December 21, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

By Tara Subramaniam, Sophie Tanno, Aditi Sangal and Maureen Chowdhury, CNN

Updated 1:32 a.m. ET, December 22, 2023
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9:28 p.m. ET, December 20, 2023

Israel says it uncovered "substantial, elaborate" network of tunnels used by Hamas in Gaza City

From CNN staff

The Israeli military on Wednesday released videos it says show a network of tunnels in the center of Gaza City.

The army said it uncovered the network after securing operational control over Palestine Square, a plaza in the city center. The videos purport to show a series of tunnel shafts and access points leading underground.

In one video, a camera descends a long ladder before proceeding along a narrow, arched hallway to reach a blast door.

In a different video, a camera descends a long spiral staircase into another tunnel. In one clip, a passageway to the tunnel network, hidden behind an electricity box, is identified.

Several of the tunnel shafts appear to have been demolished, which the Israeli military said had been done by Hamas fighters.

In a briefing with journalists, Israeli army spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the tunnels were a “substantial, elaborate network of interconnected command control positions.”

“What we're doing today is revealing layer by layer the extent of Hamas’ terror tunnel network. It is the most expensive, expansive construction project ever to exist in the Gaza Strip,” Lerner said.

Within the tunnels, Israeli forces found food, water, electric infrastructure, and communications capabilities, Lerner said.

It is not possible for CNN to immediately verify all the Israeli military’s claims.

7:36 p.m. ET, December 20, 2023

Israel and Cyprus close to deal on maritime corridor for aid to Gaza, Israeli foreign ministry says

From CNN's Caitlin Danaher and Tamar Michaelis

Israel and Cyprus have come a step closer to agreeing on the creation of a maritime corridor that would allow goods to bypass Israel on the way to Gaza, the Israeli foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

The maritime corridor would allow “the direct transfer of humanitarian aid and goods to the Gaza Strip," the statement said.

If the corridor goes ahead as planned, it would be the first time Israel has eased its sea blockade on Gaza since it was imposed in 2007 when Hamas took control. 

On a diplomatic trip to Cyprus, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen along with Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos visited the port of Larnaca, which is situated around 370 kilometers (230 miles) northwest of Gaza. It is expected to be the starting point of the corridor, according to the statement. 

Cohen said the goods will be subject to a security inspection at Larnaca that will be carried out “in coordination with Israel.” 

The corridor could be used as an axis for the transfer of humanitarian aid in the coming weeks, Cohen added. 

The minister stressed that the creation of the maritime corridor to Gaza will “help Israel's economic disengagement from the strip.”

7:33 p.m. ET, December 20, 2023

Israel and Hezbollah report fresh exchange of fire along border

From Tamar Michaelis and CNN's Charbel Mallo and Maija Ehlinger

There were fresh exchanges between the Israeli military and Iran-backed Hezbollah militants across the Lebanon-Israel border on Wednesday.

Hezbollah said it targeted Israeli military helicopters with surface-to-air missiles and also launched attacks on several other locations along the border, including Margaliot, near the town of Kiryat Shmona.

The Israeli military said artillery and tanks struck several locations in Lebanon in response to incoming fire. One man was killed when Israeli forces opened fire on the Lebanese border town of Kafr Kila, Lebanon’s National News Agency said.

"We are not returning to how things were beforehand," Israel’s Chief of the General Staff Herzi Halevi said during a visit to the border area.

The remark is an indication that Israel remains focused on its perceived need to rebuild deterrence in the north of the country as well as in the south.

11:23 p.m. ET, December 20, 2023

Voices of hostages killed in Gaza by Israeli troops captured on IDF dog camera, spokesperson says

From Tamar Michaelis in Tel Aviv and CNN's Sugam Pokharel

The three hostages killed are identified as, from left to right, Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz, and Samer Talalka.
The three hostages killed are identified as, from left to right, Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz, and Samer Talalka. Hostages and Missing Families Forum  

The voices of the three hostages who were accidentally killed by Israeli troops were captured on a GoPro camera mounted on an Israeli military dog five days before they were shot, a military spokesperson said.

The video, located by Israeli forces on Tuesday, shows the recording took place during an exchange between Israeli forces and Hamas militants at a site where the three hostages were being held, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at his daily press briefing. The dog was killed in the exchange. 

“You can hear voices, and when we analyzed the clip, we understood that in the audio we can hear the three hostages, fully vocally identified,” Hagari said.  

He did not provide details about what the hostages were saying.

The militants who held the three hostages were killed during the fighting, which appears to have allowed the hostages to flee, Hagari said, citing an initial Israel Defense Forces analysis of the video. 

Israel is reeling from the IDF’s admission that it shot and killed three hostages in Gaza on Friday. They had been taken hostage by Hamas during the group’s October 7 terror attack.  

On Saturday, an IDF official said they emerged from a building tens of meters away from a group of Israeli troops. They were shirtless and were waving a white flag, according to the official, who spoke to journalists on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about an ongoing investigation.  

At least one soldier felt threatened and opened fire, killing two of the men immediately. The third was wounded and ran back inside the building. The Israeli unit overheard a cry for help in Hebrew, at which time the brigade commander ordered his troops to stop shooting. However, there was another burst of gunfire. The third hostage died later.  

CNN's Richard Allen Greene and Joshua Berlinger contributed reporting to this post.

11:02 p.m. ET, December 20, 2023

Israel will oppose new budget for UN relief agency working in Gaza, foreign ministry says

From Tamar Michaelis and Tim Lister

Eli Cohen gives a press conference in Larnaca, Cyprus, on December 20.
Eli Cohen gives a press conference in Larnaca, Cyprus, on December 20. Elisa Amouret/AFP/Getty Images

Israel will oppose bringing forward the annual budget for the United Nations agency that carries out humanitarian work in Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has instructed the Israeli delegation to the UN “to oppose bringing forward the annual budget of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees,” according to the foreign ministry.

Cohen said bringing forward the budget from 2025 to 2024 would be precedent-setting and dangerous, “especially in light of the evidence of Hamas using the organization's facilities as terrorist infrastructure.”

Cohen said "UNRWA is part of the problem, not part of the solution. The countries of the world must put an end to UNRWA's perpetuation of the conflict, and (its) turning a blind eye for years to incitement to terrorism and Hamas' cynical use of agency facilities and Gaza residents as human shields."

"Israel will oppose any move that continues to inject money into UNRWA," Cohen said.

Cohen instructed the Israeli delegation to the UN to oppose any move that would advance the agency's annual budget, claiming that transferring a budget to UNRWA “without substantially changing its objectives and functioning would send the wrong message of a return to the routine of before the October 7th.”

CNN is reaching out to UNRWA for a response to Cohen’s remarks.