National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan confirms Israel killed top Hamas commander

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U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on Monday confirmed reports that Israel has killed a top Hamas commander

Speaking to reporters, Sullivan said Israel has made “significant progress” against Hamas, having broken battalions and killed thousands of Hamas fighters. 

Among those thousands of fighters was Hamas’ third in command, Marwan Issa, who was killed in an Israeli operation last week. 

Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, speaks during a news conference in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, DC, US, on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

“The rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network, and justice will come for them too,” Sullivan said. 

Sullivan is the first government official to confirm Issa’s death.

His comments come hours after Israeli forces launched a raid on Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, accusing Hamas militants of using it as a base. 

The military said it killed Faiq Mabhouh, Hamas’ top official in internal security. An IDF soldier was also killed in the operation. 

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The military said Mabhouh operated and directed militant activity from inside the hospital compound. Gaza’s Health Ministry, meanwhile, accused the Israeli army of directing gun and missile fire at a building used for specialized surgeries.

Sullivan said it “was clear” that Hamas fighters were firing back at Israeli troops from the hospital. 

“We have seen Hamas over the course of this conflict use civilian facilities, including hospitals, to store weapons for command and control and to house fighters,” Sullivan said. “And that places an added burden on Israel that very few militaries have to deal with, an entrenched insurgency, using the shield of civilian institutions to protect themselves during a fight, rather than meeting Israel on some open field to battle.” 

Gaza hospital

An aerial view shows the compound of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 7, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas terrorists.  (BASHAR TALEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Israel raided the same medical center in November after claiming that Hamas was concealing a major command and control center within and beneath the compound. It revealed a tunnel running to an underground bunker beneath the hospital, and some weapons discovered inside.

The ministry says around 30,000 people are sheltering at the hospital, including patients, medical staff and people who have fled their homes seeking safety.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesman, said the patients and medical staff could remain in the compound and that a safe passage was available for civilians to leave. 

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Sullivan’s comments come amid growing concerns within the Biden administration over Israel’s prospective offensive in the southern city of Rafah, where roughly 1.5 million Palestinians have taken refuge to escape the worst of the conflict in the north. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed Monday to send a team of Israeli officials to Washington to discuss the matter with Biden administration officials. 

“We’ve arrived at a point where each side has been making clear to the other its perspective,” Sullivan said.

Netanyahu

FILE – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base, which houses the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Dec. 24, 2023. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been losing influence, funding and staff, and disparaging remarks from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are just the latest headache for the Geneva-based humanitarian group.  (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool, File)

Earlier Monday, Biden and Netanyahu had their first interaction in over a month. Sullivan said Biden questioned the Israeli leader over a lack of a “coherent and sustainable strategy’ to defeat Hamas.

Biden administration officials have warned that they would not support an operation in Rafah without the Israelis presenting a credible plan to ensure the safety of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Israel has yet to present such a plan, according to White House officials.

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After the call, Netanyahu issued a statement, not indicating there were any tensions. 

“We discussed the latest developments in the war, including Israel’s commitment to achieving all of the war’s goals: Eliminating Hamas, freeing all of our hostages and ensuring that Gaza never (again) constitutes a threat to Israel — while providing the necessary humanitarian aid that will assist in achieving these goals,” Netanyahu said.

GAZA

France and Qatar have mediated a deal whereby medicine shipments reached Gaza today. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, which doesn’t differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count, says more than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war. Roughly two-thirds of whom are women and children, according to the Ministry’s estimates. Israel has disputed these figures. 

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Palestinian militants killed some 1,200 people and took another 250 people hostage in the surprise Oct. 7 attack out of Gaza that triggered the war. Hamas is still believed to be holding some 100 captives, as well as the remains of 30 others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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