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November 17, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

What we covered here

  • Israeli troops will advance to anywhere Hamas is found, including the southern part of the Gaza Strip, a military spokesperson said, amid growing indications that an offensive into the southern part could be imminent.
  • The majority of hospitals and medical clinics in Gaza are shut down due to damage from the Israeli bombardment or a lack of fuel, the Palestinian Authority's health ministry said, citing medical sources from the Hamas-controlled enclave.
  • The UN is calling on Israel to grant access to investigate competing claims about the Al-Shifa Hospital. Israel has repeatedly said Hamas is using the facility for military purposes, a claim denied by Hamas and medical officials.
  • Fuel tankers entered Gaza via the Rafah crossing Friday, after Israel's war cabinet approved a measure to allow two tankers a day for its water and sewage system.
  • Here's how to help humanitarian efforts in Israel and Gaza.
9:37 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Israel investigates sexual violence committed by Hamas during attacks of October 7

Editor’s Note: This story contains graphic and disturbing accounts of sexual violence.
Israeli police are using forensic evidence, video and witness testimony and interrogations of suspects to document cases of rape amid the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Women and girls caught in the rampage were brutalized sexually, as well as physically tortured and killed, witnesses to the aftermath say.

Police Superintendent Dudi Katz said officers have collected more than 1,000 statements and more than 60,000 video clips related to the attacks that include accounts from people who reported seeing women raped. He added that investigators do not have firsthand testimony, and it is not clear whether any rape victims survived.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and more injured that day in villages and farms near Gaza when Hamas militants struck across the border in coordinated attacks, taking more than 240 hostages and precipitating the current war. More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to authorities in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Police Commissioner Shabtai Yaakov said the investigation could potentially lead to prosecutions, but for now, documentation is the primary mission.

Cochav Elkayam-Levy, a human rights law expert at Hebrew University, has formed a civil commission with colleagues to document evidence of the atrocities, fearing that as the war devastates Gaza and the lives of thousands of Palestinians, the world seems willing to look over the violence against Israeli women and girls.

“We’ll never know everything that has happened to them,” Elkayam-Levy told CNN. “We know that most women who were raped and who were sexually assaulted were also murdered.”

She pointed to a United Nations statement just a week after the terror attacks that did not mention sexual violence.

“It’s much worse than just silence or an insult to us as Israeli women and to our children and to our people,” she said of the UN. “When they are failing to acknowledge us, to acknowledge what happened here, they are failing humanity.”

Read more about the harrowing accounts given to CNN.
9:13 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

The Israeli military says it will advance anywhere Hamas is found. Here are the key things to know today

Smoke and flares rise over Gaza City, as seen from southern Israel, on Friday. Leo Correa/AP

