December 18, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

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

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, December 19, 2023
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6:20 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

At least 110 people killed in Israeli attacks on Jabalya over past day, Hamas-run health ministry says

From CNN’s Kareem Khadder, Kareem El Damanhoury and Radina Gigova

Destroyed buildings following Israeli attacks on Jabalya in Gaza on December 17.
Destroyed buildings following Israeli attacks on Jabalya in Gaza on December 17. Abdulqader Sabbah/Anadolu/Getty Images

At least 110 people have been killed and dozens more injured during Israeli attacks on Jabalya in northern Gaza over the past 24 hours, the director-general of the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza told CNN Monday.

Munir Al-Bursh, who is in a field clinic in Jabalya, said 110 bodies have already been buried at an old cemetery in Jabalya as of Monday morning, while dozens of people are still believed to be under the rubble.

The old cemetery in Jabalya, which had fallen into disuse, had to be reopened because the dead could not be buried at the nearby Al-Falluja cemetery due to the shelling, he said. 

A video that Al-Bursh shot and sent to CNN appears to show nine dead children laying on the ground. Four of them are wrapped in white cloth with their names written on the cloth. Al-Bursh said the children are from three families in Jabalya, including his own immediate relatives.

CNN cannot independently verify the health ministry's numbers.

Ministry of Health announcements do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, but Al-Bursh said the majority of the dead and wounded are women and children.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it could comment on specific allegations of strikes without geographic coordinates, but told CNN it adheres to international law. It accused Hamas of "deliberately and systematically" placing military targets within the civilian population.

6:04 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrives in Tel Aviv

From CNN staff

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin disembarks from an aircraft as he arrives for an official visit to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, Israel, on December 18.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin disembarks from an aircraft as he arrives for an official visit to Israel at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, Israel, on December 18. Phil Stewart/Reuters

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday, where he is due to meet with Israeli government officials.

His visit comes amid an intensifying rift between US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

Austin was greeted at the airport on Monday by Israel's director of the policy bureau Dror Shalom, charge d’affaires Stephanie Hallet and Gen. C.Q. Brown, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

He is expected to meet with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant later Monday. A senior defense official said Sunday that Austin wants to hear "a very clear articulation" of Israel's security establishment's assessment of the campaign in Gaza.

Delicate diplomacy: Austin's visit comes after rifts between the US and Israel spilled into public view last week. Biden has warned his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu that Israel is losing international support for its campaign against Hamas, while Netanyahu has publicly rejected American plans for post-war Gaza.

Speaking to Democratic donors in Washington last week, Biden suggested Netanyahu needed to alter his approach.

"I think he has to change, and with this government, this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move,” Biden said, calling Netanyahu’s government the “most conservative government in Israel’s history.”

Biden also said the Israeli government "doesn't want a two-state solution" after the current military campaign winds down.

Speaking ahead of Biden’s comments at the fundraiser, Netanyahu admitted Tuesday that he and the US president disagree on what should happen to Gaza after the war.

"Yes, there is disagreement about ‘the day after Hamas’ and I hope that we will reach agreement here as well," Netanyahu said in a statement.
1:57 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

UK minister urges Israel to abide by humanitarian law after deadly Gaza church shooting

From CNN's Kareem El Damanhoury

Britain's minister for the Middle East on Sunday condemned a deadly shooting at a Gaza church allegedly carried out by an Israeli military sniper.

The sniper shot and killed a mother and daughter and injured seven others inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza on Saturday, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, in an incident also condemned by Pope Francis.

"Shocked that civilians taking refuge in a church in northern Gaza have been killed & others injured," British Minister of State for the Middle East Tariq Ahmad said in a statement. "Israel must abide by IHL [International Humanitarian Law]. Civilians must be protected. A sustainable ceasefire, leading to sustainable peace, is urgently needed."
Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, on December 17.
Pope Francis leads the Angelus prayer from his window at the Vatican, on December 17. Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

Pope Francis on Sunday addressed the deaths at the Holy Family Parish, lamenting that “unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire” in Gaza.

CNN has repeatedly reached out to the IDF for comment.

Read more about the shooting.

CNN's Christopher Lamb contributed reporting.

12:46 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

Austin visits Israel as White House presses Netanyahu for a change of strategy

From CNN's Haley Britzky

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is visiting Israel on Monday to get a clearer assessment from Israeli officials on their military operations, marking the latest administration official to visit the country amid an intensifying rift between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

Biden is under increasing pressure, domestically and internationally, to push Netanyahu away from the heavy bombardment of Gaza, which has sparked global outcry and calls for a sustained ceasefire.

