving less help as more people converged on the south every day.

“In the beginning, we used to receive aid to meet our needs, such as tinned food, beans, meat, and tuna, as well as cleaning materials and soap. But days after the arrival of thousands in this place, the aid does not reach everyone," he said
“People are in an indescribable situation. I never imagined I would be looking for food for the children, sleeping in tents or showering once a week. All the children are sick. My neighbor in the next tent died from neglect.” he continued. 

Ajour added he hopes the war ends "as soon as possible."

6:06 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Biden says he's heard that there are no hostages in Gaza's tunnels but doesn't know for sure

From CNN's Donald Judd

Biden speaks during a joint press conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, December 12.
Biden speaks during a joint press conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, December 12. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

US President Joe Biden was asked Tuesday about reports that Israel has begun test-flooding some of the tunnels in the Gaza Strip with seawater to degrade the broader tunnel network, which it claims has been used by Hamas.

Biden told reporters during a news conference with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky that while he’s heard “assertions” that there are no hostages currently being held in those tunnels, his administration has not been able to confirm that beyond a doubt.

“With regard to the flooding of the tunnels, I’m not at liberty – well, there is assertions being made that they’re quite sure there are no hostages in any of these tunnels, but I don't know that for a fact,” Biden said. “I do know that, though, every civilian death is an absolute tragedy.” 

CNN reported Tuesday that the United States was informed by the Israelis that they've begun “carefully testing out” flooding some of Gaza's tunnels with seawater “on a limited basis” to see if it will work to degrade the tunnel network on a larger scale. They assured the US they’re only doing so in tunnels where they do not believe hostages are being held, a US official said.

During the news conference, Biden said he’d had conversations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “to make sure that we don't forget what we're doing here,” and to focus on protecting civilian life when possible, even in the wake of atrocities committed on Hamas’ October 7 attack.

"I think that we have made it clear to the Israelis and they're aware that the independent, the safety of innocent Palestinians is still of great concern, and so the actions they're taking must be consistent with attempting to do everything possible to prevent innocent Palestinian civilians from being hurt, murdered, killed, lost, et cetera.” 

The president pointed to an array of efforts his administration has undertaken to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, offering praise for Israel and Arab partner nations in delivering aid, including food and fuel.

5:28 p.m. ET, December 12, 2023

Top US officials will travel to Israel this week, Biden says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A pair of top US officials will travel to Israel this week for key meetings during a critical moment for the war, President Joe Biden announced Tuesday.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan will travel to the region “this week,” Biden said. He will meet with the Israeli War Cabinet, the president added, to “emphasize our commitment to Israel as well as the need to protect civilian life and assure more humanitarian assistance flows and reaches into Gaza for Palestinian civilians.” 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will also travel to the region. 

Austin, Biden said, will “step up the international efforts to protect the free flow of commerce through the Red Sea.” 

Those meetings come following a warning from Biden that Israel was losing international support for its campaign against Hamas amid heavy bombardment of Gaza.