December 19, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Kathleen Magramo, Christian Edwards, Aditi Sangal, Leinz Vales, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 2:43 a.m. ET, December 20, 2023
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3:45 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Israel exploring construction of "humanitarian compound" in northern Gaza after fighting subsides

From CNN’s Jeremy Diamond

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, attends a news conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday. Gallant hinted at the possibility of allowing displaced civilians to return to northern Gaza once Israel achieves its military objectives there.
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, attends a news conference with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday. Gallant hinted at the possibility of allowing displaced civilians to return to northern Gaza once Israel achieves its military objectives there. Maya Alleruzzo/AP

Israeli officials are exploring the potential construction of a “humanitarian compound” in northern Gaza to house displaced Palestinian civilians, two Israeli officials and an international humanitarian official familiar with the plans told CNN.

The establishment of such a compound would allow some Palestinian civilians to move to northern Gaza once the Israeli military completes its current phase of military operations in that part of the enclave, the sources said. The planning for the compound is in its early stages and it was not yet clear how many people it could accommodate.  

Israel has informed the United States it is exploring the project and a senior Israeli official said Israel would seek assistance from other countries as well. The international humanitarian official also confirmed discussions about the project and said other countries and private entities could be involved. 

Israeli military officials have said they believe they are close to defeating Hamas militants in Jabalya and Gaza City’s Shujaiya neighborhood, Hamas’ last remaining strongholds in northern Gaza.

Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Monday hinted at the possibility of allowing displaced civilians to return to northern Gaza once Israel achieves its military objectives there. 

“In every area where we achieve our mission, we will be able to transition gradually to the next phase and start working on bringing back the local population. This can be achieved maybe sooner in the north rather than in the south,” Gallant said during a news conference alongside United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

Nearly 85% of Gaza’s population has been displaced by the war between Israel and Hamas, but many of those displaced from northern Gaza will have no homes to return to — hence the need for the construction of shelters.

About 80% of buildings in northern Gaza had been damaged or destroyed by the end of November, according to an analysis by the United Nations Satellite Centre published last week

The Israeli government is exploring the project amid pressure from the United States to ramp down its military campaign in Gaza and establish more safe zones for Palestinian civilians. Israel has also begun to explore the post-war reconstruction of the Gaza Strip with the United States and Gulf countries, the officials said.

Alex Marquardt contributed reporting to this post.

3:56 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

US is still reviewing text of Gaza resolution at UN, diplomatic source tells CNN

From CNN's Becky Anderson

Members of the UN Security Council hold sideline meetings as they take a break at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday.
Members of the UN Security Council hold sideline meetings as they take a break at the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

The United States is still reviewing the text of a draft resolution on Gaza that the United Nations Security Council is set to vote on, a diplomatic source familiar with the matter told CNN. 

The council’s vote on draft resolution 2334 is expected at around 5 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

The resolution drafted by the United Arab Emirates calls for a suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow for the delivery of critically needed humanitarian aid, UAE Ambassador to the UN Lana Nusseibeh said.

The US has vetoed previous measures at the Security Council and voted against a call for a ceasefire in the larger General Assembly. 

That lends significance to Tuesday’s vote. If the US allows the resolution to pass, it would amount to an important signal to Israel — including from its top ally — of the growing international outcry over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

3:22 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Death toll in occupied West Bank surpasses 300, Palestinian health ministry says

From CNN’s Abeer Salman, Eyad Kourdi and Sugam Pokharel

The number of Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks in the occupied West Bank from October 7 to December 18 has risen to 301, up from 297 on December 17, according to a report published by the Palestinian Ministry of Health on Tuesday. 

The ministry added that attacks by Israeli forces, whose targets have included hospitals, health centers, and ambulances, have "restricted" the availability of essential healthcare services. 

The Israel Defense Forces says that it does not target hospitals, only "Hamas strongholds." 

It accuses Hamas of "deliberately and systematically" placing military targets within the civilian population, which the militant group denies.

2:48 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Israeli military advancing in Khan Younis area in southern Gaza, spokesperson says

From Tamar Michaelis

Smoke billows over Khan Younis, Gaza, on Tuesday.
Smoke billows over Khan Younis, Gaza, on Tuesday. Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

The Israeli military is advancing in southern Gaza, notably in the Khan Younis area, army spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Tuesday.

"We added a whole brigade and further forces to operate in the area, engineering forces to improve such activity," he said.

