October 16, 2023 - Israel-Hamas war news

By Tara Subramaniam, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Christian Edwards, Dakin Andone, Mike Hayes, Elise Hammond, Maureen Chowdhury, Zoe Sottile, Amir Vera and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0821 GMT (1621 HKT) October 17, 2023
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10:57 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Israel "has no interest to occupy Gaza," UN envoy says

From CNN's Sehar Ahmed

Israel "has no interest" in occupying Gaza but will do "whatever is needed" to eliminate Hamas, the country's ambassador to the United Nations said Sunday.

His remarks come after US President Joe Biden warned Israel against occupying the coastal enclave as it signals it is preparing for a ground invasion amid a spiraling humanitarian crisis.

"We have no interest to occupy Gaza or to stay in Gaza, but since we are fighting for our survival and the only way, as the president [Biden] himself defined is to obliterate Hamas, so we will have to do whatever is needed to obliterate their capabilities," Israel's ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Biden said it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza.His comments amount to one of the few times the US president has called on Israel to use restraint in responding to the Hamas attacks that left 1,400 dead.

Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the US, told CNN on Sunday that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict ends.

“We have no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza. We have no desire to rule over the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians,” Herzog said.

Biden meanwhile, has called for the protection of civilians as the US has been working to alleviate shortages of food, water and gas.

Erdan said water has been turned back on in southern Gaza, but he didn't say if electricity was on for desalination.

9:12 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Israel-Hamas war risks escalating into wider conflict, US national security adviser warns

From CNN's Tara Subramaniam

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan on Sunday warned of the risk of a wider regional conflict in the Middle East as Israel pounds Gaza with airstrikes in response to Hamas' unprecedented surprise attacks.

“There is a risk of an escalation of this conflict, the opening of a second front in the north, and of course of Iran’s involvement — that is a risk. And that’s a risk that we have been mindful of since the start," Sullivan said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation."
"It’s why the President moves so rapidly and decisively to get an aircraft carrier into the eastern Mediterranean, to get aircraft into the Gulf, because he wants to send a very clear message of deterrence to any state or any actor that would seek to exploit this situation."

The Pentagon has ordered a second carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean Sea and is sending Air Force fighter jets to the region as Israel prepares to expand its Gaza operations, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a statement Saturday.

The US warships are not intended to join the fighting in Gaza or take part in Israel’s operations, but the presence of two of the Navy’s most powerful vessels is designed to send a message of deterrence to Iran and Iranian proxies in the region, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Some more context: If Hezbollah joins the conflict, it could provide the next flashpoint that would entangle bigger regional powers such as Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Israel has long accused Iran of engaging in a form of proxy war by backing groups — including Hamas — that have launched attacks on its shores. Iran has denied any involvement in the October 7 attacks.

US President Joe Biden on Sunday said there’s "no clear evidence" of Iran being behind the attacks. 

9:13 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Biden says Israeli occupation of Gaza would be a "big mistake"

From CNN's Kyle Feldscher

President Joe Biden warned Israel against occupying Gaza in one of his most notable public calls for restraint as the Israelis respond to this month’s terror attacks by Hamas.

In an interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, Biden said it would be a “big mistake” for Israel to occupy Gaza. Israel has been signaling it is preparing for a ground invasion of Gaza, even as a humanitarian crisis grows inside the coastal Palestinian enclave. Biden has called for the protection of civilians, and the United States has been working to alleviate shortages of food, water and gas.

“What happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people,” Biden told interviewer Scott Pelley.

Biden said he believes Hamas should be eliminated entirely, “but there needs to be a Palestinian Authority. There needs to be a path to a Palestinian state.”

The comments amount to one of the few times the US president has called on Israel to use some sort of restraint in responding to the Hamas attacks that left 1,400 Israelis dead. In its response, Israel unleashed a massive bombing campaign against the northern Gaza Strip, from which Hamas launched its attack.

Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict ends.

“We have no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza. We have no desire to rule over the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians,” Herzog said.

In the “60 Minutes” interview, Biden notably did not say it was time for a ceasefire.

“Look, there’s a fundamental difference. Israel is going after a group of people who have engaged in barbarism that is as consequential as the Holocaust,” he said.
“So I think Israel has to respond. They have to go after Hamas. Hamas is a bunch of cowards. They’re hiding behind the civilians. … The Israelis are gonna do everything in their power to avoid the killing of innocent civilians.”

