Thursday 9 May 2024 - 22:30

Report: Israel Abandoning Captives to Hunt Hamas Leaders, Specifically Sinwar

Story Code : 1134010
Report: Israel Abandoning Captives to Hunt Hamas Leaders, Specifically Sinwar
Speaking on condition of anonymity, three officers, one of whom is serving in Gaza, questioned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy in the ongoing war on Gaza, which has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians and failed to return captives taken by Hamas in October 2023.  

One officer told MEE the government’s aims were unclear and the objective of rescuing captives and destroying Hamas had “collapsed”.

“Netanyahu's operations in Gaza are fundamentally aimed at ... hunting down Yahya Sinwar,” said the officer in Gaza, adding that the war had become “personal” for the Israeli premier. 

Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in the enclave, is Israel’s number one target and has not been seen in public since the war began. 

The officer told MEE that Israel’s military had become “obsessed” with Sinwar and the upper echelons of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.

Last month, a Hamas official said Sinwar had visited combat zones above the ground and held deliberations with the group's leadership abroad. 

Speaking to the pan-Arab news outlet Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed (or The New Arab), the Hamas official stated Sinwar was not always staying in tunnels, as claimed by Israel, but also performing his duties in the field.

The military officer in Gaza said that conducting special operations targeting high-ranking individuals in a densely populated area risked making the conflict “perpetual”, and would be impossible without Israeli casualties and subsequent "retaliations" by the army. 

“The army and intelligence are unable to make the right decisions in this respect,” one source noted. 

An officer not currently serving in Gaza added a “new phase” of the war was being planned involving a long-term military presence through special operations.

“This plan has been partially approved by the US,” the officer told MEE, adding, “It's all part of a plan agreed upon by the two countries for a Hamas-free Gaza.”

The US has previously claimed it opposes the re-occupation of Gaza or re-establishing a permanent Israeli presence there.

Israel has repeatedly stressed its main war objectives remain "returning our hostages and eliminating Hamas".

According to the source, the planned long-term presence includes a ground invasion of Rafah, which Israel launched earlier this week. 

Israeli forces captured the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Tuesday, hours after its troops had disconnected a major road in Eastern Rafah from the crossing. 

The capture came after several days of deadly heavy air raids and shelling of Rafah, where around 1.5 million displaced Palestinians have been sheltering for months. 

It also followed an announcement by Hamas that it accepts a US-mediated ceasefire proposal that leads to the release of all captives in exchange for Palestinian prisoners, the end of the war and the full withdrawal of Israeli troops. 

Everything that Israeli leaders had “discussed for a while” was currently taking place, according to one of the military sources, who added that a temporary truce was likely to follow in order to quell anti-government protests in Israel.

Hamas has repeatedly stressed it will not agree to a temporary truce. 

“A few hostages might be exchanged. However, hostages are no longer of concern to anyone,” the source stated.

Israel estimates that 128 of around 250 captives taken to Gaza during Hamas's surprise attack on Israel in October remain there, including 35 who the military says are dead. Hamas says at least 70 captives have been killed in Israeli air strikes.

Rallies in Israel led by the families of captives have called on the government to end the war on Gaza and bring their loved ones home.

Responding to Hamas's agreement to the US-mediated ceasefire proposal on Monday, Netanyahu's office said the Palestinian group's stance was “far from meeting Israel’s core demands".

However, he added that Israel "will dispatch a ranking delegation to Egypt in an effort to maximise the possibility of reaching an agreement on terms acceptable to Israel".

Another round of indirect talks reportedly began on Tuesday in Cairo, with the presence of delegations from Hamas, Israel, the US, Qatar and Egypt. 

CIA director William Burns, who is leading the talks, is set to arrive in Israel and meet with Netanyahu.