Israeli defense chief resists pressure to halt Gaza offensive, says campaign will ‘take time’

A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023, shows Israeli army soldiers keeping position on a hill overlooking northern Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
A picture taken in southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 11, 2023, shows Israeli army soldiers keeping position on a hill overlooking northern Gaza, amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas. (AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2023
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Israeli defense chief resists pressure to halt Gaza offensive, says campaign will ‘take time’

Israeli defense chief resists pressure to halt Gaza offensive, says campaign will ‘take time’
  • Israel pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power and dismantles its military capabilities

TEL AVIV, Israel: Israel’s defense minister on Monday pushed back against international calls to wrap up the country’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, saying the current phase of the operation against the Hamas militant group will “take time.”
Yoav Gallant, a member of Israel’s three-man war cabinet, remained unswayed by a growing chorus of criticism over the widespread damage and heavy civilian death toll caused by the two-month military campaign. The UN secretary-general and leading Arab states have called for an immediate cease-fire. The United States has urged Israel to reduce civilian casualties, though it has provided unwavering diplomatic and military support.
Israel launched the campaign after Hamas militants stormed across its southern border on Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping about 240 others.
Two months of airstrikes, coupled with a fierce ground invasion, have resulted in the deaths of over 17,000 Palestinians, according to health officials in the Hamas-run territory. They do not give a breakdown between civilians and combatants but say that roughly two-thirds of the dead have been women and minors. Nearly 85 percent of the territory’s 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Gallant refused to commit to any firm deadlines, but he signaled that the current phase, characterized by heavy ground fighting backed up by air power, could stretch on for weeks and that further military activity could continue for months.
“We are going to defend ourselves. I am fighting for Israel’s future,” he said.
Gallant said the next phase would be lower-intensity fighting against “pockets of resistance” and would require Israeli troops to maintain their freedom of operation. “That’s a sign the next phase has begun,” he said.
Gallant spoke as Israeli forces battled militants in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where the military opened a new line of attack last week. Battles were also still underway in parts of Gaza City and the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where large areas have been reduced to rubble and many thousands of civilians are still trapped by the fighting.
Israel has pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, dismantles its military capabilities and gets back all of the hostages. It says Hamas still has 117 hostages and the remains of 20 people who died in captivity or during the initial attack. More than 100 captives were freed last month during a weeklong truce.
Gallant keeps a framed picture on the desk of his spacious office with pictures of all the children taken hostage. All but two are marked with small hearts, signaling their release from captivity.
HEAVY FIGHTING
In central Gaza, an Israeli airstrike overnight flattened a residential building where some 80 people were staying in the Maghazi refugee camp, residents said.
Ahmed Al-Qarah, a neighbor who was digging through the rubble for survivors, said he knew of only six people who made it out. “The rest are under the building,” he said. At a nearby hospital, family members sobbed over the bodies of several of the dead from the strike.
In Khan Younis, Radwa Abu Frayeh saw heavy Israeli strikes overnight around the European Hospital, where the UN humanitarian office says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter. She said one strike hit a home close to hers late Sunday.
“The building shook,” she said. “We thought it was the end and we would die.”
Gallant blamed Hamas for the heavy civilian death toll, saying that the militant group maintains a network of tunnels underneath schools, streets and hospitals.
He claimed that Israel has inflicted heavy damage on Hamas, killing half of the group’s battalion commanders and destroying many tunnels, command centers and weapons facilities.
Israeli officials have said some 7,000 Hamas militants — roughly one-quarter of the group’s fighting force — have been killed throughout the war and that 500 militants have been detained in Gaza the past month. The claims could not be independently verified. Israel says 104 of its soldiers have been killed in the Gaza ground offensive.
The result, he said, is that in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas has been reduced to “islands of resistance” acting on the whims of local commanders.
In southern Gaza, he said the situation is different. “They are still organized militarily,” he said.
Gallant also said Israel has recovered “hundreds of terabytes” of information about Hamas from computers its troops have seized.
Despite the reported battlefield setbacks, Hamas on Monday fired a barrage of rockets that set off sirens in Tel Aviv, where Gallant’s office and Israeli military headquarters are located.
One person was lightly wounded, according to the Magen David Adom rescue service. Israel’s Channel 12 television broadcast footage of a cratered road and damage to cars and buildings in a suburb.
HARROWING JOURNEY

