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Day 9 of Hamas-Israel war blog: Sunday, Oct. 15

Nine days into the fighting between Israel and Hamas, nearly 1 million are now displaced in Gaza as rocket barrages continue in the direction of Israel and the Israeli bombardment intensifies on the enclave.
A picture taken from the southern Israeli side of the border with the Gaza Strip on Oct. 15, 2023.

US President Joe Biden expressed strong support for the Israeli campaign in Gaza but warned the country against occupying Gaza, a territory it had withdrew from in 2005, but is now preparing to enter militarily in response to the Oct. 6 Hamas attack that left 1,400 Israelis dead.  

“I think it’d be a big mistake,” Biden told CBS’ 60 Minutes when asked if Israel should occupy the enclave. “Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza again,” he added. 

Israeli airstrikes intensified on Gaza in the last 24 hours, with the death toll exceeding 2,506 people. 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. "Don't. Don't, don't, don't," Biden said.  

The Israeli army announced in a statement Sunday that it’s creating a buffer zone on its side of the border with Lebanon in light of fire traded with Hezbollah. Due to the escalation, it read, the IDF decided to “isolate a space of up to four kilometers [2.5 miles] from our northern border with Lebanon.”

Hamas and Israel continued rocket barrages and airstrikes as Washington intensified its diplomatic efforts led by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is returning to Israel on Monday after visiting Jordan and Egypt on Sunday.

Israel said later on Sunday that it killed Hamas’ southern national security security district commander Mo’atez Eid in an airstrike. 

The news follows an announcement by the Pentagon Saturday that it had dispatched a second aircraft carrier to the Mediterranean on a regularly scheduled deployment for exercises in Europe.

The White House said the Eisenhower would be available to support deterrence efforts already undertaken by the strike group led by the US’ largest carrier, the USS Ford, already in the eastern Mediterranean.

The Israeli military said it was preparing for an extensive campaign in Gaza and “the implementation of a wide range of offensive plans, which include, among other things, an integrated and coordinated attack by air, sea and land.”

“Israeli army battalions and soldiers are deployed all over the country and are prepared to increase readiness for the next stages of the war, with an emphasis on a significant ground operation,” the announcement read.

Nearly half the population of Gaza has been reportedly displaced since the start of the war a week ago.

Protests have erupted across global cities in solidarity with the Palestinians, including a 50,000-strong march in London on Saturday.

France remains on high alert and has dispatched Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna to the region.

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):

Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023

7:30 pm: Biden warns Israel against occupying Gaza

US President Joe Biden expressed strong support for the Israeli campaign in Gaza but warned Israel against occupying Gaza, a territory it had withdrawn from in 2005. “I think it’d be a big mistake,” Biden told CBS’ "60 Minutes" when asked if Israel should occupy the enclave. “Look, what happened in Gaza, in my view, is Hamas, and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that it would be a mistake for Israel to occupy Gaza again.”

5:36 pm: US death toll up to 30

The US State Department said that the number of Americans killed in the Hamas attack on Israel rose to 30, adding, "At this time, we are also aware of 13 American nationals who are unaccounted for."

4:30 pm: Israel estimates 600,000 have fled northern Gaza

The Israeli military estimated on Sunday that at least 600,000 residents of northern Gaza have fled to the south of the enclave following Israel’s evacuation notice.

"We continue the evacuation of [the] population from Gaza City and its environs southward of the Gaza River. … More than 600,000 Gazans have already left,” the IDF said in a statement.

4:02 pm: Blinken says US opposes mass relocation of Gaza residents to Egypt’s Sinai

Washington’s top diplomat Antony Blinken said the United States opposes moving Gaza’s population to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, rejecting the suggestion as “a non-starter.”

“We believe that people should be able to stay in Gaza, their home. But we also want to make sure that they’re out of harm’s way and that they’re getting the assistance they need,” Blinken told Al-Arabiya TV.

3:22 pm: IDF says Hamas’ southern district commander killed

The Israel Defense Forces said the commander of Hamas’ southern national security district commander Mo’atez Eid was killed Sunday in strikes in the Gaza Strip.

3:18 pm: Israel stops security exports to Colombia over president’s Gaza remarks 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned Colombian Ambassador Margarita Manjarez for a reprimand following tweets and retweets posted on X by Colombian President Gustavo Petro. The ministry announced Israel was stopping security exports to Colombia.

Among other things, Petro said that Gaza was being “converted into a concentration camp.”

3:06 pm: IDF reports striking Hezbollah targets in Lebanon

The Israel Defense Forces announced on Twitter that its forces had struck targets belonging to Hezbollah in Lebanon. The IDF did not provide further information, saying more details would follow.

