A White House spokesman refutes report: “There has not been a change in our policy.” • Intensive battles continue in Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis.
Akiva Van Koningsveld
The Biden administration is reportedly exploring the possibility of leveraging arms shipments to Israel to place pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale back the war against Hamas and let more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, NBC News reported on Sunday.
At the direction of the White House, the U.S. Department of Defense has been examining what weapons Jerusalem has requested that could be used as leverage, current and former officials told the outlet.
Among the weaponry under discussion are 155-mm artillery rounds and Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) bomb guidance kits, which enable the Israel Defense Forces to accurately target terrorist operatives and avoid unnecessary civilian casualties in Gaza, NBC added.
John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council of the White House, appeared to deny the report later on Sunday, telling reporters, “There has not been a change in our policy.”
“Israel has a right and obligation to defend themselves against the threat of Hamas while abiding by international humanitarian law and protecting civilian lives, and we remain committed to support Israel in its fight against Hamas,” Kirby said in a statement.
“We have done so since Oct. 7 and will continue to,” added the White House spokesman.
On Jan. 8, Israel Defence Forces Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told The New York Times that Israel had shifted to a new and less intense phase of its war against Hamas, giving in to repeated demands from Washington. Hagari said that the Israeli offensive had already started the transition to a campaign that would involve fewer ground troops and airstrikes.
Exactly one week later, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant called a press conference to signal the impending end to heavy combat in Gaza’s north and south. “The intensive maneuvering phase in the north of the Gaza Strip has ended, and in the south, it will also end soon,” stated Gallant.
The defense minister’s announcement came a day after the 36th Division—the IDF’s largest regular-service armored division, which includes the Golani Infantry Brigade—left Gaza. The IDF subsequently announced that the undercover counterterror Duvdevan Unit would likewise redeploy to its regular location in Judea and Samaria.
Meanwhile, the White House continues to press the Jewish state to increase humanitarian aid shipments to Gaza. Over the weekend, Israel’s Kan News public broadcaster reported that Biden administration officials demanded that the Kerem Shalom border crossing remain open.
The reported rebuke came after Israeli protesters, including relatives of hostages held by Hamas, blocked aid trucks from passing into the enclave for several days. According to the report, the U.S. told Israel it must ensure that aid continues to flow into the Hamas-controlled Strip.
On Sunday, the IDF announced it expanded the closed military zone surrounding Kerem Shalom as activists associated with the “Order 9” movement continued to assemble near the border.
Under an agreement brokered by France and Qatar earlier this month, Israel already agreed to allow more aid, including medicine, into Gaza. Under the terms of the deal with Hamas, some of the medicines were supposed to go to the hostages held by the terrorist organization.
“A senior Hamas official said that for every box provided for the hostages, 1,000 boxes would be sent in for Palestinians,” per the Associated Press.
According to official figures in Israel, around 136 hostages remain in Gaza, although dozens are believed to be dead. Many of the captives are in desperate need of medical attention, experts previously told JNS. However, 11 days after the five aid trucks entered Gaza, there has been no word on whether the medicines reached the hostages.
After a week of urban warfare, the IDF continues to engage in “intensive battles” in the Hamas stronghold of Khan Yunis in the southern Strip, the army said on Sunday morning. Senior Hamas figures, including Yahya Sinwar, are believed to be hiding in Khan Yunis, where they have reportedly surrounded themselves with a large number of hostages.
Since Jan. 21, the army has been mounting a massive assault in Khan Yunis, killing scores of terrorist operatives, including company commanders. The battle force includes parts of the IDF’s Givati Infantry Brigade, 7th Armored Brigade, paratroopers and commandoes.
On Sunday, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed “militia” of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, announced that one of its commanders, Muhammed Deeb, was killed by the IDF. The terror group attacked Israeli forces operating west of Khan Yunis throughout the day on Sunday, the Fatah-linked terrorists added.
Also on Sunday, the IDF announced that it issued more than 3 million items of winter equipment to its soldiers, as cold and rainy weather conditions are expected to prevail in the weeks to come. Combat soldiers were provided with snowsuits, thermal clothing, rain covers, field beds and mattresses, among other items.
In addition, forces in Gaza erected several structures equipped with heating units, generators, charging panels, toilets, showers and washing machines, according to the statement.
Image: Israeli troops conducting ground operations in the Gaza Strip, Jan. 28, 2024. Credit: IDF.