The UN humanitarian office, known as OCHA, described a harrowing journey through the battle zone in northern Gaza by a UN and Red Crescent convoy over the weekend that made the first delivery of medical supplies to the north in more than a week. It said an ambulance and UN truck were hit by gunfire on the way to Al-Ahly Hospital to drop off the supplies.
The convoy then evacuated 19 patients but was delayed for inspections by Israeli forces on the way south. OCHA said one patient died, and a paramedic was detained for hours, interrogated and reportedly beaten.
The fighting in Jabaliya has trapped hundreds of staff, patients and displaced people inside hospitals, most of which are unable to function.
Two staff members were killed over the weekend by clashes outside Al-Awda Hospital, OCHA said. Shelling and live ammunition hit Al-Yemen Al-Saeed Hospital, killing an unknown number of displaced people sheltering inside, it said. It did not say which side was behind the fire.
HARSH CONDITIONS IN THE SOUTH
With Israel allowing little aid into Gaza and the UN largely unable to distribute it amid the fighting, Palestinians face severe shortages of food, water and other basic goods.
Israel said it will start conducting inspections of aid trucks Tuesday at its Kerem Shalom crossing, a step meant to increase the amount of relief entering Gaza. Currently, Israel’s Nitzana crossing is the only inspection point in operation. All trucks then enter from Egypt through the Rafah crossing. Aid workers, however, say they are largely unable to distribute aid beyond the Rafah area because of the fighting elsewhere.
Israel has urged people to flee to what it says are safe areas in the south. The fighting in and around Khan Younis has pushed tens of thousands toward the town of Rafah and other areas along the border with Egypt.
Still, airstrikes have continued even in areas to which Palestinians are told to flee.
A strike in Rafah early Monday heavily damaged a residential building, killing at least nine people, all but one of them women, according to Associated Press reporters who saw the bodies at the hospital.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders said people in the south are also falling ill as they pack into crowded shelters or sleep in tents in open areas.
Nicholas Papachrysostomou, the group’s emergency coordinator in Gaza, said “every other patient” at a clinic in Rafah has a respiratory infection after prolonged exposure to cold and rain. In shelters where hundreds share a single toilet, diarrhea is widespread, particularly among children, he said.


A 4-year-old Gaza boy lost his arm – and his family. Half a world away, he’s getting a second chance

A 4-year-old Gaza boy lost his arm – and his family. Half a world away, he’s getting a second chance
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A 4-year-old Gaza boy lost his arm – and his family. Half a world away, he’s getting a second chance