The Israeli military is tightening its grip on northern Gaza, as its war on the Hamas militant group is showing no signs of abating.
More fuel was allowed into Gaza on Friday as water and sewage systems are on the verge of collapsing, Israel's national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said. Lack of fuel has also contributed to the dire situation in hospitals, where doctors said ICU patients have died and surgeries have stopped due to the lack of electricity.
Meanwhile, negotiating parties are grinding away to try to reach an agreement to release hostages in Gaza. It comes as at least two hostages were found dead in the enclave over the past two days, the Israeli military said.
Here are the key things to know:
  • Where things stand: More than 12,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began airstrikes on Gaza on October 7, the Hamas government press office said in a statement Friday. An estimated 5,000 children are among those killed, it added, with more than 30,000 others injured.
  • Moving south? Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Israeli troops will advance to anywhere Hamas is found, including the southern part of the Gaza Strip. In recent days, there are growing indications that a ground offensive into the southern part of the enclave could be imminent. Israeli leaders have declared the northern part of Gaza, including Gaza City, is now under Israel’s control. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered little information about his post-military operation plan for Gaza. 
  • The latest on Gaza's hospitals: Out of the 35 hospitals in Gaza, 26 have shut down due to damage from bombardment or a lack of fuel, according to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Health in Ramallah, citing medical sources from the Hamas-controlled enclave. Most of the intensive care unit patients at Al-Shifa Hospital, who were on ventilators due to the lack of fuel and oxygen, have died, a doctor there told Al-Jazeera. The hospital, which is Gaza's largest, is grappling with a severe shortage of basic necessities — including no water and no electricity in the main buildings of the compound, Dr. Ahmad Mofeed Al-Mokhalalati said.
  • Fuel enters Gaza: Two fuel tankers entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing Friday, an Israeli government agency said. It comes shortly after Israel's war cabinet approved a measure to allow for regular deliveries to the besieged enclave, following weeks of pressure from US officials and other global leaders. According to a US State Department official, most of the fuel will be deposited into a depot in Rafah, where it will be used by UN relief agency trucks and for water and sewage system support, waste disposal, bakeries and hospitals in southern Gaza. A smaller portion will be used to power generators for cell phones and internet. Some members of the Israeli government have already criticized the decision. 
  • Drinking water dwindles: A UN human rights official has called on Israel to stop using water as a “weapon of war” in Gaza. Dehydration and waterborne diseases are now surging in the enclave, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, said. For days, humanitarian organizations, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), have emphasized the necessity of fuel to operate desalination stations and water pumps in Gaza. According to UNRWA, roughly 70% of people in Gaza are now drinking “salinized and contaminated” water. 
  • Bodies of hostages found: The Israeli military said Friday that it retrieved the body of a second Israeli hostage from a structure near the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. Before that, the IDF said Thursday it had recovered the body of Yehudit Weiss, a 65-year-old Israeli woman also found near the hospital. Meanwhile, a new video appearing to show an Israeli hostage held in Gaza has emerged online. It appeared on the Telegram channel of Hamas’ military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades.
  • Calls for action: The Israeli military's official estimate of hostages being held in Gaza is 237. Some of the families of those missing and kidnapped by Hamas marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Friday, demanding that the government guarantee hostages are returned safely. Pope Francis plans to meet with families of Israeli hostages and Palestinians, the Vatican's press office said Friday. The pope will speak to these groups separately, and the Vatican said the meetings are “of an exclusively humanitarian nature.”
  • The latest on hostage negotiations: Israel, Hamas and the US, with Qatar mediating, have been working to reach an agreement on a number of sticking points to release hostages. Hamas has demanded that Israel stop flying surveillance drones over Gaza as part of its request that Israel pause its military operations, according to two Israeli officials and third source familiar with the ongoing negotiations. The sources suggested Israel is unlikely to accept that request, since it would mean losing track of the movements of Hamas operatives, including any efforts to move the hostages within the Gaza Strip.
  • Calls for investigation: The countries of South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate whether crimes may have been committed in Palestinian territories, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said. A group of independent United Nations human rights experts also said Thursday that Israel's actions in Gaza "point to a genocide in the making." The Israeli foreign ministry rejected the allegation, saying in a statement it was Hamas that put Gazans "in harms way."
This post has been updated with the Hamas press office statement on the Gaza death toll.
6:20 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

More than 360 people now believed to have been killed at October 7 music festival, Israeli media reports

An October 10 aerial photo shows the site of the attack on the Nova music festival by Hamas militants in southern Israel. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli police believe at least 364 people were killed by Hamas gunmen at the Nova music festival in southern Israel on October 7, according to Israeli media.

Previously, officials had put the number killed at 270. 

Israel’s Channel 12 News said it had obtained a copy of the first police report into the attack and presented some of the report’s findings on its main news bulletin Friday evening. It did not show a copy of the report.

Seventeen of the dead were police officers, Israel’s Channel 12 News reported, citing the police report. The news outlet said 40 festival goers were kidnapped and taken into Gaza. 

The music festival was the location of the highest number of deaths on October 7 but police say interrogations of captured militants lead them to believe Hamas had no knowledge of the music festival when it launched its assault.

The report said the first alarm was received at 6:22 a.m., according to Channel 12 News, but it is clear first responders had no idea of the scale of what was unfolding. Initial word of the attack suggested just dozens of terrorists had crossed the perimeter fence from Gaza — the real number is believed to be well over a thousand.

The report said Israeli security forces finally had the festival site locked down at 3:30 p.m., more than nine hours after the shooting rampage began, according to the Israeli media outlet.

It is not clear if the updated number of people killed at the festival affects the total death toll, which officials have said is about 1,200 people killed.

6:13 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Bahrain says release of hostages is a “prerequisite to a pause in hostilities”

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain speaks at the 19th Manama Dialogue in Manama, Bahrain, on Friday. Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain on Friday condemned both the October 7 attacks and Israel's subsequent retaliation. He emphasized the release of hostages as a requirement for breaking the cycle of violence.

During his remarks, the prince set up the conditions necessary for “breaking the cycle of violence, a feat that will only be made possible through the release of innocents and non-combatants.” He stressed that “the release of hostages is a prerequisite to a pause in hostilities.” 

He made the remarks during the 19th Manama Dialogue, the region's premier security and defense conference.

He went on to say that Bahrain opposes forced displacement, reoccupation or reduction of Gaza's territory. Simultaneously, he condemned “terrorism directed from Gaza against the Israeli public,” outlining these as non-negotiable red lines. 

“Let me be extremely clear on what matters to the Kingdom of Bahrain. There must be no forced displacement of Palestinians in Gaza, now or ever. There must be no reoccupation of Gaza. There must be no reduction in Gaza’s territory. And on the other side, there must be no terrorism directed from Gaza against the Israeli public. Those are the red lines.” 

