Israel expands offensive as Hamas warns only permanent ceasefire will free hostages

Dec 28, 2023, 2:32 PM

The Israeli separation wall is seen in the outskirts of the East Jerusalem refugee camp of Shuafat ...

The Israeli separation wall is seen in the outskirts of the East Jerusalem refugee camp of Shuafat on December 28, 2023 in Jerusalem, Israel. Israel's PM Netanyahu announced an intensification of the fighting in Gaza whilst facing internal pressure to save hostages. Israel indicated 129 people remain unaccounted for after they were taken as hostages to Gaza during the October 7 attacks by Hamas. (Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

(Photo by Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

A Hamas official said Thursday that a “partial or temporary cessation of aggression” wouldn’t be enough to free the more than 100 hostages who Israel says remain in captivity in Gaza.

The Israeli-Hamas war has already driven around 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people from their homes, leveling the northern part of the territory and heightening fears about a similar fate for the south as Israel’s air and ground offensive widens.

Dozens were killed Thursday during Israel’s bombardment of cities, towns and refugee camps across Gaza. More than 20,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed since the start of the war, according to the

Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants among the dead.

Hamas has put up steep resistance despite Israel’s vow to dismantle the militant group.

About 1,200 people were killed after Hamas raided southern Israel on Oct. 7, with around 240 people taken hostage.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke Thursday with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the next steps in the war, with Austin stressing “the importance of protecting Gaza’s civilians and accelerating humanitarian assistance.”

The talks came as a hard-hit Israeli kibbutz announced the death of an American-Canadian-Israeli woman who was believed to have been held hostage and whose husband was recently declared dead.


— Israeli strikes across Gaza kill dozens of Palestinians, even in largely emptied north

— As Gaza war grinds on, tensions soar along Israel’s volatile northern border with Lebanon

— Number of wounded Israeli soldiers grows, representing a hidden cost of war

— On foot and by donkey cart, thousands flee widening Israeli assault in central Gaza

— Find more of AP’s coverage at:

Here’s what’s happening in the war:

No action against Israeli soldiers in mistaken killing of 3 hostages

JERUSALEM — The Israeli military has completed its investigation into the mistaken killing of three Israeli hostages, saying the event “should not have occurred” and could have been prevented but taking no disciplinary action.

The three hostages , Yotam Haim, 28, Samer Al-Talalka, 25 and Alon Shamriz, were mistakenly shot by Israeli forces on Dec. 15 after exiting a building in a Gaza City neighborhood where intense battles had taken place.

Announcing the results of its investigation, the army on Thursday confirmed initial reports that the men had emerged from the building shirtless and waving a white flag, apparently trying to signal they posed no threat.

Two men were killed immediately, while the third ran back into the building screaming for help in Hebrew. The commander issued an order to cease-fire, but another burst of gunfire killed the third man.

The army said that complex battle conditions, limited visibility and noise from nearby tanks that prevented troops from hearing their commanders’ instructions contributed to the fatal event.

“The fighting creates many complex and difficult situations,” army spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told a news conference.

“After entire days of encountering explosives, watching your friends die, having RPGs fired at you, encountering terrorists wearing civilian clothes without a weapon, pulling you toward all kinds of explosives in the streets — in that situation, a soldier stood at a window with limited visibility. He made a mistake,” he said.

The army’s chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, said the soldiers had violated open-fire procedures because the hostages did not pose a threat. But he said “there was no malice in the event” and the soldiers acted “to the best of their understanding.”

U.S. Israeli defense chiefs speak about next steps in military campaign

WASHINGTON — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday to discuss Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and preparations for the stabilization phase that will follow major combat operations.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, said Austin reiterated U.S. resolve to ensure Hamas can no longer threaten Israel’s security and he also underscored “the importance of protecting Gaza’s civilians and accelerating humanitarian assistance.”

Ryder said Austin and Gallant also discussed other threats to regional security, including Hezbollah’s activities in southern Lebanon, Houthi attacks against ships in the Red Sea, and Iranian-backed militia attacks against American forces in Iraq and Syria.

Hamas official says end to war must be final, not temporary

BEIRUT — A Hamas official said Thursday that the Palestinian militant group is “open to any ideas or proposals for a complete and final cessation of aggression against our people in the Gaza Strip.”

Osama Hamdan said the group is not interested in a “partial or temporary cessation of aggression” and reiterated the group’s official position that the remaining hostages who have been held in Gaza since the group launched its deadly Oct. 7 incursion into Israel would only be released after a permanent ceasefire is implemented.

He was responding to a question at a press conference about the ongoing discussions regarding roadmap to end the Israel-Hamas war — including a proposal Egypt recently suggested.

As for the enclave’s post-war governance, Hamdan said it would be a “decision of the Palestinian people alone” and that Palestinians in Gaza would “not accept a leadership that comes on the back of a Zionist or American tank or under the protection of this tank.”