A 4-year-old Gaza boy lost his arm – and his family. Half a world away, he’s getting a second chance
  • Through the efforts of family and strangers, Omar was brought out of Gaza and to the United States
  • Yet no one knows what future awaits Omar
NEW YORK: Omar Abu Kuwaik is far from his home in Gaza. The 4-year-old’s parents and sister were killed by an Israeli airstrike, when he lost part of his arm.
He’s one of the lucky ones.
Through the efforts of family and strangers, Omar was brought out of Gaza and to the United States, where he received treatment, including a prosthetic arm. He spent his days in a house run by a medical charity in New York City, accompanied by his aunt.
It was a small measure of grace in a sea of turmoil for him and his aunt, Maha Abu Kuwaik, as they looked to an uncertain future. The grief and despair for those still trapped in Gaza is never far away.
Abu Kuwaik is glad she could do this for her beloved brother’s son, whom she now considers her fourth child.
But it was a terrible choice. Going with Omar meant leaving her husband and three teenage children behind in a sprawling tent camp in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah. With Israel carrying out strikes in areas where it told civilians to take shelter, including Rafah, Abu Kuwaik knows she might never see her family again.
“My kids love Omar so much,” she said. “They told me, ‘We’re not children anymore. Go, let Omar get treated. It’s what’s best for him. It’s his only chance.’”
Omar was an outgoing boy, she said, and he’s clever like his late father, an engineer. Now he’s often withdrawn and breaks into tears easily.
Ask Omar a question, and he covers his ears with his right hand and the stump of his left arm, declaring, “I don’t want to talk.”
“Kindergarten was nice,” he eventually admits, “and I was happy on the first day.” He started school just weeks before the war. But he doesn’t want to go to kindergarten anymore. He’s afraid to leave his aunt’s side.
Flying to New York may have given him a new dream, though.
“When I grow up, I want to be pilot,” Omar said, “so I can bring people places.”
Omar was the first Palestinian child from Gaza taken in by the Global Medical Relief Fund. The Staten Island charity’s founder, Elissa Montanti, has spent a quarter-century getting hundreds of kids free medical care after they lost limbs to wars or disasters.
Each child started out as a stranger. Each one joined what she calls her “global family,” and will come back to the US for new prosthetic limbs as their bodies grow. Her charity sponsors everything except the medical treatment, which is donated, primarily by Shriners Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The deadliest round of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in decades was sparked Oct. 7 when Hamas-led militants broke through Israel’s security barrier around Gaza and stormed into Israeli communities. Around 1,200 people were killed and some 250 taken hostage.
Israel has laid waste to much of Gaza in response. In five months of war, 80 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people fled their homes.
The death toll in Gaza topped 30,000 Thursday, with more than 70,000 wounded, the Health Ministry said. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants but says women and children make up around two-thirds of those killed. Israel blames civilian deaths on Hamas, saying militants operate among the population.
Two weeks into the war, Omar and Abu Kuwaik narrowly escaped death. The two families evacuated their Gaza City apartments just before Israeli airstrikes flattened the buildings.
With only the clothes on their backs, the families split up to stay with different relatives. But in wartime, seemingly trivial decisions — like where to seek shelter — have outsized consequences.
On Dec. 6, two Israeli airstrikes slammed into Omar’s grandparents’ home in the Nuseirat refugee camp. The explosion peeled the skin from his face. His left arm could not be saved below the elbow. He had burns on his leg and torso. His parents, 6-year-old sister, grandparents, two aunts and a cousin were killed.
Omar was pinned beneath the rubble. Rescuers dug until they found his little body, still warm, bleeding but somehow alive.
“Our view was, anywhere is better for him than being in Gaza,” said Adib Chouiki, vice president of Rahma Worldwide, a US-based charity, who heard about Omar from the group’s team in Gaza.
Israel and Egypt tightly restrict movement of people out of Gaza, allowing just a few hundred to exit each day, mostly those with foreign citizenship. The World Health Organization says 2,293 patients – 1,498 wounded and 795 ill – have left Gaza for medical treatment alongside 1,625 companions. Yet roughly 8,000 patients remain on a waiting list to go abroad, according to the UN refugee agency.
Chouiki began reaching out to contacts in the Palestinian, Israeli and Egyptian governments. He got new passports for Omar and Abu Kuwaik, and Israeli security clearance for them to travel to Egypt.
An ambulance brought them to the border, where an Egyptian ambulance whisked them across the Sinai desert.
Inside an Egyptian military hospital, Omar and his aunt waited for weeks until US Customs and Border Protection gave them the green light to fly to New York on Jan. 17.
At Shriners Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Omar had skin graft surgery for the burn on his leg. He was eager to get his new prosthetic arm Wednesday, smiling mischievously as he reached out to touch it. “My arm is nice.”
Omar and his aunt boarded a plane to Cairo the next day, accompanied by a member of her extended family. They’ll stay at his home in Egypt while seeking more permanent housing.
“I almost don’t sleep,” Abu Kuwaik said. “I think about Omar and I think about my kids, and the conditions they’re living in back there in the tents.”
Food is scarce. Israel’s near-total blockade of Gaza has pushed more than half a million Palestinians toward starvation and raised fears of imminent famine. The flimsy tent her family shares with 40 other people offers little protection from rain and wind, she said. When one person gets sick, illness spreads like wildfire.
The war has repeatedly knocked out cellphone and Internet service in Gaza, but Abu Kuwaik keeps in touch “when there’s network.”
With their return to Egypt, Omar and his aunt’s futures are unclear; they might be stuck in exile.
For Abu Kuwaik, though, there’s no home for Omar to go back to.
“I cannot imagine ... that I go back back to Gaza,” she said. “What would his life be? Where is his future?