Read more from Biden here.

9:14 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Palestinian Authority president condemns Hamas attacks on Israel

From CNN's Kareem Khadder and Hamdi Alkhshali

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, in his first clear and stark denouncement of Hamas' attacks on Israel, said the militant group's actions “do not represent the Palestinian people.”

“The policies and actions of Hamas do not represent the Palestinian people, and it is the policies, programs, and decisions of the Palestine Liberation Organization that represent the Palestinian people as their legitimate and sole representative,” Abbas said during a phone call with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Sunday, the official Palestinian press agency WAFA reported.

Abbas called for an end to civilian casualties, the release of prisoners and a rejection of violence, according to WAFA.

During the call, Abbas also emphasized the urgent need for Israel to stop its aggression in Gaza and to immediately protect Gazan civilians by opening a humanitarian corridor for provisions of medical supplies, water, electricity, and fuel, WAFA reported. 

Abbas said displacing Palestinians from Gaza would represent “a second catastrophe for the Palestinian people,” WAFA added.

Key context: Israel is at war with Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and carried out devastating terror attacks in Israel earlier this month.

Abbas is the leader of the Palestinian Authority, a government body with limited self-rule in the West Bank. It was established in the 1993 Oslo Accords, a peace pact between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization that saw the PLO give up armed resistance against Israel in return for promises of an independent Palestinian state.

Hamas — which is designated as a terrorist organization by the US, European Union and other countries — presents itself as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority, which has recognized Israel and has engaged in multiple failed peace initiatives with it.

CNN's Abbas Al Lawati and Nadeen Ebrahim contributed reporting to this post.

8:12 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Israel says it killed a Hamas commander as it launched dozens of strikes on Gaza

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

The Israeli military said it killed a Hamas commander as part of strikes on some 250 targets Sunday, mostly in the northern Gaza Strip.

The commander was identified in an Israel Defense Forces statement as Muetaz Eid, commander of the Hamas Southern District of National Security, who was located through intelligence from the IDF and the Israeli Security Agency, the statement said.

Hamas has not yet made a statement.

The IDF said it also hit “dozens of military headquarters, a series of military observation posts, and a number of rocket launching posts used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorist organizations.”

Some background: Israel launched its offensive in response to the devastating October 7 Hamas terror attacks that killed 1,400 people.

Hamas controls Gaza, which is home to 2.2 million Palestinians. More than 2,600 people have died there as Israel pounds the territory with strikes, the Palestinian health ministry said. The ministry has slammed Israel for killing civilians and emergency workers in its assault.

Israel has told the 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to leave home for their safety as it gears up for the next stages of its war with Hamas.

12:15 a.m. ET, October 16, 2023

UN warns Middle East is on "verge of the abyss." Here's what other officials are saying

From CNN’s Caroline Faraj, Jassar Al-Tahat, Hamdi Alkhshali, Nikki Carvajal and Catherine Nicholls

The humanitarian crisis is deepening in Gaza. The Hamas-run enclave — home to 2.2 million Palestinians — has been pounded by airstrikes in retaliation for the militant group's devastating October 7 terror attacks on Israel.

At least 2,670 people have already died in Gaza, and aid groups warn they are running out of critical supplies as Israel maintains a "complete siege" on the crowded territory. Tens of thousands of northern Gaza residents are trying to evacuate after the Israeli military warned the "next stages of the war" will bring even more airstrikes and "significant ground operations."

Diplomatic efforts took center stage over the weekend. Here's some of the latest from world leaders:

  • United Nations: In a statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said we "are on the verge of the abyss" in the Middle East. He urged Hamas to release hostages immediately, and without conditions. And he called on Israel to allow "rapid and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid" for civilians in Gaza. He said UN disaster supplies could be delivered "within hours" if they are granted safe passage.
  • Jordan: The country's prime minister has accused Israel of "blatant violations of international law" in Gaza, saying Jordan rejects "any measures and steps leading to the forced displacement of the Palestinian people" after the Israeli military warned 1.1 million northern Gazans to leave home before it steps up its war against Hamas. Jordanian King Abdullah also told UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak “denying food, water, and electricity supplies to innocent civilians in the Gaza Strip is a war crime that the world must condemn and denounce.”
  • European Union: The bloc "condemns in the strongest possible terms Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks across Israel" and called for the immediate release of "all hostages without any precondition," the European Council said in a statement Sunday. The EU said it is working to provide urgent humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, and will "engage broadly with the legitimate Palestinian authorities" to ensure its assistance is not "abused" by Hamas terrorists.
  • Saudi Arabia: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for the "immediate lifting of the siege on Gaza." He slammed the “targeting of civilians, the destruction of critical infrastructure, and the disruption of essential services” in Gaza, and said he was working with other regional players to de-escalate the situation.
  • United States: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been engaged in whirlwind diplomacy efforts, meeting with various regional leaders, including those of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The US has pledged steadfast support for Israel, repeatedly stating it is conducting "legitimate security operations." It has also, however, urged Israel to mitigate impacts to civilians in Gaza and prevent the war from expanding. Separately, top national security officials held meetings with Arab and Muslim American community leaders in the US Sunday.
  • Egypt: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said during a meeting with the US secretary of state that Israel’s response to the deadly Hamas attack has gone beyond its right to self-defense, and that it has started punishing the collective civilian population of Gaza.
8:09 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

These are the areas where Israel has warned 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate

From CNN staff

An estimated 1.1 million people live in Gaza City and surrounding parts of the northern Gaza Strip, where the Israeli military has warned civilians to leave before a new phase in its war with Hamas.

The map below shows the densely populated areas included in Israel's advisory.

It also shows the Rafah crossing to Egypt (bottom-left) — the only option for people trying to leave Gaza entirely, as Israel has tightened its long-established blockade on the territory and completely closed its border crossings.

8:15 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Israel working with UN to establish a humanitarian zone in Gaza, ambassador says

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

Israel is working with the United Nations to create a humanitarian zone in Gaza, Michael Herzog, Israeli ambassador to the United States, told CNN on Sunday.

"We are in the process of establishing a humanitarian zone, a big humanitarian zone in the southern part of Gaza, with the UN. We are working very closely with UN agencies so that they will go there — it will be a humanitarian zone and they will get all the essential provisions like water, medicine, food, and things like that," Herzog said.

The zone would be able to host hundreds of thousands of people, Herzog said.

"We are operating under international law and any essentials that the Palestinian population needs, we're facilitating. That's why we're establishing this safe zone," Herzog said.

CNN has reached out to the UN for comment.

Herzog added Israel does not intend to occupy Gaza after the conflict.

"We have no desire to occupy or reoccupy Gaza. We have no desire to rule over the lives of more than 2 million Palestinians," Herzog said.
8:15 p.m. ET, October 15, 2023

Rafah crossing will be open, US secretary of state says after meeting with Egypt's president

From CNN’s Abby Baggini

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised Sunday that the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt "will be open" after meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

"Rafah will be open," he said. "We're putting in place with the UN, with Egypt, Israel, with others, the mechanism by which to get the assistance in and to get it to people who need it."

Israel has closed its two border crossings with Gaza and imposed a “complete siege” on the territory, blocking supplies of fuel, electricity and water. That has left the Rafah crossing as the only viable outlet to get people out of the enclave — and supplies into it.

Officials from several countries have been involved in the talks around when, and to what extent, the crossing can be opened. Catch up on the issue here.

Aid efforts: Blinken also announced President Joe Biden's appointment of David Satterfield, former US ambassador to Turkey, to help coordinate aid efforts. Blinken said Satterfield will be in Israel on Monday to begin coordinating.

Blinken, who has met with various regional leaders including those of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, said he had "very good conversations" with both el-Sisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

He added every nation he spoke with shared the administration's goal of preventing an escalation and securing aid to civilians stuck in Gaza.

US support for Israel: Blinken said while the US supports Israel's right to defend itself, he hopes Israel responds "in a way that affirms the shared values that we have for human life and human dignity."

"The way that Israel does this matters. It needs to do it in a way that affirms the shared values that we have for human life and human dignity, taking every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians," he said. "Civilians should not have to suffer for Hamas' atrocities."

Asked if the US would come to Israel's defense in the event of an escalation, Blinken said, "I don't think we could be more clear than we've been, that when it comes to Israel's security, we have Israel's back."

He added, "We will stand with it today, tomorrow, and every day."

Military presence in the Middle East: Blinken assured US strike groups mobilized in the region are not intended "to provoke anyone, but to send a very clear message of deterrence, that no one should do anything that widens this conflict in any way, or that furthers aggression against Israel from any other direction."

"No one should do anything that could add fuel to the fire in any other place. I think that's very clear," he added.