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No ceasefire in sight in Gaza, as Israel attempts to rein in extremists

TJI Pick
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No ceasefire in sight in Gaza, as Israel attempts to reign in extremists

Published: 7 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

IDF reported planning to enter Gaza City within 48 hours; Blinken pushes back against Arab calls for a ceasefire; Israeli officials admit that limiting aid to pressure Hamas didn’t work.

Gaza was rocked by a series of huge explosions on Sunday evening and communications with the coastal strip were cut, as violence also escalated on Israel’s northern boundary with Lebanon.

The strikes on Gaza came as the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) indicated that Israeli troops were planning to enter Gaza City in force perhaps within the next 48 hours, according to reports in Israeli media.

Journalists inside Gaza and watching from the Israeli border described intense Israeli strikes on the coastal strip, and video showed towering explosions in the night sky. Reports from Gaza said the strikes were coming from the air, sea and land, including from the north of the strip where Israeli troops now have a presence.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken continued to push back against calls for a ceasefire, saying an Israeli ceasefire in Gaza would allow Hamas to regroup and carry out further attacks. Mr Blinken made the comments on Saturday in Jordan after holding talks with Arab leaders, who want an immediate halt to the fighting, as the US continued to support Israel's right to defend itself.

"We don't accept that it is a self-defence," Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at a news conference with Mr Blinken following the talks, which also involved Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

The Biden administration has also made it clear that it opposes the forced relocation of Palestinians from Gaza to neighbouring Egypt, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas when he met with him in Ramallah on Sunday.

Israel is struggling to lay out a clear exit strategy in the Gaza Strip and has not decided whether it wants to kill Hamas' leadership or accept a deal to exile its members, according to a political source.

They aren't ruling out the possibility of a humanitarian pause in the fighting, but only if it includes the release of the hostages. "Even if there's a ceasefire in exchange for the hostages' return, it will be temporary, and Israel will continue working to topple Hamas," the source said. 

Officials are increasingly concerned about a shortage of food and water leading to unrest among Gaza residents and an escalation of violent confrontation between them and IDF troops. This appears to be leading a strategic switch to increase the amount of humanitarian aid allowed to enter Gaza.

Alongside the fierce international pressure, officials admit that limiting the aid to pressure Hamas has turned out to be ineffective, as Yahya Sinwar, Hamas' leader in Gaza, is undeterred by the suffering of Gazan civilians and isn't helping to rescue Hamas' hostages.

But international support will also find itself under strain in the face of extreme statements being made within the coalition’s ranks. 

Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu said Sunday that one of Israel’s options in the war against Hamas could be to drop a nuclear bomb on the Gaza Strip, in comments that were quickly disavowed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also suspended the minister from cabinet meetings.

Eliyahu does not have any connection to the three-member war cabinet directing the war against the Hamas terror group, nor is he part of the broader security cabinet.

When it was pointed out to the minister that there are some 240 hostages currently held in the Gaza Strip, Eliyahu doubled down.

“I pray and hope for their return, but there is a price to be paid in war,” he said. “Why are the lives of the abductees, whose release I really want, more important than the lives of the soldiers and the people who will be murdered later?”

There seems to be only partial knowledge about the conditions and locations of some 240 hostages held by Hamas, although most of the hostages are thought to be alive, according to assessments. Officials believe that despite the negotiation efforts led by Qatar, the parties are not on the verge of a deal to release the hostages. The prevailing assessment that a deal is highly unlikely, they said, led to the decision to launch a significant ground operation in Gaza.

In an op-ed published in The New York Times, Israel’s President Herzog described the conflict as not just an “existential struggle” for Israel but a war “between those who adhere to norms of humanity and those practicing a barbarism that has no place in the modern world”.

Herzog decried Hamas’s “cynical exploitation of civilian suffering,” particularly the terror group’s use of human shields, but said such tactics would not stop Israel from carrying out its offensive. “For us and for the Palestinians, the suffering will end only with the removal of Hamas. Anyone trying to tie our hands is, intentionally or not, undermining not only Israel’s defense but also any hope for a world where these atrocities cannot happen,” he wrote.

Israel launches major strikes on Gaza as violence flares up on Lebanon boundary (The Guardian)

Ceasefire would allow Hamas to regroup, says Blinken (BBC)

Official Says Israel Will Want Security Control of Gaza After War Ends (Haaretz)

Far-right minister says nuking Gaza an option, PM suspends him from cabinet meetings (Times of Israel)

Rabbi at Israeli Military Training Base Says 'Whole Country' Is 'Ours,' Including Gaza and Lebanon (Haaretz)

Blinken to Abbas: US opposes relocation of Gaza Palestinians to Egypt (Times of Israel)

In NYT op-ed, Herzog casts war against Hamas as struggle for better Middle East (Times of Israel)

Netanyahu Suggests Link Between Hamas Attack, Reservists' Protest (Haaretz)
Gantz calls on Netanyahu to retract statement suggesting that calls to refuse reserve service – made during protests against the judicial coup - could have influenced Hamas leader's calculations.

Rabbi at Israeli Military Training Base Says 'Whole Country' Is 'Ours,' Including Gaza and Lebanon
Army says Amichai Friedman's comments don't align with its values after he told soldiers that Israel would make its former settlement bloc in Gaza look 'tiny'

Photo: Israeli army flares illuminate the sky over al-Shatea refugee camp (Mohammed Saber/EPA)

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