Iran executes one over alleged Israel link to attack

An Iranian police vehicle is seen parked in the capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
An Iranian police vehicle is seen parked in the capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
Updated 04 March 2024
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Iran executes one over alleged Israel link to attack

An Iranian police vehicle is seen parked in the capital Tehran. (AFP file photo)
  • Tehran has accused Israel of carrying out several covert actions on its soil
  • In August last year Iran claimed to have foiled a “very complex” Mossad-initiated project to “sabotage” its ballistic missile industry

TEHRAN, Iran: Iran’s judiciary has executed a “terrorist” over a drone attack that targeted a defense ministry site in central Iran last year, state media reported on Sunday.
According to state TV, the person “planned to explode the workshop complex of the Ministry of Defense in Isfahan under guidance of the intelligence officer of Mossad,” Israel’s spy agency.
The date of the execution and the identity of the accused person were not immediately clear.
Iran has several known nuclear research sites in the Isfahan region, including a uranium conversion plant. The country’s sanction-hit nuclear program has been the target of sabotage, assassinations of scientists and cyber-attacks.
Tehran has accused Israel of carrying out several covert actions on its soil.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said in February 2023 that it had arrested the “main actors” involved in the drone attack on a defense ministry site in Isfahan, home to the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility.
The previous month, an anti-aircraft system destroyed a drone, and two others exploded during an attack on a defense ministry facility in the province, officials said at the time.
According to the defense ministry, the night-time attack left no casualties and only caused minor damage.
Authorities did not elaborate on activities at the site, but IRNA said the strike had targeted “an ammunition manufacturing plant.”
Iran has been engaged in a shadow war for years with its arch-enemy Israel.
In August last year Iran claimed to have foiled a “very complex” Mossad-initiated project to “sabotage” its ballistic missile industry.
In January, Iran hanged four members of its Kurdish minority on charges of spying for Israel. They were convicted of collaborating with Israel on a plan to sabotage an Iranian defense site in Isfahan.
In April 2021, Tehran announced it had started producing 60 percent enriched uranium at the Natanz site, a day after accusing Israel of an attack there.
Since last October Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip against Hamas militants has sent tensions soaring. Iran has supported Hamas in the war, but denied any direct involvement in its attack, or in military action launched by allied armed groups in countries from Lebanon to Yemen.
 

 


Years removed from war, Iraqis seek new desert escapades

In this aerial view, Iraqi campers set up a tent in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on February 2, 2024. (AFP)
In this aerial view, Iraqi campers set up a tent in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on February 2, 2024. (AFP)
Updated 04 March 2024
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Years removed from war, Iraqis seek new desert escapades

In this aerial view, Iraqi campers set up a tent in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on February 2, 2024. (AFP)
  • Iraq has been ravaged by successive years of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion, including most recently the fight against the Daesh group
  • Iraq’s deserts have long attracted hunters, both locals and visitors from neighboring Gulf countries, before the years of conflict drove them away

SAMAWAH, Iraq: Far from the hustle and bustle of major cities, young Iraqis are increasingly taking advantage of a renewed sense of safety to explore the country’s serene desert getaways.
Sheltering amidst the golden dunes, Ghadanfar Abdallah and his friends gather around a flickering campfire in the Samawah desert south of the capital, humming tunes, laughing and eating.
“When we post pictures, people do not believe that there are such places like the dunes in Iraq,” the 35-year-old oil sector worker said.

Visiters manoeuver their car on the sand in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on January 26, 2024. (AFP)

“My friends ask me if the pictures were taken in Dubai. They are shocked when they learn that they were, in fact, in Iraq.”
For years, only the most intrepid of hikers and campers would brave the trips into Iraq’s desert. But with the rise of social media and a period of relative stability, it has become a popular destination for those seeking not only adventure and off-roading but also tranquillity in the vast, barren landscape.
“It is something I loved since I was a little boy. But I only started doing it with friends in the winter of 2018 or 2019,” Abdallah said.

