Israel confirmed on Monday that at least 199 of its citizens are kidnapped by Hamas, while the militant group said it has up to 250 hostages in the enclave, as back-channel negotiations for their release in a potential swap with the militants are being led by Qatar.
The escalation came from Iran as well whose top diplomat said "all options" are on the table to prevent a Gaza invasion, and hinted at preemptive measures. Meanwhile, CNN reported the the US will be sending 2,000 Marines and sailors, who will join its growing number of arsenal in the region.
The death toll in the war has exceeded 4,000 people in 10 days, with more than 2,800 Palestinians killed and 1,400 Israelis.
Negotiations over opening the Rafah crossing with Egypt have been stalled and nearly 600 Americans are stuck inside Gaza.
US President Joe Biden expressed strong support for the Israeli campaign in Gaza but warned the country against occupying Gaza, a territory it withdrew from in 2005 but is now preparing to enter in response to the Oct. 6 Hamas.
The Lebanon front also saw an escalation on Sunday, with Hezbollah launching rockets and Israel retaliating. Biden advised Hezbollah and Israel not to open the northern front against Israel.
Israel is creating a buffer zone on its side of the border with Lebanon in light of fire traded with Hezbollah.
The Israeli military is preparing for an extensive campaign in Gaza as nearly half the population of the Strip has been reportedly displaced in a week.
Rina Bassist, Ezgi Akin, Beatrice Farhat, Elizabeth Hagedorn, Adam Lucente, Jack Dutton, Jared Szuba and Al-Monitor’s contributors on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel contributed to this blog.
Click here for our most recent updates.
Live updates (all times EDT):
Monday, Oct. 16, 2023
11:00 pm: CENTCOM chief arrives in Israel
Commander of the US Central Command Michael Kurilla is in Israel to conduct high-level meetings with Israel’s military leadership, including IDF chief Herzi Halevi. A statement issued by CENTCOM said Kurilla came to "gain a clear understanding of Israel’s defense requirements, outline US support efforts to avoid expansion of the conflict and reiterate the Department of Defense’s ironclad support for Israel."
9:00 pm: UN Security Council rejects Russian draft resolution on Gaza
The UNSC failed to adopt a proposal by Russia with four countries voting against, five in favor and six abstaining. The draft called for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza but failed to mention Hamas or the group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel. The Times of Israel said a second draft proposed by Brazil, which includes condemning Hamas, will be voted on Tuesday.
8:15 pm: Biden to visit Israel to view war plans, Blinken says
US President Joe Biden will visit Israel on Wednesday and view Israel's plans for war in Gaza, Washington's top diplomat Antony Blinken said following more than seven hours of meetings. He met with top Israeli officials including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv Monday night into early Tuesday morning local time.
The United States and Israel agreed to develop a plan to allow humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza, Blinken said, after a previous agreement had been reportedly reached with Egypt and Israel fell through on Monday.
US officials have scrambled to arrange a humanitarian corridor for Gaza even as the Pentagon continues to say military hardware will flow to Israel unabated.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian threatened that Tehran's forces and the militias it backs in the region will take "pre-emptive action" to prevent an Israeli assault on Gaza.
7 pm: Israel says IDF strikes Hezbollah targets in Lebanon
The Israeli army said Monday night it had carried out strikes against Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon. The statement did not provide the locations of the targets or details of the strikes, but the move comes as tensions between the Iran-backed militant group and the Jewish state hit a new peak since the 2006 war. Earlier on Monday, the IDF said shots were fired toward one of its tanks and posts along the northern border with Lebanon and that it retaliated with artillery fire.
6:30 pm: CNN reports US to send 2,000 Marines to Middle East
CNN reported on Monday that the United States is sending a Marine rapid response force to a position off the coast of Israel and the Pentagon is preparing American troops for a potential deployment to the country. A US defense official told CNN that the force consisting of 2,000 Marines and sailors will be joining a growing number of “US warships and forces converging on Israel as the US seeks to send a message of deterrence to Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.”
5:15 pm: Iranian FM says 'pre-emptive actions' possible in coming hours
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that "resistance" groups may take "pre-emptive actions" against Israel in the coming hours and urged the international community to find a solution to the conflict in Gaza, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. Further details were not immediately available.
"Leaders of the resistance will not allow the Zionist regime to take any action in Gaza. … All options are open and we cannot be indifferent to the war crimes committed against the people of Gaza," Amir-Abdollahian said.
4:30 pm: Netanyahu speaks with UAE president
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Sunday night with UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, marking the first — and so far only — call between Netanyahu and an Arab head of state since the Hamas attack on Israel Oct. 7. The two discussed regional developments and agreed to stay in touch, according to a statement. The Emirates previously said that it was “appalled by reports that Israeli civilians have been abducted as hostages from their homes.” Rina Bassist reports.