CNN reported earlier this month that US officials expected Israel could transition by January to a lower-intensity, hyper-localized strategy that narrowly targets specific Hamas militants and leadership. A senior defense official said Sunday that Israel’s security establishment is assessing the conditions necessary to move to that next phase of the conflict “on an hourly if not daily basis” and that Austin wants to hear “a very clear articulation of their self-assessment” on Monday.

Austin will receive updates on how the Israel Defense Forces, the War Cabinet and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant are assessing the current phase of the campaign in Gaza, while also getting a sense of what metrics they’re using to transition to the next phase, the official said.

Gen. CQ Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will also be in Israel, joining Austin for “meetings with senior Israeli officials,” Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder said last week.

Austin’s conversations will focus on “the assessment of the campaign to date, specific operational milestones that need to be achieved,” the defense official said, adding that “we would expect any partner to be planning for what comes next.”

Austin’s visit comes on the heels of a visit to Tel Aviv by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, and just days after blunt remarks by Biden calling on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza.

Read more:

12:44 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

French consulate worker killed in Gaza following Israeli airstrike, foreign ministry says

From CNN's Sarah Diab and Ibrahim Dahman

An employee of the French consulate in Gaza has died from his injuries following an Israeli airstrike, France's Foreign Ministry said Saturday .     

The employee, who was not named by the ministry, had been working at the consulate since 2002. He had taken refuge at a colleague's home in Rafah with co-workers and their family members when it was hit in the deadly strike, according to the ministry.

"France condemns the bombing of a residential building, which caused the death of many other civilians. We demand that the Israeli authorities shed full light on the circumstances of this bombing, as soon as possible," the ministry said.  

CNN has reached out to the Israel Defense Forces for a response.

On Sunday, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said she was in Tel Aviv to stress the importance of a "new humanitarian truce," while also expressing France's solidarity with Israel after the October 7 attacks.

France is concerned about the deepening “catastrophic and tragic situation on the ground in Gaza,” and Israel must engage in a ceasefire to facilitate the release of hostages and the aid distribution, she said.

11:59 p.m. ET, December 17, 2023

US defense chief travels to Israel as deaths mount in Gaza. Here's what to know

From CNN staff

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will push Israeli officials to define milestones for the war with Hamas during a visit Monday, a senior defense official said.

Austin will press the Israelis on "what metrics they're looking at in order to transition to the next phase of their campaign in Gaza," the official said, noting he will also work to "drill down" on efforts to increase humanitarian aid to civilians.

President Joe Biden has warned Israel that it is losing support due to its bombardment of Gaza.

About 18,800 Palestinians — 70% of whom were women and children — have died in Gaza between October 7 and December 15, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah said Sunday. The ministry added that more than 51,100 people have been reportedly wounded, with scores of other people unaccounted for.

CNN cannot independently verify these numbers. The ministry bases its figures on data received from hospitals in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Here's the latest on the war:

  • Crossing opens: Aid trucks on Sunday entered Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel for the first time since it was closed on October 7, Israeli officials said. The volume of aid entering Gaza is less than half of pre-war levels, according to the United Nations.
  • Tunnel discovery: The Israel Defense Forces claims to have discovered “the biggest Hamas tunnel” in Gaza, spanning a length of 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles). The IDF said the tunnel, secured “a few weeks ago” but revealed to the public Sunday, is wide enough to drive a large vehicle through, reaches up to 50 meters (over 160 feet) underground and is equipped with electricity, ventilation and communication systems. CNN could not independently verify the IDF’s claims.
  • Pope speaks out: Pope Francis on Sunday addressed the deaths of a mother and daughter who were sheltering inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where church leaders say they were killed by an Israeli military sniper. "Unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and gunfire. And this has happened even within the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, people who are sick and have disabilities, sisters," Francis said. CNN has reached out to the IDF for comment.

  • Jabalya airstrike: An airstrike Sunday morning killed at least 24 people in Jabalya, northern Gaza, the Hamas-controlled health ministry said. At least 90 others were wounded and there are "many more feared under the rubble of a house," according to Dr. Munir Al-Bursh, director-general of the ministry.
  • Comms blackout: communication blackout in Gaza has now continued for four days, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said Sunday, making it the longest since the start of the Israeli operation in October. 
  • France calls for truce: French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said Sunday she was in Tel Aviv to stress the importance of a "new humanitarian truce," while also expressing France's solidarity with Israel after the October 7 attacks. France is concerned about the deepening “catastrophic and tragic situation on the ground in Gaza,” and Israel must engage in a ceasefire to facilitate the release of hostages and the aid distribution, Colonna said.
10:20 p.m. ET, December 17, 2023

Aid enters Gaza through Kerem Shalom crossing for first time since October 7, Israel says

From CNN's Kareem El Damanhoury

Aid trucks on Sunday entered war-torn Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Israel for the first time since it was closed on October 7 following Hamas' attacks, Israeli officials said.

