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December 21, 2023 Israel-Hamas war

What we covered here

  • A much-delayed vote on Gaza is expected Friday at the UN Security Council after the US ambassador said she was ready to support a resolution calling for an increase in aid to the strip.
  • The risk of famine in Gaza is increasing every day that hostilities persist, according to a report by a UN backed food security agency. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said no hospitals are functioning in northern Gaza and the strip's entire health care system is "on its knees."
  • Israel’s most recent proposal to Hamas is a one-week pause in the war for the return of around 35 hostages, a senior US official told CNN. Hamas said Thursday that Palestinian factions will not agree to any talks about prisoner swaps until after Israel ends its military campaign in Gaza.
  • Without providing a timeline, the White House said Israel has assured the US of its plans to pivot to a lower-intensity operation as its objectives shift in the strip.
  • Here's how to help humanitarian efforts in Israel and Gaza.
9:42 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

After multiple delays, Gaza resolution is ready for a vote, US ambassador to UN says

Linda Thomas-Greenfield speaks during a General Assembly meeting at UN headquarters in New York on December 12. Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

The United States is ready to vote on a United Nations Security Council resolution on Gaza after several delays, the US ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Thursday night.

“I just want to share with you that we have worked hard and diligently over the course of the past week with the Emiratis, with others, with Egypt, to come up with a resolution that we can support. And we do have that resolution now. We’re ready to vote on it,” Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.

Thomas-Greenfield spoke after a closed-door meeting in which the UNSC again delayed a vote on the resolution, which calls for a suspension of fighting between Israel and Hamas and an increase in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. 

The vote is now expected to take place on Friday.

Thomas-Greenfield didn't share how she will vote on the measure, but said “it will be a resolution – if the resolution is put forward as is – that we can support.”

The resolution will bring humanitarian assistance and support “the priority that Egypt has in ensuring that we put a mechanism on the ground that will support humanitarian assistance,” Thomas-Greenfield added.

Some context: The US has previously voted against a call for a ceasefire in the larger UN General Assembly and earlier this month, vetoed a resolution in the 15-member UNSC that included the word “ceasefire” in the text. Deputy Ambassador to the UN Robert Wood told the Security Council at the time it was because there was no mention of the October 7 Hamas attacks in the draft.

As one of the five permanent members of the UNSC, a resolution vetoed by the US will not pass.

8:03 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

UN vote on resolution to suspend fighting in Gaza delayed again, source says

The UN Security Council again delayed a vote on a resolution calling for a suspension of fighting between Israel and Hamas and an increase in humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, a diplomatic source said Thursday.

This marks the fourth time the UNSC has delayed a vote as negotiations are still ongoing.

Sources previously indicated one of the key sticking points remains a proposal for the UN to create a monitoring mechanism for aid going into the Gaza Strip. 

The vote is expected to happen tomorrow, though the timing could once again slide. 

7:58 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

Israel proposes new deal that includes the release of some hostages, senior US official says 

Israel’s most recent proposal to Hamas is a one-week pause in the war for the return of around 35 hostages, including the remaining women, elderly, wounded and sick men held in Gaza, a senior US official told CNN. 

This group would include the three elderly men abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz near the Gaza border who were recently featured in a video released by the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, in which they are pleading to be released.

CNN was unable to independently verify when or where the footage was shot or the condition of the captives. 

And despite Hamas stating on its Telegram channel on Thursday that it would not agree to any discussions about prisoner swaps until after Israel ends its military operation, US officials continue to believe that there is a pathway to secure the release of more hostages, that official said. 

The senior US official declined to say whether Hamas’ most senior leader in Gaza, Yayha Sinwar, had responded to Israel’s latest proposal on the hostages.

Sinwar is Israel’s primary target in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces has called him a “dead man walking.”

Both Israeli and American officials have indicated they believe Sinwar could be in the network of tunnels below Khan Younis — where he’s from.

While Israel has returned to the negotiating table to get more of the hostages taken by Hamas during the October 7 attack, both Israeli and US officials have made clear that a deal does not appear imminent, CNN previously reported.

Eight Americans remain unaccounted for since the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Four Americans — three women and a toddler — have been successfully released since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. 

The US and Qatar have continued to push Israel to get back to the negotiating table, ever since a seven-day truce ended three weeks ago and efforts to get hostages released stalled.

The talks to resurrect the negotiations appeared to be at a standstill but then picked up after Israeli forces accidentally killed three Israeli hostages who had escaped from their captors.

While Sinwar’s response — and approval — is key to moving a deal forward, Hamas officials outside Gaza, who talk to Qatar and Egypt, have said they have increasingly little to gain by striking a new deal. Adding that they would, once again, likely see Israel's fierce bombing campaign resume, a person familiar with the discussions said.

Hamas also believes Israel reneged on key parts of the first hostage deal and doesn’t trust what Israel may agree to.

Hamas was also surprised by the aggressive bombardment that started up again after the seven-day pause, the person said — a bombing that Hamas said has killed Israeli hostages and would be expected to continue after a potential second deal and pause come to an end.

“So, what’s the point for them to release the hostages without reaching an actual ceasefire deal, a complete ceasefire?” the source asked. 

