Feb 5, 2024 - World

Israel making progress in tunnel hunt for Hamas leader Sinwar, Israeli officials say

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar speaks in Gaza City in 2021. He's now Israel's most-wanted person in Gaza. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar speaks in Gaza City in 2021. Photo: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Israeli military has taken control of much of Hamas' strategic tunnel system in the Gazan city of Khan Younis and believes it is making progress in its hunt for Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, according to two Israeli defense officials.

Why it matters: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that the war in Gaza will take months and "must not end" until Hamas' leadership in the enclave is killed.

  • Netanyahu is facing growing international pressure to end or scale back Israel's military operations in Gaza as the death toll climbs. The Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza said on Monday that more than 27,400 Palestinians — the majority of whom were women and children — have been killed since the war began after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.
  • President Biden, who U.S. officials say is growing increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu, pressed the Israeli leader last month to scale down the offensive, saying he was not in it for a year of war.

Driving the news: Israeli intelligence believes Sinwar and other Hamas leaders, including Mohammed Deif and Marwan Issa, have been hiding in Khan Younis since early stages of the war.

  • Special Israel Defense Forces (IDF) units have been operating in the tunnels in Khan Younis for several weeks in an attempt to catch the Hamas leaders.
  • The IDF recently entered most of the central locations in Hamas' strategic tunnel system under the city, according to the two Israeli defense officials.
  • This progress has led the Israeli military to believe it is getting closer to Sinwar.

State of play: Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Monday the Hamas' leaders, including Sinwar, are on the run and moving from one hiding place to another.

  • "He is not running the military campaign but is engaged in personal survival," Gallant claimed. "The IDF is chasing him above the ground and under the ground."

The big picture: Gallant claimed that because Sinwar is on the run, he hasn't been able to communicate with other Hamas officials, which was why the group hasn't made a clear decision on the most recent proposal of a framework for hostage negotiations.

  • "There are coordination difficulties between Hamas' representatives outside Gaza and those inside Gaza. Hamas is not quick to give answers (regarding a hostage deal) because of the confusions and pressure it is under," Gallant claimed without offering evidence.
  • Osama Hamdan, the top Hamas leader in Lebanon, said this weekend that Hamas was discussing the proposal but stressed that more time was needed to announce the group's position.

What's next: Gallant said the IDF is planning to expand its operation to places it hasn't entered yet in the center of the Gaza Strip and in the southern city of Rafah — Hamas' last stronghold — on the border with Egypt where more than 1 million Palestinians are currently concentrated.

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