An Iraqi camper reads a book inside his tent in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on February 2, 2024. (AFP)

He crossed 200 kilometers (125 miles) from his southern city of Basra to reach an area untouched by the trappings of urban life — including phone networks.
On a crisp winter weekend, around 20 campers set up their tents amid the serene dunes. The air filled with the aroma of carp grilling over a smoky wood fire, as the hikers prepared to feast on Iraq’s national dish, masgouf.
Later, some played dominoes while others bickered over heated games of backgammon, sipping hot cups of tea and smoking hookahs (water pipe). Their voices resonated with traditional Iraqi songs, their laughter piercing the still desert night.

An Iraqi man rides a camel during a trip to the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on January 27, 2024. (AFP)

Abdallah said such desert expeditions have “become more widespread, and today many stores sell camping gear.
“Some are starting to realize that it is safe, it is an adventure.”
But for many, the lingering sense of danger remains.
Iraq has been ravaged by successive years of conflict since the 2003 US-led invasion, including most recently the fight against the Daesh group.

Iraqi campers gather around a fire in the early morning in the Samawa desert south of Baghdad on February 3, 2024. (AFP)

Though the terrorists were driven out of their major strongholds in late 2017, many retreated into desert hideouts, largely in the country’s west, from where they still sporadically — though with increasing rarity — stage deadly attacks.
“How can someone go to a desert where there is no water or mobile network? If something happens, how would you report it?” Abdallah said.
Iraq’s soaring summer temperatures — often surpassing 50 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) — mean these arid adventures are limited to wintertime.
A weekend getaway costs between $75 and $100 per person, covering food, transportation and accommodation. A single trip can bring together a group of up to 30 people — typically men in the conservative country where women would not normally take part in such activities.
For Hussein Al-Jazairi, the journey is worth every penny.
“The city is full of dust, noise and daily annoyances,” the 34-year-old influencer said during his first desert camping trip.
“One can come here, where it is quiet, serene, and there is fresh air.”
Jazairi is often glued to his phone, scrolling through his social media accounts. But his recent trip to the Samawah desert proved to be a completely different experience.
“Social media is my work. I receive non-stop notifications. By the end of the day, I have spent a very long time on my phone,” Jazairi said.
“Here, there is no network. It has been two days, and my phone’s battery is still 70 percent. I haven’t used it.”

While Jazairi encourages people to explore the country’s vast sandhills, he warns that “one should not go alone, especially for the first time.”
“We came with experts who know the places around.”
Iraq’s deserts have long attracted hunters, both locals and visitors from neighboring Gulf countries, before the years of conflict drove them away.
Today, campers still need to remain vigilant, as some areas are still riddled with mines, while the borders with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria are intersected by routes used by drug traffickers or terrorists.
“We don’t start any trip without first identifying where we will sleep,” said Murad Al-Bahadli, a camper with over eight years of experience.
“We plan carefully to avoid any security risk,” the 38-year-old added.
Yet the placid desert nights are a far cry from the years of turmoil, and for many their lure is irresistible.
Among those is Ravshan Mokhtarov, an Uzbek who has been living in Basra for six years.
“This area is unique. There is no one, not even a sound,” the young man said, expressing gratitude for “Iraqi hospitality.”
“It is pretty much safe. I don’t feel any danger.”

 


Iran’s president discusses Gaza with Algerian counterpart — Algeria’s presidency

Iran’s president discusses Gaza with Algerian counterpart — Algeria’s presidency
Updated 04 March 2024
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Iran’s president discusses Gaza with Algerian counterpart — Algeria’s presidency

Iran’s president discusses Gaza with Algerian counterpart — Algeria’s presidency
  • Algeria, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, backs the Palestinian cause and has called several times for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

DUBAI: Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on Sunday discussed bilateral relations, energy cooperation, trade and Gaza with Algeria’s leader Abdelmadjid Tebboune in a one-day state visit, according to Algeria’s presidency.
Algeria, a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, backs the Palestinian cause and has called several times for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

 


Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership
Updated 04 March 2024
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Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership

Netanyahu rival’s visit to US highlights cracks within Israel’s wartime leadership
  • Netanyahu reportedly had a “tough talk” with Benny Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister”
  • Gantz is a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack
  • A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost support for Gantz's political future

TEL AVIV, Israel: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rebuked a top Cabinet minister arriving in Washington on Sunday for talks with US officials, according to an Israeli official, signaling widening cracks within the country’s leadership nearly five months into its war with Hamas.