3:50 pm: Hamas says between 200 and 250 hostages held in Gaza
Hamas spokesperson Abu Obeida said that due to “security and practical considerations,” there is no definite count of the number of hostages currently held in Gaza. But he stated that their number is between 200 and 250 and could be higher. Abu Obeida said that Hamas has around 200 hostages, while the remainder are being held by other resistance factions or in unidentified places. The statement came after Israel said earlier in the day it had so far notified relatives of 199 people kidnapped and held in Gaza.
3:45 pm: EU establishes air bridge to Gaza via Egypt
The European Commission announced Monday it was setting up a humanitarian air bridge to help Palestinians from Gaza. Assistance equipment including shelter items, medicine and hygiene kits will be flown to Egypt with the hope that the Rafah crossing will soon open to transfer the material into the Gaza Strip. Rina Bassist reports.
3:10 pm: Turkish FM, Hamas leader discuss release of civilian hostages
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and Hamas’ Qatar-based political chief Ismail Haniyeh discussed “the latest developments in Palestine and the possibility of release of civilians” in a phone call on Monday. The phone call came after Erdogan said last week that his government was working intensively with all parties for the release of the hostages.
12:45 pm: UK announces $12.2M in aid for Palestinian civilians
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has announced a further £10 million ($12.2 million) in aid for Palestinian civilians in Gaza, an increase of a third.
Sunak made the announcement in the House of Commons on Monday and called for immediate access for humanitarian organizations to be allowed to deliver life-saving aid.
He condemned the actions of the Hamas militant group in both Israel and Gaza.
“An acute humanitarian crisis is unfolding to which we must respond. We must support the Palestinian people — because they’re victims of Hamas too,” Sunak said.
12:40 pm: UN estimates over 43% of Gazans displaced
The United Nations estimated on Monday that over 1 million people out of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million are now displaced. Talks to reopen the Rafah crossing are stalled. Beatrice Farhat reports.
12:34 pm: Netanyahu, Putin speak for first time since Hamas attack
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Netanyahu’s office reported without offering any details.
The Kremlin said that Putin has also spoken with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and that he is planning to speak with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu spoke on Sunday with Emirati President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, his first conversation with an Arab leader since Oct. 7.
12:09 pm: Egypt-Gaza crossing hit in military strike
The Rafah border crossing has been hit in a military strike, Agence France-Presse reported. No details were immediately available. Israel has struck the crossing at least three times since the war with Hamas began, according to the outlet.
11:34 am: Shin Bet chief takes responsibility for Israel’s deterrence failure
In a first address since the deadly Hamas attack, Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar took responsibility for Israel’s failure to establish deterrence vis-a-vis Hamas.
“As the leader of our organization, responsibility for this is on me,” Bar wrote to Shin Bet members.
11:25 am: Shekel hits lowest since 2015
The Israeli shekel continues to drop and is now worth four to the dollar, its lowest value since 2015.
10:56 am: Gaza death toll rises above 2,800
The number of people killed in the Gaza Strip from Israeli strikes is now 2,808, with another 10,850 wounded, the Palestinian Authority's WAFA news agency reported.
10:30 am: Back in Israel, Blinken meets again with Netanyahu, Herzog
Secretary of State Antony Blinken is back in Israel after a first solidarity visit last Friday. The second visit comes against a backdrop of American efforts to reach a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas and an agreement to partially open the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border. Read the full report here.
9:54 am: Knesset stops winter session opening ceremony over rocket alarm
Israel's parliament stopped the opening ceremony for its winter session when sirens warned of rockets fired at the direction of Jerusalem from Gaza. Opposition leader Yair Lapid said earlier in the meeting that the war would end only with the complete defeat of Hamas and the return of Israeli hostages held in Gaza. “It will take time and will require great force. And if the world doesn’t like it, so be it,” said Lapid.
9:15 am: Arab Israelis show solidarity with victims of Hamas attack
Arab Israelis, a number of them members of the Bedouin community in the Negev, are standing in solidarity with their country and the victims of the Hamas attack. Afif Abu Much reports from Baqa al-Gharbiyye in Israel.
8:24 am: Hezbollah claims to destroy Israeli surveillance cameras
The Lebanese armed group Hezbollah said it has started destroying surveillance cameras at Israeli military outposts on the border, The Associated Press reported.
Earlier, the Lebanese army said it found 20 rocket launchpads near Qlaileh in southern Lebanon, the official National News Agency reported.
