According to recent remarks by Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, US intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft had been helping Israel recover captives in Gaza.
On 28 November, Ryder, however, stated in a press briefing that the US had halted the ISR flights during the truce that lasted from 23 November to 1 December.
“In light of the operational pause and compliance with the agreement reached between Israel and Hamas, we are not currently conducting those ISR flights. And so those have been paused for now,” Ryder said during the briefing.
However, the London-based Al-Araby channel said it detected, using undisclosed flight tracking software, several US ISR aircraft off the coast of the Gaza Strip since 23 November, the first day of the truce.
On 25 November, a US Air Force Boeing RC-135V Rivet Joint – a signals intelligence aircraft – flew for more than four hours along a route stretching from the coast of Gaza to northern Lebanon, according to the report. During the flight, the aircraft’s tracking device was intermittently deactivated.
The investigation also identified the same type of aircraft on 28 November flying along the same route.
On 26 November, a US Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon – a maritime surveillance aircraft – was documented off the coast of Gaza flying at 17,700 feet before it shut down its tracking device, the report said.
On 27 November, the channel said, an American 'Lockheed aircraft was tracked flying towards the Gaza coast before reaching north Lebanon.
The same aircraft was observed on 29 November, flying for hours along the Gaza coast up north Lebanon.
The channel’s investigation noted that although the ISR aircraft never directly overflew the Gaza Strip, the aircraft – particularly the Boeing Rivet Joint – can collect electronic and wireless signals up to a distance of 240 kilometres.
According to the report, the Boeing Rivet Joint aircraft was documented during the flights on 25 and 28 November, approximately 128 kilometres off the coast of Gaza.
Al-Araby's findings indicate that the US never halted its ISR flights during the truce period.
The US is not the only country supporting Israeli efforts in Gaza.
On Saturday, the British Ministry of Defence stated that the UK would conduct surveillance flights over Israel and Gaza to search for captives.
According to the Guardian, the ministry officials said a range of unarmed aircraft would be used for the reconnaissance flights, including Shadow R1s, which are used for intelligence gathering.
Information on the potential whereabouts of captives will be shared with Israel, the Guardian said.
According to media reports, efforts to reinstate the Israel-Hamas truce have stumbled in recent days, with Israel claiming Hamas refused to release 17 women and children. The Palestinian movement denied having more women and children captives to release, saying that the women they have are members of the Israeli military.
Israel announced the return of a Mossad team from Doha on Saturday, saying negotiations for a new Gaza truce reached a "dead-end."
However, unnamed Egyptian officials told the Wall Street Journal on the same day that Qatari officials remain in Israel, and Egyptians are in Gaza to keep lines of communication open, WSJ reported citing unnamed Egyptian officials.
Meanwhile, Deputy Hamas Chief Saleh Al-Arouri told Al-Jazeera TV on Saturday that no more prisoners would be exchanged with Israel until the war on Gaza is over and all Palestinian detainees are released.
The Palestinian health ministry in Gaza said 15,523 people had died in the Strip since the start of the Israeli war. Prior to the truce, the death toll was around 15,000.
Seventy percent of the Palestinians killed in the war were women and children, ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said, adding that 41,316 people had been wounded.