Hamas reestablishing itself in Gaza City after IDF redeployment

The jihadist group is also demanding the release of terrorists who took part in the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion of southern Israel.

By Joshua Marks | | Topics: Gaza, Hamas
Palestinian Hamas security forces display their military skills during academy graduation ceremony in Gaza City, Feb. 27, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinian Hamas security forces display their military skills during academy graduation ceremony in Gaza City, Feb. 27, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

Hamas is attempting to reestablish its governing capabilities in areas of the Gaza Strip from which Israeli forces have withdrawn, deploying police officers and paying partial salaries to civil servants.

Four Gaza City residents told the Associated Press that the terrorist group has dispatched both uniformed and plainclothes officers near the police headquarters and other government offices, as well as the Shifa Hospital, which Israel exposed in November of last year as a Hamas command center used to hold hostages.

Palestinian Hamas security forces display their military skills during a police academy graduation ceremony in Gaza City. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

Israeli ground forces entered the Gaza Strip on Oct. 27, 2023 following weeks of air strikes in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas assault on southern Israel in which 1,200 people were murdered, thousands more wounded and 253 taken captive.

One of Jerusalem’s stated war goals is the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capacities in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced in mid-January the end of heavy combat in the northern Gaza Strip, on the same day that that the military’s largest regular-service armored division exited the Gaza Strip for rest and training, leaving three other divisions fighting Hamas.

While the Israeli military has continued intensive operations in the southern Gaza Strip centered around the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis, the reduction in boots on the ground elsewhere in the Strip has created an opening for Hamas to attempt to reassert some sort of control over the coastal enclave it has ruled since 2007.

This situation has led to Israeli airstrikes in the area of the makeshift offices in Gaza City where the return of some civil servants were seen.

“In recent days, Israeli forces renewed the attacks in the western and northwestern parts of Gaza City, including in the areas where salaries were distributed,” the sources told AP.

The IDF is also expected to increase troop activity in northern Gaza in the coming weeks to try to quell the Hamas resurgence.

IDF activity in the Gaza Strip, Feb. 3, 2024. Credit: IDF.

Israel’s Army Radio reported that the military is planning to carry out extensive raids due to increased activity by the terror group in northern Gaza.

According to Israeli military estimates, there are about 2,000 Hamas terrorists in the north (the rest were killed or escaped), who are completely disconnected from the leadership in the south.

“The return of the police marks an attempt to restore order in the devastated city after the Israeli forces withdrew from northern Gaza last month,” a Hamas official told AP.

Gallant said last week that 10,000 Hamas fighters have been killed and another 10,000 wounded nearly four months into the war, adding that the Khan Yunis Brigade had been dismantled.

Many Hamas fighters have also been captured by Israeli forces on and after Oct. 7. Before the attack, Hamas was estimated to have a fighting force in Gaza of some 30,000 to 40,000 terrorists.

“We are achieving our missions in Khan Yunis, and we will also reach Rafah and eliminate terror elements that threaten us,” said Gallant.

 

Israeli forces press offensive in Khan Yunis

Israeli forces continued to press their offensive in Khan Yunis, the IDF said on Sunday morning.

Khan Yunis, Gaza’s second-largest city, is regarded as a personal stronghold of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar.

Over the past day, members of the IDF’s Paratroopers Brigade raided a multi-story building used as a command center by the head of Hamas’s Khan Yunis Brigade. Soldiers found Kalashnikovs, ammunition, military equipment and technological gear, according to the IDF.

The soldiers also eliminated several terrorists in close-quarters combat.

In northern Gaza, the 401st Brigade eliminated terrorists and uncovered Kalashnikov rifles, pistols, military equipment, ammunition and grenades.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Air Force struck numerous Hamas targets across the Strip, including rocket launch sites.

 

Hamas seeks release of Oct. 7 terrorists in hostage deal

Hamas is demanding that Israel free terrorists who participated in the terror group’s Oct. 7 massacre as part of any hostage deal, Hebrew media reported on Saturday.

The Gaza-based terrorist group is examining the framework of an agreement negotiated in Paris on Jan. 28 by Israeli, American, Qatari and Egyptian interlocutors. The agreement would see the release of the 136 remaining captives (including some believed to be dead) taken during the bloody assault on southern Israel in exchange for an extended ceasefire and other concessions.

Additional demands expected to be presented by Hamas in Cairo include the release of only one Israeli abductee per day and four stages instead of the three previously reported. In the first stage, elderly men and women will be freed; the second stage will see female soldiers returned; the third stage, young men and soldiers; and the fourth and final phase the return of bodies.

According to the Egyptians, Hamas also does not want to give Israel a list of the abductees still in Gaza, either dead or alive.

Fifty percent of Israelis are opposed to a hostage deal that would see an extended pause in fighting in Gaza and the release of thousands of Palestinian terrorists, according to a snap poll conducted by Israel’s Channel 12 last week.

Just 35% overall support the terms of the potential agreement, with the rest undecided.

Among Netanyahu coalition voters, only 12% support the deal compared to 75% against, while among opposition-bloc voters, 53% are in favor versus 32% opposing.

 

Permanent ceasefire

Despite news reports that a Hamas delegation led by Qatar-based political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh visited Cairo last week for talks on the Paris outline, the trip was postponed as the terrorist group works on additional comments and clauses it will present to Egyptian and Qatari mediators in the coming days, according to Channel 13.

Cairo and Doha are reportedly pressuring Hamas to reach a deal in the next two weeks, and negotiations are expected to accelerate in that regard. Internal friction between Haniyeh and Sinwar, who runs Hamas in Gaza, has also surfaced, with the The Wall Street Journal reporting that Sinwar is more inclined to accept an initial six-week ceasefire (40 days), while the political bureau leadership want to negotiate a permanent halt to fighting.

According to Israel’s Channel 13, Egyptian and Qatari mediators have told Hamas that the Biden administration is assuring them that there will not be a return to combat after the deal. Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar, returned to Doha from a visit to Washington on Saturday.

 

Soldier slain in Gaza

The IDF’s death toll since the start of Gaza ground operations on Oct. 27 has risen to 225 with the announcement on Sunday morning that Sgt. First Class (res.) Shimon Yehoshua Asulin, a 24-year-old resident of Beit Shemesh, was killed in action in southern Gaza on Saturday.

A total of 562 military personnel have been killed on all fronts since the start of the war on Oct. 7, 2023.