9:00 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

IDF claims it destroyed a network of tunnels in central Gaza City 

The Israel Defense Forces destroyed a "strategic terror tunnel network" in central Gaza City on Thursday, IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said in a media briefing. 

"Today's destruction of significant infrastructure deprives the Hamas terrorist organization of strategic capabilities," Hagari said. 

On Wednesday, the IDF released several videos they said show a network of tunnels that it said connect to residences and offices of senior Hamas leadership.

CNN cannot independently verify the IDF's claims. 

6:28 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

Acute hunger crisis affecting entire population of Gaza Strip, United Nations report says

Palestinian children carry pots as they wait to receive food cooked by a charity kitchen, in Rafah, Gaza, on December 14. Saleh Salem/Reuters

 The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has expressed “deep concerns” over the rapidly worsening food security situation in the Gaza Strip.

Nearly all of Gaza’s 2.2 million residents are now facing acute hunger, according to a report by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) released on Thursday.  

According to the report, the entire population of the Gaza Strip is classified in a state of crisis (IPC Phase 3). 

“This is the highest share of people facing high levels of acute food insecurity that the IPC initiative has ever classified for any given area or country,” the report states.

At least 79% of Gaza’s population is classified as being in a state of emergency (IPC Phase 4) or catastrophe (IPC Phase 5), according to the report.

The classification indicates that more than half a million people are experiencing catastrophic acute food insecurity conditions, marked by extreme food shortages, alarming rates of acute malnutrition in children under five, and a significant rise in mortality rates.  

In November, FAO Director-General Qu Dongyu reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to addressing the humanitarian needs and safeguarding agriculture-based livelihoods in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

“An immediate ceasefire and peace are prerequisites for food security, and the Right to Food is a basic human right,” Dongyu said in a statement. 

5:10 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

Israeli forces have established "operational control" over Shejaiya neighborhood in Gaza City, IDF claims 

Israeli forces have established “operational control” over the neighborhood of Shejaiya after days of intense fighting in the Gaza City neighborhood, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) claimed in a statement on Thursday.  

Israeli troops “completed the dismantling of Hamas’ core capabilities in Shejaiya, gained operational control over the neighborhood. IDF troops will maintain that control and continue operating in the neighborhood based on operational needs,” the military said.  

More: Shejaiya has been the scene of fierce fighting in recent days, with Israeli forces confronting ambush attempts and attacks that involved suicide bombers or assailants dressed in civilian clothes, according to the IDF. 
Shejaiya is the same Gaza City suburb where the IDF said its troops shot and killed three Israeli hostages last week after misidentifying them as threats.  

The IDF said Thursday that it conducted “extensive strikes” in the neighborhood and “hundreds of targets” were struck.  

Israeli troops also raided houses of senior Hamas officials and destructed more than 100 buildings allegedly used by the group for its operations, the IDF claimed.  

A Hamas commander as well as alleged suspects who "participated" in the deadly October 7 attacks on Israel were detained and taken to Israel for interrogation, the IDF said.

The military did not name the Hamas commander and alleged terror suspects it says it has detained.  

4:44 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

Israeli military claims to have killed "over 2,000 terrorists" in Gaza since end of ceasefire

Ground operations conducted by Israeli forces have killed "over 2,000 terrorists" since fighting on the ground resumed on December 1, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari claimed Thursday. 

Hagari said during a news conference that the IDF also "demolished a strategic terror tunnel network in the elite quarter in the heart of Gaza City" on Monday that was important in "dismantling of a strategic capability" of Hamas. 

CNN cannot independently verify the IDF claims. 

Remember: Israel renewed its offensive in Gaza after the collapse of a seven-day truce that saw several exchanges of Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners and detainees.
Israel is facing pressure to more clearly define its goals in Gaza and reduce the mounting civilian death toll in the territory.

About 20,000 people have been killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since Hamas' October 7 attacks and the ensuing Israeli offensive, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Ramallah. CNN cannot independently verify that figure.

4:07 p.m. ET, December 21, 2023

White House: Israel has acknowledged the need to transition to "lower-intensity" military campaign in Gaza

Smoke rising from Israeli air strikes on the city of Khan Yunis on December 20, in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

Israel has assured the United States of its plans “to transition from a higher intensity level of operations ... to something a bit lower-intensity,” as its objectives shift in Gaza, the White House said Thursday.

“The Israelis say they recognize the need to transition to a different phase of fighting — I mean, in any military campaign, wherever you’re going to transition to a different set of objectives, you're going to achieve those different set of objectives through different tactics and operations, and that's just standard for the conduct of military operations,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters.

Kirby declined to offer a timeline on when exactly Israel would transition to that new phase, adding the Israelis “will decide when (and) they will decide what lower intensity looks like and what that means.” 

Kirby noted, “We are not dictating terms and timelines to the Israelis." He went on to say that the US has "talked about the importance of moving to lower intensity operations, and obviously we don't want them to do it sooner than they think they can do it safely and effectively, but we do believe we believe that a transition, you know, in the near future is the best possible outcome."

Kirby pointed to a series of high-level trips to the region, noting Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and national security adviser Jake Sullivan have all traveled to Israel recently, where officials “talked to them about our lessons learned in doing those kinds of transitions … as well as asking them some tough questions.”