March 27th – Day 172 of the war: News in Brief


1. A 25-year-old man has died after the paper factory he was in in Kiryat Shmona’s industrial zone was struck by a Hezbollah rocket this morning. Hezbollah unleashed a barrage of at least 30 rockets on the northern city. It claims the attack is in response to an overnight Israeli airstrike on Habbariyeh in southern Lebanon which reportedly killed seven people. The IDF confirmed last night’s strike and said it had killed a senior member of the Jamaa al-Islamiya terror group who had previously plotted terror attacks against Israel. Jamaa al-Islamiya head Sheikh Mohammed Takkoush claimed this week that his group had been coordinating with both Hezbollah and Hamas. Cooperation with Hezbollah was “on the rise and this is being reflected in the field,” he said. Recent days have seen the latest escalations in the trading of hostilities on the northern front. Around 50 launches on northern Israel from southern Lebanon were attempted yesterday. Both sides have particularly targeted the enemy’s aerial capabilities. Hezbollah yesterday fired anti-tank missiles at Israel’s Mt. Meron base, while reports claim that a few days ago it targeted an Iron Dome battery with two suicide drones. The IDF has continued to respond, sometimes deep into Lebanese territory. This week it targeted a military compound used by Hizbullah aerial units 120 kilometres from the border. With Iran resupplying Hezbollah’s arms through its personnel in Syria, foreign reports also suggest that 15 operatives were killed last night in attacks on pro-Iranian militia targets in Syria. Since October 7th, both Israel and Hezbollah have sought to keep their hostilities from spreading to all-out war, but miscalculations and mistakes could see the situation escalate quickly.

2. Israel’s lead negotiators have returned from Qatar, after Hamas rejected a compromise on a hostage release/ceasefire deal. According to the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office, “Hamas has once again… repeated its extreme demands: an immediate halt to the war, the complete withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip and leaving in place its administration so that it can repeat, time and again, the massacre of October 7, as it has promised to do. Hamas rebuffed all US offers for a compromise, while celebrating the Security Council’s resolution. Israel will not address Hamas’s delusional demands.” According to Channel 12 News, the gaps include the American proposal to release 700 Palestinian prisoners while Hamas continues to demand 950 (in exchange for 40 hostages). Out of the US’s suggested 700, 100 would be ‘heavyweight’ terrorists serving life sentences for murder. Hamas is demanding 150 with the ability to choose them. The US has suggested a gradual, partial return for residents to the northern Gaza Strip (with Israel’s consent), whilst Hamas continues to demand their full return. The overall assessment is that despite these gaps, a deal could still be achieved if both sides are willing to compromise. There remains a sense that Hamas is hedging bets to see if the last two weeks of Ramadan will lead to increased violence in other sectors that they can exploit to increase the pressure on Israel.  Of the 134 hostages held in Gaza, Israel’s assessment is that 98 are still alive. Yesterday the IDF confirmed that 35-year-old Uriel Baruch of Jerusalem, who was kidnapped from the area of the Nova festival on October 7, was murdered in captivity. Baruch was a father of two. His body is being held by Hamas.

3. In Gaza, the IDF continues to conduct precise operations in Shifa Hospital and its environs. Over the last day, troops located weapons and killed several Hamas fighters in the area. Further IDF operations are ongoing in both central Gaza and in Al Amal and Al-Qarara in the Khan Yunis area. The IDF has also released footage of interrogations of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) gunmen apprehended in Shifa. One states that “600 to 1,000 Hamas operatives are hiding in the hospital.” Israel has also confirmed recent reports that Hamas’s deputy military chief Marwan Issa was killed in a strike earlier this month. Issa served as deputy to Hamas’s Gazan number two, Mohammed Deif. The IDF also confirmed that another senior Hamas member, Head of Administrative and Combat Support Ghazai Abu Tamaa, had also been killed.

4. In an interview with The New York Times, freed hostage Amit Soussana has spoken of the attacks and sexual assaults she suffered at the hands of her Hamas guard. Soussana, 40, who was released on the last day of a week-long hostage release/ceasefire in November, said that around two and a half weeks into her captivity, “he came towards me and shoved the gun at my forehead. He sat me on the edge of the bath. And I closed my legs. And I resisted. And he kept punching me and put his gun in my face. Then he dragged me to the bedroom.” The guard then forced Soussana to remove her towel, groped her, and forced her to “commit a sexual act on him.” Soussana’s testimony is the first time a freed hostage has spoken publicly of the sexual violence they suffered. Of the guard, she said: “You can’t stand looking at him — but you have to: He’s the one who’s protecting you, he’s your guard. You’re there with him and you know that every moment it can happen again. You’re completely dependent on him.”

5. Following Netanyahu’s decision to cancel Minister Dermer and National Security Advisor Hanegbi’s trip to the US in the wake of the US abstaining on the United Nations Security Council ceasefire resolution earlier this week, Defence Minister Gallant has continued his own trip to Washington. Gallant met with both US Defense Secretary Austin and CIA head William yesterday. He told Austin that the negotiations on the hostages and Hamas’s positions require that the US and Israel remain on the same page on military and diplomatic efforts.  Gallant stressed that Israel and the United States share 100 percent of their values and 99 percent of their interests. Gallant also made a public video statement where he said that Israel has “no moral right to stop the war in Gaza” adding that if a “clear and absolute victory [is not reached] in Gaza, it could bring the war in the north closer”. With the continued supply of US arms crucial to Israel’s war effort, Gallant also “discussed with American officials the importance of maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region – including air capabilities and essential platforms.” Of the ‘day after’ in Gaza, he said that Israel “must build a local alternative” to Hamas.

6. A scheduled cabinet meeting was first postponed and then cancelled yesterday after Prime Minister Netanyahu failed to come to an agreement with ultra-Orthodox parties on a military draft arrangement. The law allowing young ultra-Orthodox men to avoid service in the IDF by registering as being in full-time Torah study expired last week, and the government was supposed to have legislated a new one by this week. Netanyahu’s original mooted solution would have seen a bill introduced which did not include targets for ultra-Orthodox recruitment. Instead, it raised the age of their exemption to 35, guaranteed that those who don’t enlist do not face financial penalties, and included a plan to set up designated ultra-Orthodox units in the IDF. War cabinet ministers Gallant and Gantz both objected to the plan, as did Attorney General Baharav-Miara, who said she would not be able to defend the proposal in court. Netanyahu then submitted a moderated plan yesterday, rowing back on some of the commitments in the original. As well as Gallant and Gantz’s criticisms that the plans do not go far enough in introducing ultra-Orthodox service, Netanyahu is facing threats to withdraw from the coalition from the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, who object to any attempt to end the traditional exemption. Dozens of IDF reserve commanders have also written to Netanyahu protesting an “extremely unequal” proposal which they say would harm Israel’s security