3:03 pm: UNRWA says 1 million have fled, Gaza running out of body bags

The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees said at least 1 million people have fled their homes in Gaza over the past week in response to Israel’s strikes and impending assault on the besieged Palestinian enclave.

“Thousands of people have been killed, including children and women. Gaza is now even running out of body bags,” UNRWA chief Philippe Lazzarini told reporters at the agency’s headquarters in east Jerusalem on Sunday.

2:35 pm: Rafah crossing still closed for American citizens fleeing Gaza

Despite assurances from senior US officials on Sunday that Egypt has agreed to open the Rafah crossing for nearly 600 Palestinian Americans seeking to flee Gaza, the latest reports on Sunday evening suggest it is still closed. Full the report here.

1:04 pm: Iran warns of escalation if Israel does not halt its operation

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Sunday said an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip would “open new fronts of resistance” across the Middle East.

“If the Zionist aggressions do not stop, the hands of all parties in the region are on the trigger,” Amir-Abdollahian was quoted as saying by Iran’s IRGC-run Fars News. Israel faces significant Hezbollah firepower to the north as well as IRGC-armed militias to the northeast in Syria. The United States has dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group off Israel’s coast with a second carrier strike group on the way. Washington has openly warned Iran and the militias it backs to stay out of Israel’s fight with Hamas.

1:02 pm: 19 French nationals killed by Hamas, 13 missing 

On a solidarity visit to Israel, French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said 19 French nationals were killed by Hamas and 13 are missing. Speaking at Ben Gurion International Airport, Colonna said that at least some of the missing are surely held hostage by Hamas in Gaza. Earlier in the day, members of the Council of the European Union published a joint statement calling on Hamas to immediately free all hostages without any preconditions.

12:30 pm: Water supply to south of Gaza resumes at one connection point

After Israel’s Energy Minister Israel Katz announced that south Gaza’s water supply would be partially restored, Israel’s Foreign Ministry confirmed to Al-Monitor that the water was indeed switched on. Security sources told Al-Monitor that Israel usually supplies 20% of Gaza’s water consumption. Still, with the power cut off, Gaza will find it difficult to operate its own water pumps.

12:23 pm: UN peacekeeping force facility in Lebanon hit with rocket

UNIFIL said its headquarters in Naqoura was hit by a rocket from an undetermined location on Sunday.

No personnel were reported hurt.

12:15 pm: US appoints David Satterfield as Middle East humanitarian envoy

The State Department announced the appointment of former Ambassador David Satterfield as the US special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues. He “will focus on ensuring life-saving assistance can reach vulnerable people through the Middle East” as well as spearhead assistance to Gaza and Rafah, the State Department said.

11:45 am: Palestinian death toll climbs to more than 2,500

The Palestinian Health Ministry said Sunday that the death toll in the West Bank and Gaza has climbed to 2,506 and that more than 10,400 others are wounded.

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities said Sunday the war has so far left 1,400 Israelis dead.

11:20 am: 8 Israelis injured by rocket fire from Lebanon

The IDF is striking Hezbollah positions after nine rockets were fired from Lebanese territory, said the Israeli army. The Galilee Medical Center said eight people were injured, two of them in serious condition. Earlier in the day, one man was killed and three injured by a rocket fired at the village of Shtula near the border.

On Sunday, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the Iranian-backed party claims responsibility for the attack. “Hezbollah declared on Sunday several strikes on an Israeli post and a settlement near the border with Lebanon, in retaliation for the aggression on Lebanon which killed in the last two days three Lebanese,” Al-Manar reported. Earlier in the day, Iran warned that an Israeli ground offensive in the Gaza Strip could escalate conflicts elsewhere in the Middle East.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian held talks with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani as Israeli troops massed on the border.

“No one can guarantee the control of the situation and the non-expansion of the conflicts,” he said, according to an Iranian Foreign Ministry statement.

10:50 am: French foreign minister heads to Lebanon after Israel visit

French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna met in Israel Sunday with French-Israeli nationals whose relatives are missing following the attack by Hamas. Colonna arrived in Israel Saturday night and is expected to travel to Lebanon later this evening to meet with Lebanese leaders. Rina Bassist reports.