Khan Younis has seen intense combat on the ground and heavy airstrikes, with dozens of people reported killed. Last week, the IDF called on residents to move from parts of Khan Younis, the second largest city in Gaza, to displacement shelters to “ensure safety.” But with communications disrupted by the fighting, it is not clear how widely the messages were received.

Hagari also said that the Israel Defense Forces is focusing on locating underground infrastructures used by Hamas.

"Deconstruction of Hamas’s underground center of gravity in the northern, central and southern (Gaza Strip) is a key step to dismantle Hamas. This is taking time, and our forces are operating to do so," he said

The army spokesman also stressed that troops on the ground in Gaza were briefed on how to search for living hostages.

"The IDF is using special forces and intelligence to locate living hostages. This is a supreme mission," Hagari said. It comes as pressure mounts on Israel after the IDF said Friday it accidentally killed three Israeli hostages in Gaza after misidentifying them as a threat.

2:38 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Israeli forces are in control of Al-Awda Hospital in Gaza, aid agency says

From CNN’s Eyad Kourdi

Al-Awda Hospital in northern Gaza has been under the control of Israeli forces since Sunday, following a 12-day siege, an international aid agency said Tuesday.

Males over 16 years old were “forcibly removed from the hospital, stripped, bound, and subjected to interrogation,” with six staff members among them, according to Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Following the interrogations, MSF said most were "sent back into the hospital and told not to move," the agency said on X, formerly known as Twitter

Additionally, MSF said the facility is still housing dozens of patients, including 14 children, and is now facing a severe shortage of essential supplies like general anesthetic and oxygen. 

According to MSF, the hospital has experienced a siege, sustained damage from strikes and suffered the loss of medical staff in explosions in the last 10 weeks. 

CNN reached out to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) earlier for comment regarding the alleged detentions at the hospital but has yet to hear back. 

When previously asked about military operations around that hospital, the IDF told CNN: "The IDF is fighting against Hamas terror organization, which uses civilian infrastructure such as hospitals, kindergartens, and ambulances for the benefit of terrorism. The IDF recognizes the special status of medical teams and ambulances, according to international law. IDF forces do not operate inside the hospital, but do operate against military targets in its area.”

2:33 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Israeli military claims to have located around 1,500 tunnel shafts in Gaza since October 7 

From Tamar Michaelis and CNN's Benjamin Brown and Sugam Pokharel  

Israeli soldiers are seen in a tunnel Friday near the now-shut Erez Crossing on the northern Israeli-Gaza border.
Israeli soldiers are seen in a tunnel Friday near the now-shut Erez Crossing on the northern Israeli-Gaza border. Ariel Schalit/AP

The Israeli military claimed Tuesday that it has located around 1,500 tunnel shafts and underground passages in Gaza since its military operation started following the deadly October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. 

The tunnel shafts belonged to Hamas and many of them were located in civilian areas and inside civilian structures, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement.  

“After locating hundreds of tunnels and destroying many of them using various techniques, the 'Shaldag' Special Forces Unit are conducting operational activities within the Hamas terrorist organization subterranean tunnel network,” the IDF said.  

The tunnels under Gaza are used to smuggle goods from Egypt, launch attacks into Israel, store rockets and ammunition caches and house Hamas command and control centers.  

The IDF on Sunday said it had uncovered “the biggest Hamas tunnel” in Gaza, spanning a length of four kilometers (2.5 miles).  

The Israeli military said the tunnel, secured “a few weeks ago” but revealed to the public Sunday, was wide enough to drive a large vehicle through, reached up to 50 meters underground and was equipped with electricity, ventilation and communication systems.  

The tunnel does not cross into Israel but ends 400 meters before the now-shut Erez Crossing on the northern Israeli-Gazan border, according to the IDF.  

In 2021, Hamas claimed to have built 500 kilometers (311 miles) worth of tunnels under Gaza, though it is unclear if that figure was accurate or posturing. 

2:22 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

US envoy tells UN meeting that humanitarian aid must reach those who desperately need it in Gaza

From CNN Staff

Robert Wood, the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations, arrives at UN headquarters in New York before a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday.
Robert Wood, the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations, arrives at UN headquarters in New York before a UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday. Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images

The US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations Robert Wood said humanitarian aid must reach the individuals who desperately need it and that civilians must be protected, during a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting Tuesday.

Wood also condemned the atrocities Hamas committed on October 7.

He did not imply how the United States will vote on an upcoming resolution, which calls for a suspension of hostilities in Gaza to allow for the delivery of critically needed humanitarian aid. 

The resolution was drafted by the United Arab Emirates. 