The Israeli office for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said in a statement that a total of 201 aid trucks entered Gaza Sunday, including 79 through Kerem Shalom.

In an earlier statement, COGAT said the move to allow trucks into Gaza through Kerem Shalom would increase the volume of humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave.

The announcement follows the Israeli government’s decision last week to allow aid trucks to be inspected at Kerem Shalom for the first time since October 7.

The US government pushed Israel to reopen the Kerem Shalom border crossing to allow humanitarian aid trucks to go directly into Gaza on an emergency basis. 

A senior Israeli Defense Ministry official said earlier Sunday that a total of 470 aid trucks went through security inspections and were sent to the Rafah crossing in Egypt.

Aid warnings: The amount of aid entering Gaza is less than half of pre-war levels, according to the United Nations.

The number of aid trucks "is well below the daily average of 500 truckloads (including fuel and private sector goods) that entered every working day prior to 7 October," the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a statement Sunday.

CNN's Mariya Knight and Tamar Michaelis contributed reporting.

1:47 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

70% of Palestinians killed in Gaza are women and children, health ministry says

From CNN’s Ibrahim Dahman and Eve Brennan in London  

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza outside a morgue in Khan Younis on December 10. 
Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of Gaza outside a morgue in Khan Younis on December 10.  Mohammed Dahman/AP

Approximately 18,800 Palestinians — 70% of whom were women and children — have died in Gaza between October 7 and December 15, the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah said in a statement Sunday.

More than 300 health sector workers, 86 journalists, 135 employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East and approximately 35 civil defense crews are included in the death toll, the ministry said.

The ministry added that more than 51,100 people have been reportedly wounded, with scores of other people unaccounted for.

The ministry went on to say in its report that only eight out of 36 hospitals are partially functional in the enclave, and that occupancy rates have soared to 206% in inpatient departments and 250% in intensive care units.

CNN cannot independently verify these numbers. The ministry bases its figures on data received from hospitals in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

As of last week (December 10), the Israel Defense Forces stated it had struck over 22,000 targets in Gaza since Hamas' attack on Israel on October 7.

CNN has reached out to the IDF for an updated figure.

1:52 a.m. ET, December 18, 2023

Israeli military claims to discover largest Hamas tunnel in Gaza

From CNN’s Benjamin Brown

Israel Defense Forces soldiers gain access to a Hamas tunnel in Gaza in this screengrab from an undated video released by the IDF.
Israel Defense Forces soldiers gain access to a Hamas tunnel in Gaza in this screengrab from an undated video released by the IDF. Israel Defense Forces

The Israel Defense Forces claims to have discovered “the biggest Hamas tunnel” in Gaza, spanning a length of 4 kilometers (about 2.5 miles).

The IDF said the tunnel, secured “a few weeks ago” but revealed to the public Sunday, is wide enough to drive a large vehicle through, reaches up to 50 meters (over 160 feet) underground and is equipped with electricity, ventilation and communication systems.

It does not cross into Israel but ends 400 meters before the now-closed Erez crossing on the northern Israel-Gaza border, according to the IDF.

The tunnel is part of Hamas’ “strategic infrastructure” and would be destroyed, the IDF said.

In a video shared by the IDF, the Israeli military claimed the tunnel was created for Hamas troop movements and as a launching point for attacks. 

Footage shared by the IDF and allegedly filmed by Hamas to show the construction of the tunnel shows a large vehicle driving into the tunnel and a makeshift railroad inside it.

CNN could not independently verify the footage or the IDF’s claims.

In a statement Sunday, the IDF alleged that the tunnel system was a project of the brother of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, Muhammad Sinwar. The IDF did not provide any evidence to support the claim.

What to know about Gaza's tunnels: The myriad tunnels under Gaza are best known as passageways used to smuggle goods from Egypt and launch attacks into Israel.

Colloquially referred to as the “Gaza metro,” the vast labyrinth of tunnels is also used to transport people and goods, to store rockets and ammunition caches, and house Hamas command and control centers — all away from the prying eyes of the IDF’s aircraft and surveillance drones.

Hamas in 2021 claimed to have built 500 kilometers (311 miles) of tunnels under Gaza, though it is unclear if that figure was accurate or posturing. If true, Hamas’ underground tunnels would be a little less than half the length of the New York City subway system.

During its offensive in the territory, the IDF claims it has exposed “hundreds of terror tunnel shafts throughout the Gaza Strip,” and says it is operating “to locate and destroy dozens of attack tunnel routes.”

Recently, it has tested methods for flooding the Hamas tunnels.

CNN's Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting to this post.