10:20 am: Israel resumes partial water supply to Gaza

Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz issued a statement announcing the partial resumption of water to the Gaza Strip, saying the decision was made to provide water "in a specific spot for the south of the Gaza Strip.” Katz referenced US diplomacy as part of the decision, saying it was “agreed upon between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden [on Saturday], corresponds to our policy and enables us to siege Gaza, so it has no electricity, water or fuel until Hamas is eliminated.‘’

9:30 am: Chinese FM holds calls with Iran, Saudi counterparts

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke to his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Saudi Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in separate phone calls. In both calls, Wang criticized the Israeli blockade on Gaza and aired his support for Palestinian statehood, according to Chinese state media outlet CGTN.

Wang also held a separate phone conversation with his American counterpart Blinken on Saturday, calling for the lifting of the blockade on the Palestinian enclave.

8:00 am: Blinken to return to Israel on Monday

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is returning to Israel on Monday for “further consultations,” the State Department said. Blinken's shuttle diplomacy has taken him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

7:00 am: Israel creates buffer zone with Lebanon

The Israeli army is creating a buffer zone on its side of the border with Lebanon in light of the fire traded with Hezbollah. The statement said that due to the escalation, the IDF decided to "isolate a space of up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from our northern border with Lebanon," adding, "Entry into this space is completely forbidden. Civilians near the northern border [up to] 2 kilometers away must stay in shelters."

One Israeli was killed and several others wounded by Lebanese Hezbollah’s missile attack on an Israeli northern border village on Sunday, Israeli emergency services said.

Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000.

6:45 am: Gaza residents recount terror, fear of second Nakba as they leave their homes

Residents of northern Gaza report pain and panic as they are faced with the choice of facing Israeli bombardment or leaving their homes with the risk of never returning. Abeer Ayoub reports for Al-Monitor.

6:30 am: Pope calls for humanitarian corridors, release of Israeli hostages

Pope Francis on Sunday called for establishing humanitarian corridors into Gaza and the release of the hostages that Hamas is believed to be holding following its attack inside Israel.

“May humanitarian rights be respected, above all in Gaza, where it is urgent and necessary to guarantee humanitarian corridors to help the entire population,” he was quoted as saying by Vatican news websites during his weekly address in St. Peter’s Square.

He also renewed his call for the release of the hostages Hamas is holding. The Israeli authorities on Saturday said they so far had identified 126 captives at the hands of the militant group.

Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of the Sunday Angelus prayer in St.Peter's Square at the Vatican on October 15, 2023. Pope Francis called on October 15, 2023 for humanitarian corridors to allow the delivery of essentials to the Gaza Strip, which is under heavy Israeli bombardment following a bloody attack by its rulers, Hamas. (Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP) (Photo by ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)
Pope Francis waves to the crowd at the end of the Sunday Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Oct. 15, 2023. (Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images)

3:10 am: Death toll in Gaza, West Bank surges to 2,384 as Red Cross calls for access

The Palestinian Health Ministry said early Sunday that the death toll in the West Bank and Gaza has climbed to 2,384 and that more than 10,250 others were wounded as the Red Cross called for access to the Palestinian enclave.

Mirjana Spoljaric, the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said her institution was “ready with medicine and other relief items,” to help Gazans trapped in the Israeli blockade. “Entry must be granted, and our teams in Gaza must be allowed to work safely and effectively.”

Hamas’ unprecedented attack last weekend killed at least 1,300 and wounded more than 3,400, according to Israeli authorities.

2:45 am: MBS calls for lifting of Gaza siege in meeting with Blinken

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called for the lifting of the Israeli blockade on Gaza during his meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Saudi Arabia’s state-run SPA reported amid international warnings over the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The de facto Saudi leader called “for lifting the siege on Gaza, to bring justice, stability and peace and [to] ensure that the Palestinian people attain their legitimate rights.”

The crown prince told Blinken that his country “rejects the targeting of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure and of vital services,” and called for respect for international humanitarian law, SPA reported.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Oct. 15, 2023. Photo credit: Saudi Press Agency

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Oct. 15, 2023. (Credit: Saudi Press Agency)

12:23 am: Israel says it killed senior Hamas commander

Senior Hamas commander Bilal al Qadr, who led the mass infiltration into Israel, was killed by Israeli airstrikes, the Israeli military said. “He was responsible for the murderous raid in Kibbutz Nirim and Nir Oz,” noted the statement.

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the Israeli army stuck 100 targets in Zeitoun and Jabaliya overnight, in the north of the Gaza Strip. Targets included Hamas Islamic Jihad sites. Hagari also said hundreds of thousands of Gazans have moved from the north of the Strip to the south.

On Saturday, the Israeli military announced that its airstrikes killed Murad Abu Murad, a senior Hamas commander who headed the group’s aerial operations in Gaza City.

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