The UNSC meeting is currently in recess and a vote has been delayed until 5 p.m. ET, the UAE mission to the UN said in a statement Tuesday.  

Wood expressed his concern about the alarming increase in Israeli settler violence in the West Bank.

Wood said the US condemns the violence by settlers and urges the Israeli government to investigate the violence and hold the settlers accountable. 

Wood also called for the protection of journalists, saying that far too many journalists have been killed since the October 7 attacks. "There are few callings more noble than telling the truth. Journalists’ words change hearts and minds,” he said. 

12:03 p.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Netanyahu will meet families of hostages held in Gaza on Tuesday, official says 

From Tamar Michaelis in Tel Aviv and Sugam Pokharel in London 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting Sunday at the Kirya in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting Sunday at the Kirya in Tel Aviv, Israel. Menahem Kahana/Pool/AP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday evening local time will meet some family members of the hostages held captive in Gaza, an Israeli official confirmed with CNN.

The meeting will take place at the Kirya, which houses the Israeli defense ministry, and Netanyahu will be joined by Gal Hirsch, the country's coordinator for hostages and missing persons, the official said. 

Around 15 family members of hostages are expected to attend the meeting, which was facilitated by the governmental coordination office, according to the official. 

Tensions are boiling over in Israel as frustrated families of hostages demand answers from the government about the fate of their loved ones and a deal for their release. 

Several dozen people protested outside the Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Friday night, demanding immediate action to secure the release of the remaining Israeli hostages held in Gaza. 

The protest was called by families of the hostages after news that three Israeli captives in Gaza were accidentally shot and killed by the Israel Defense Forces in northern Gaza. 

A major thoroughfare in the area was briefly blocked by the protesters, who were chanting "Everyone now." 

Earlier Tuesday, Israeli President Isaac Herzog suggested Israel would be willing to agree to a new truce with Hamas to secure the release of more hostages and increase the amount of aid into Gaza, but said the militant group was standing in the way.

“I can reiterate the fact that Israel is ready for another humanitarian pause and additional humanitarian aid in order to enable the release of hostages. And the responsibility lies fully with [Hamas chief Yahya] Sinwar and the leadership of Hamas,” Herzog told a meeting of ambassadors from more than 80 countries, his office said.

The Israeli president's remarks come as the United Nations Security Council looks set to vote on a resolution calling for a halt to hostilities, and suggestions the United States could abstain, which would allow the resolution to pass.

The role of the Israeli president is largely ceremonial, and the key decisions are taken by Netanyahu and his war cabinet. 

So far, Netanyahu has been ambivalent towards the idea of a new truce, saying among other things that he does not want to discuss how any possible negotiations could proceed.

11:05 a.m. ET, December 19, 2023

Children and families are "not safe in hospitals" in Gaza, UNICEF spokesperson says 

From CNN’s Alex Hardie in London 

People inspect the damage caused by an artillery shell that hit the maternity hospital inside the Nasser Medical Complex, on December 17, in Khan Younis, Gaza.
People inspect the damage caused by an artillery shell that hit the maternity hospital inside the Nasser Medical Complex, on December 17, in Khan Younis, Gaza. Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Children and families “are not safe in hospitals” in Gaza, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said as UN officials express deep concern about the situation in hospitals in Gaza as the enclave’s wider healthcare system teeters on the edge of collapse. 

“Over the past 48 hours, the largest remaining fully functioning hospital was shelled, twice. That hospital – Al Nasser in Khan Younis – not only shelters large numbers of children who had already been badly injured in attacks on their homes, but hundreds of women and children seeking safety,” Elder said Tuesday in Geneva after a recent visit to Gaza.

This comes after a 13-year-old girl, Dina Abu Mohsen, was killed by a shell that landed in part of the Nasser Medical Complex in southern Gaza, according to the Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health in Gaza.

“And so where do children and their families go? They are not safe in hospitals. They are not safe in shelters. And they are certainly not safe in the so-called ‘safe’ zones,” he said. 

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) told CNN on Tuesday that an “initial review” of damage to the complex did not find it possible at this stage to "determine with certainty what was the source of the damage to the hospital.”

Meanwhile, “without water and sanitation, nor shelter, these so-called safe zones have become zones of disease,” Elder said, warning that if this scenario continues, “child deaths due to disease could surpass those killed in bombardments.” 

The IDF has previously stated it does not target hospitals, only "Hamas strongholds." Hamas denies allegations that it uses hospitals in Gaza for its operations.

CNN's Kareem Khadder and Elizabeth Joseph contributed reporting to this post.