The IDF and Hezbollah have been sporadically exchanging fire across the border since the war with Hamas began.
7:53 am: French FM pledges 10M euros in humanitarian aid
In Beirut after a solidarity visit to Israel, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna pledged a donation by France of 10 million euros ($10.5 million) for humanitarian aid for the residents of Gaza. The donation will be transferred to UNRWA, the International Red Cross and nongovernmental groups in place. Colonna is set to meet with Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and other Lebanese leaders.
6:30 am: Gaza’s Interior Ministry says Israel has not resumed water supplies
The spokesperson for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza, Eyad al-Bozom, said the enclave is in a dangerous water crisis, denying Israeli claims that water services have been resumed.
“We confirm that the occupation has not pumped one liter of drinking water to any governorate in Gaza for the 10th day in row,” Bozom said in a statement, adding that Gazans are now forced to drink unsafe water.
6:10 am: Turkey’s FM discusses Gaza with US, Russian counterparts
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan discussed the Israel-Hamas war with his US and Russian counterparts Antony Blinken and Sergey Lavrov, Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT reported Monday.
The talks covered the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the Turkish side said.
Blinken “reiterated the need for Hamas to halt all violent attacks and free hostages immediately,” according to the State Department. Turkey doesn’t recognize Hamas as a terror outfit and has open channels with the militant group.
Fidan met with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry in Cairo on Saturday as regional countries ramped up their efforts to send humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave under siege.
6:00 am: Blinken returns to Israel after Jordan meetings
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has arrived in Israel after a series of meetings in Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Blinken met political leaders in Israel on Oct. 13 and will return Monday for more discussions. He is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog as Israel lays the groundwork for a land invasion into the Gaza Strip.
5:23 am: Palestinian PM says people will not abandon their land
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the Palestinian people will not abandon their land whatever the sacrifices.
Speaking at an emergency cabinet meeting in Ramallah, Shtayyeh called on the international community and the United States to intervene and end the escalation in the Gaza Strip and ensure the protection of civilians there. He further condemned the Israeli aggression on the besieged enclave, saying more than 800 children and 500 women have been killed since the violence erupted last week.
5:15 am: Egyptian FM blames Israel for continued closure of Rafah crossing
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stressed that his country has worked to keep the Rafah border crossing open for aid since the start of the Hamas-Israel escalation. "The Israeli government has not, unfortunately, taken a position to allow for the opening of the Rafah crossing on the Gaza side,” he added in comments during a joint press conference with his French counterpart Catherine Colonna in Cairo.
4:20 am: Israel has informed families of 199 people that their relatives have been kidnapped
IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the Israeli army has informed the families of 199 individuals that their relatives have been kidnapped by Hamas and are being held in the Gaza Strip. Family members of Israelis kidnapped met Sunday for the first time with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
4:00 am: EU’s top diplomat calls for ‘unimpeded access’ to Gaza
European Union’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Monday the United Nations must be granted unimpeded access to Gaza for the delivery of vital humanitarian aid including water and other supplies.
“Human suffering can be no bargaining chip,” he wrote on X, also calling for the immediate release of the more than 100 hostages Hamas is holding. An EU Commission statement last week on partially suspending humanitarian aid for Palestine in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ unprecedented attack on Israel led to divisions within the bloc. The commission later walked back its initial statement amid opposition from several EU member nations including Ireland, Spain and Luxembourg.
2:56 am: More than 2,700 killed in Gaza
The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip have killed more than 2,750 people so far and left over 9,700 wounded, the Palestinian Health Ministry said in a press statement carried by the official Wafa news agency.
2:35 am: Israel denies cease-fire, humanitarian aid reports
"Currently, there is no cease-fire or entering of humanitarian aid into Gaza in exchange for allowing foreign nationals to exit," read a statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The statement contradicts an earlier report by Reuters that Israel, the United States and Hamas agreed on the opening of the Rafah crossing from 2:00 to 8:00 am for the entry of humanitarian aid and exit of foreign nationals.
Hamas has also denied such news. Speaking to Reuters, Hamas official Izzat El Reshiq denied reports of an agreement to open the Rafah border crossing with Egypt as well as those of a temporary cease-fire. More than 100 trucks carrying aid bound for Gaza have piled up on the Egyptian border as the humanitarian situation in the enclave worsens.
2:01 am: Israel evacuates villages near Lebanon border
IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari says Israel started evacuating 28 villages located within two kilometers (1.2 miles) of Israel’s Lebanon border. Earlier, the IDF said one officer was killed on Sunday by an anti-tank missile fired from Lebanon.
Click here for our most recent updates.