The prince called for the full implementation of international law to ensure Gazans' access to humanitarian aid.

6:07 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Israeli cabinet ministers will meet Saturday to discuss Gaza fuel decision after pushback

Israeli government ministers will meet Saturday night to discuss a decision made by the emergency war management cabinet to allow the daily entry of fuel trucks to Gaza. 

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said in an interview on Israel’s Channel 13 Friday night that he believed the decision to lift the fuel blockade — made late Thursday — should be taken by the full cabinet. The emergency war cabinet is a smaller group consisting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Benny Gantz, the former chief of general staff and former defense minister. 

“Personally and ideologically, I’m against the entrance of fuel [to Gaza],” Cohen said, while acknowledging that “under the international law, we must allow water, fuel and food in.”
“That’s why, amid this discussion, the prime minister has decided to assemble the cabinet tomorrow at 21:30 [local time] … In my opinion, this decision should be taken by the extended security cabinet … I want to first hear all the security officials, and their recommendations, and later make a decision,” Cohen said. 

Earlier, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich had also raised objections.  

“Allowing fuel to enter the Gaza Strip is a harsh mistake that goes against the cabinet decision. It shows weakness, and allows [Yahya] Sinwar [the political head of Hamas in Gaza] to sit in his air-conditioned bunker at ease, watch the news and keep manipulating Israeli society and families of hostages,” Smotrich said in a letter to Netanyahu that he also released on X (formerly known as Twitter). 

Netanyahu had agreed to call a cabinet meeting after speaking to Smotrich, according to Tzachi Hanegbi, Israel's national security adviser. 

“The prime minster talked to the finance minster and explained exactly what I have just explained,” Hanegbi said at a press briefing on Friday. “I assume he was not aware of all of the details. It has been agreed to assemble to cabinet tomorrow evening, to elaborate on the subject … I assume that it’ll be possible to discuss that decision, which was made based on the powers given to the war management cabinet.” 
The United Nations needs 200,000 liters (52,834 gallons) of fuel each day in order to “meet the minimum of our humanitarian responsibilities in Gaza,” UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said Friday. The lack of fuel has meant that “communications and other essential functions such as water desalination are progressively dropping offline,” Griffiths told the UN General Assembly. 

Fuel is “essential for keeping people alive,” Griffiths said. 

4:47 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

Internet and phone services partially restored in some parts of Gaza, telecommunications company says

Internet and phone services have been partially restored in some parts of the Gaza Strip, Palestinian telecommunication company PalTel said on Friday. 

“This comes after a limited quantity of fuel was provided through UNRWA to operate our main generators," the company said, referring to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

Two fuel tankers entered Gaza through the Rafah crossing on Friday to be used by UN agencies, an Israeli government agency told CNN on Friday. 

PalTel said it would need to receive a regular supply of fuel to avoid more disruption. 

NetBlocks, a London-based internet monitoring firm, confirmed that internet connectivity had been partially restored in Gaza.

“Metrics show that internet connectivity is being partially restored in the #GazaStrip as operators report a donation of fuel; service was lost on Thursday as telecom sector generators and backups shut down; service remains significantly below pre-conflict levels,” the firm said in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.
3:36 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

New video released by Hamas appears to show Israeli hostage in Gaza

A new video appearing to show an Israeli hostage held in Gaza has emerged online.

CNN is not releasing details of the clip, which appeared on the Telegram channel of Hamas’ military wing, the Al Qassam Brigades. 

Israeli army spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari declined to comment on the video directly when asked at a news conference Friday evening.

Search for hostages: The Israeli army said earlier Friday that it had recovered the body of an Israeli hostage, 19-year-old soldier Noa Marciano, in searches near Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City — the second such announcement in 12 hours.
On Thursday evening, the army said the body of 65-year old Yehudit Waiss had also been brought back to Israel.
3:29 p.m. ET, November 17, 2023

5 countries ask International Criminal Court to investigate situation in Palestinian territories

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan speaks during an interview with Reuters in The Hague, Netherlands, on October 12. Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters/FILE

Five countries submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate whether crimes may have been committed in Palestinian territories, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said.

South Africa, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti submitted the referral of the situation in the region, Khan said.

“In accordance with the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, a State Party may refer to the Prosecutor a situation in which one or more crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court appear to have been committed requesting the Prosecutor to investigate the situation for the purpose of determining whether one or more specific persons should be charged with the commission of such crimes,” Khan said in a statement.

He noted that his office is already conducting an investigation on the situation in the Palestinian territories – which began on March 3, 2021 – over possible crimes that may have been committed since June 2014 in Gaza and the West Bank.

“It is ongoing and extends to the escalation of hostilities and violence since the attacks that took place on 7 October 2023,” Khan said. “In accordance with the Rome Statute, my Office has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a State Party and with respect to the nationals of States Parties.”