The trip by Benny Gantz, a centrist political rival who joined Netanyahu’s wartime Cabinet following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, comes as friction between the US and Netanyahu is rising over how to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and what the postwar plan for the enclave should look like.
An official from Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party said Gantz’s trip was planned without authorization from the Israeli leader. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Netanyahu had a “tough talk” with Gantz and told him the country has “just one prime minister.”
Gantz is scheduled to meet on Monday with US Vice President Kamala Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan and on Tuesday with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to his National Unity Party. A second Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Gantz’s visit is intended to strengthen ties with the US, bolster support for Israel’s war and push for the release of Israeli hostages.
In Egypt, talks were underway to broker a ceasefire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week.
Israel did not send a delegation because it is waiting for answers from Hamas on two questions, according to a third Israeli government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Israeli media reported that the government is waiting to learn which hostages are alive and how many Palestinian prisoners Hamas seeks in exchange for each.
All three Israeli officials spoke anonymously because they weren’t authorized to discuss the disputes with the media.
On Saturday, the US airdropped aid into Gaza. The airdrops came after dozens of Palestinians rushing to grab food from an Israel-organized convoy were killed last week, and they circumvented an aid delivery system that has been hobbled by Israeli restrictions, logistical issues and fighting in Gaza. Aid officials say airdrops are far less effective than deliveries made by trucks.
US priorities in the region have increasingly been hampered by Netanyahu’s Cabinet, which is dominated by ultranationalists. Gantz’s more moderate party at times acts as a counterweight.
Netanyahu’s popularity has dropped since the war broke out, according to most opinion polls. Many Israelis hold him responsible for failing to stop the Oct. 7 cross-border raid by Hamas, which killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 people as hostages into Gaza, including women, children and older adults, according to Israeli authorities.
More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, around two-thirds of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and fighters. Around 80 percent of the population of 2.3 million have fled their homes, and UN agencies say hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.
Israelis critical of Netanyahu say his decision-making has been tainted by political considerations, a charge he denies. The criticism is particularly focused on plans for postwar Gaza. Netanyahu wants Israel to maintain open-ended security control over Gaza, with Palestinians running civilian affairs.
The US wants to see progress on the creation of a Palestinian state, envisioning a revamped Palestinian leadership running Gaza with an eye toward eventual statehood.
That vision is opposed by Netanyahu and the hard-liners in his government. Another top Cabinet official from Gantz’s party has questioned the handling of the war and the strategy for freeing the hostages.
Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most conservative and religious ever, has also been rattled by a court-ordered deadline for a new bill to broaden military enlistment of ultra-Orthodox Jews. Many of them are exempted from military service so they can pursue religious studies. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers have been killed since Oct. 7, and the military is looking to fill its ranks.
Gantz has remained vague about his view of Palestinian statehood. Polls show he would earn enough support to become prime minister if a vote were held today.
A visit to the US, if met with progress on the hostage front, could further boost Gantz’s support.
Israel has essentially endorsed a framework of a proposed Gaza ceasefire and hostage release deal, and it is now up to Hamas to agree to it, a senior US official said Saturday. He spoke on condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the White House to brief reporters.
Israelis, deeply traumatized by Hamas’ attack, have broadly backed the war effort as an act of self-defense, even as global opposition to the fighting has increased.
But a growing number are expressing their dismay with Netanyahu. Some 10,000 people protested late Saturday to call for early elections, according to Israeli media. Such protests have grown in recent weeks, but remain much smaller than last year’s demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul plan.
If the political rifts grow and Gantz quits the government, the floodgates will open to broader protests by a public that was already unhappy with the government when Hamas struck, said Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Israeli strikes late Saturday in Rafah and in the Jabaliya refugee camp killed more than 30 people, including women and children, according to local health officials. And on Sunday two Israeli strikes southwest of Deir Al-Balah in central Gaza killed at least five people and destroyed an aid truck, according to witnesses and staff at Al Aqsa hospital.
Amid concerns about the wider regional conflict, White House senior adviser Amos Hochstein was going to Lebanon on Monday to meet officials, according to an administration official who was not authorized to comment. White House officials want Lebanese and Israeli officials to prevent tensions along their border from worsening.