He reiterated the group’s denial of a claim made by a spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on Wednesday that the Oct. 7 attack was launched in retaliation for the 2020 killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq. Hamas.

Hamdan said the Oct. 7 attack was “a Palestinian operation in planning, preparation, decision and implementation” and was launched as the “result of international collusion that tried to dispose of the Palestinian cause” in response to Israeli aggression.

Kibbutz announces death of American-Canadian-Israeli hostage

TEL AVIV, Israel — A hard-hit Israeli kibbutz has announced the death of an American-Canadian-Israeli woman who had been thought to be held hostage in Gaza.

The death of Judith Weinstein was announced days after her husband, Gad Haggai, was also declared dead. Weinstein, 70, and Haggai, 73, were taking an early morning walk in Kibbutz Nir Oz on the morning of Oct. 7 when Hamas militants burst across the border into Israel, killing about 1,200 people and kidnapping 240 others.

Weinstein and her husband had been thought to be among the hostages still in captivity in Gaza. But six days ago, the kibbutz announced that Haggai was killed on Oct. 7 and his body was taken to Gaza.

On Thursday, the kibbutz said it had learned that Weinstein had also been killed on Oct. 7 and her body was also being held in Gaza.

It was not immediately clear how Israeli authorities determined her death. The couple are survived by four children.

” Judy dedicated her life to serving others, spending years teaching English and using her passions for poetry, puppeteering, and mindfulness to empower children of all backgrounds,” the family said in a statement. She will be remembered for her compassion, her peaceful nature, and the creative life she built with her husband.”

U.S. President Joe Biden mourned Weinstein in a statement released Thursday and pledged to keep working to bring the remaining hostages home.

“They have been living through hell for weeks,” Biden said. “No family should have to endure such an ordeal.”

According to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, at least 23 of the approximately 129 hostages believed to be held in Gaza have either died or been killed in captivity.

Nir Oz was one of the hardest-hit Israeli communities on Oct. 7, with roughly one quarter of its residents killed or kidnapped.

The families of missing hostages have drawn widespread support in Israel as they press the government to reach a new cease-fire deal to bring home their loved-ones.

Netanyahu met Thursday in Tel Aviv with some of the families, where he told them there were ongoing behind-the-scene efforts to bring them home, according to a statement from his office.

“I can’t elaborate on the details, we are working to return everyone,” he said.

UN Peacekeeper injured in Lebanon

BEIRUT — A United Nations peacekeeper was injured when a group of young men attacked a patrol in south Lebanon, the peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL reported Thursday.

A vehicle was also damaged during the Wednesday night attack in the village of Taybeh, the force said.

Such attacks “are not only condemnable, but they are violations of Resolution 1701 and Lebanese law,” UNIFIL said on X, formerly known as Twitter, referring to a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended a monthlong 2006 war between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

In a separate incident Thursday morning, residents blocked a group of peacekeepers that was traveling through the border village of Kfar Kila, UNIFIL spokeswoman Kandice Ardie said. The peacekeepers were able to move on “after a brief discussion with locals,” Ardie said.

Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon frequently accuse the U.N. mission of colluding with Israel, while Israel has accused the peacekeepers of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah’s military activities in southern Lebanon.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, Hezbollah and allied groups have clashed almost daily with Israeli forces on the Lebanon-Israel border, and shelling has struck UNIFIL facilities.

The peacekeeping force said gunfire from Israeli troops hit one of its patrols last month, causing no injuries but damaging a vehicle.

Head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard vows revenge for general’s death

TEHRAN, Iran — Thousands of people attended a funeral in Iran for a high-ranking general killed in a suspected Israeli airstrike in Syria.

Mourners gathered in a central square in Tehran on Thursday before accompanying the casket of Gen. Seyed Razi Mousavi to a shrine where he was buried.

Mousavi was a high-ranking general in Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard who had served as a longtime military advisor to the Syrian government during that country’s ongoing civil war. He was killed in an airstrike in Damascus on Monday.

The head of the Guard, Gen. Hossein Salami, said “our revenge will be tough, as always,” but that the only fitting revenge would be “the removal of Israel from the face of existence.”

Salami described Mousavi as a close companion of Gen. Qassim Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq in January 2020.

Earlier Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, prayed before Mousavi’s casket, state TV footage showed.

Iran and Israel have waged a long shadow war, with Israel regularly carrying out strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria. Tensions have soared since Hamas’ Oct, 7 attack triggered the war in Gaza.

Israel views Iran as its greatest threat because of Tehran’s disputed nuclear program and its support for regional militant groups like Hamas, Lebanon’s Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels in Yemen.


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Israel expands offensive as Hamas warns only permanent ceasefire will free hostages