(Bloomberg) — Israeli forces engaged in heavy fighting with Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip overnight as the US said it was optimistic about a deal to free hostages held by the militant group.
The Israeli military and Shin Bet, the country’s domestic security service, said they killed three Hamas commanders, while fighter jets bombed more buildings and sites Israel says are used by Hamas.
The main thrust of Israel’s ground offensive is eastwards into Gaza City, which the military says is Hamas’s “center of gravity.” Israeli forces have taken control of many parts of the city’s Al Shifa hospital and over the weekend showed videos they say prove Hamas used the facility, building a command center and tunnels underneath it.
Hamas, backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, used Al Shifa “to carry out gruesome terrorist activity,” Israeli military spokesman Amnon Shefler said in a briefing on Sunday night. “They have it as a command center, as a control center, as a place to hide hostages, as a place to murder and kill.”
The movement of troops into the Shifa complex last week was controversial, with the US urging Israel to exercise restraint and prioritize the safety of the patients still there as well as any civilians taking shelter.
Despite the continued clashes, a deal for Hamas to release a large group of hostages is making progress, according to the US.
“We are closer than we have been in quite some time, maybe closer than we have been since the beginning of this process, to getting this deal done,” US Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer said to NBC on Sunday. “We think it is possible, but it’s not done yet.”
Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, is engaged in the talks and has agreed in principle for more than 50 women and children to be released, Axios reported. In return, Israel would pause its military attacks for a specified time each day and release some Palestinians in Israeli jails.
Qatar, which hosts some of Hamas’s political leaders, is helping broker the talks.
While Israel has concentrated its airstrikes and ground assault on northern Gaza, it is now turning its attention to the south, signaling the possibility of sending troops there.
Israel’s dropped leaflets on Khan Younis, telling residents to leave the southern city. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Saturday evening, said “all Hamas leaders are dead men walking” and wouldn’t rule out ground attacks in the area. Israel has urged civilians to evacuate to southern Gaza since the beginning of the war.
The conflict erupted on Oct. 7 when Hamas militants swarmed southern Israel from Gaza, killing around 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage. Israel’s retaliatory attacks have led to more than 13,000 deaths, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in the Palestinian enclave.
The risks of the war turning into a wider Middle East conflict were again underscored on Sunday when Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen seized a cargo ship in the Red Sea that’s owned by an Israeli businessman.
European natural gas futures increased as much as 6.9% on Monday, largely on renewed concerns that the Israel-Hamas war could affect vital waterways for energy and freight markets.
Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen KK said the Galaxy Leader, a vehicle carrier that it chartered, was taken in the southern part of the Red Sea. The Houthis said it was diverted to the Yemeni coast and warned they may attack more Israel-linked vessels.
—With assistance from Gwen Ackerman, Sam Dagher and Rachael Dottle.