Middle East crisis: Israel said it would reduce fighting in part of Southern Gaza

The announcement appeared to come out of the blue on Sunday when it was first announced through the Israeli military’s English and Arabic channels: The army will “pause” daytime combat along following the vital humanitarian aid corridor in southern Gaza until further notice.

Amid some immediate confusion over the scope of the pause, clarification quickly followed, this time in Hebrew and apparently intended for domestic consumption. The change does not mean a halt to fighting in the southern Gaza Strip, that statement said, adding that the campaign in the southernmost city of Rafah was continuing. military officials said daily pause aims to facilitate increased distribution of food aid in Gaza, where international organizations have issued dire warnings of famine.

The strange dance of text messages remains strange as the government suggests that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu only learned about the military’s plans from news reports and signaled his disapproval.

But analysts say it is likely that the prime minister already knew about the plan and that each announcement was tailored to different audiences. The strong statements appeared to reflect the competing pressures Netanyahu faces, as he squares demands from the Biden administration and elsewhere around the globe with those of a hawkish government his own. His far-right coalition partners oppose any concessions in Gaza and he relies on their support to stay in power.

According to military officials, the new policy around humanitarian corridors – where the army said it would suspend fighting from 8am to 7pm daily – took effect on Saturday. But Netanyahu hinted that he did not know about the plan until Sunday morning.

Children wait to receive food in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.Credit…Haitham Imad/EPA, via Shutterstock

“It’s classic Bibi,” said Amos Harel, a military affairs analyst for the left-leaning newspaper Haaretz, invoking Netanyahu’s nickname. Like other experts, he said the announcement was unlikely to come as a complete surprise to him, even if military commanders did not update him on the exact timing of what they called a tactical change.

“He always wore a mask for every occasion,” Mr. Harel said in an interview. “For the Americans, he needs to show that he is doing more to get aid. To an Israeli audience, he can say ‘I don’t know’ and make a plausible denial.”

A statement released Sunday by an anonymous government official, whose name and position could not be made public, due to protocol, said that when Netanyahu learned about the humanitarian pause, he found it unacceptable. The statement added that the prime minister was later assured that there were no changes in the army’s plans regarding the fighting in Rafah, the southern Gaza city near the corridor that has been the focus of the operations. recently.

Shani Sasson, a spokeswoman for Cogat, the Israeli agency that oversees policy toward the Palestinian territories and liaises with international organizations, said the move was intended to help clear a backlog of more than 1,000 vehicles. The load has been inspected by Israel and is pending. on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom intersection.

“We are asking aid organizations to pick up the aid and distribute it,” Ms. Sasson said. “It depends on them.”

The army’s move coincides with the start of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and uncertainty over the fate of Israel’s proposed ceasefire with Hamas, which includes an exchange of hostages for Palestinian prisoners. Officials said Hamas had demanded several unworkable changes to the proposal backed by the Biden administration and approved by the United Nations Security Council.

Palestinians visit the graves of relatives at a makeshift cemetery in Gaza City’s eastern al-Tuffah neighborhood, on Sunday.Credit…Omar Al-Qattaa/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The “tactical pause” also comes as Israel awaits another international report expected this month regarding food insecurity in Gaza. An earlier report in March, warning that half of Gaza’s population is facing “catastrophic” food insecurity and impending famine.

Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, were also threatened with arrest by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged war crimes. They were accused of using starvation as a weapon of war.

Israel considers Rafah to be the last bastion of Hamas’s organized battalions, and the military operation there is the last major step in the war. The army has now gained control of the corridor along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, which has long been the main conduit for arms smuggling into the territory.

Israelis are increasingly asking where the war will go from here and when it will end. The costs for both sides are increasing. At least 10 Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting this weekend and an 11th died from injuries sustained several days earlier.

About 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 that sparked the war, and a total of more than 300 Israeli soldiers were killed in combat.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, to date, more than 37,000 Palestinians have died in the war, without distinction between combatants and civilians.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 this weekend, Gadi Eisenkot, a former military commander and now a moderate politician who left the emergency wartime government along with his party leader he, Benny Gantz, last week accused Netanyahu of putting his political needs first. national security issues.

Mr. Eisenkot said that the influence of one of Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, Itamar Ben-Gvir, the national security minister, was a constant presence in discussions in the war cabinet, despite even though Mr. Ben-Gvir is not a member of that decision-making body.

The funeral of Captain Waseem Mahmoud, killed in action this weekend, in Beit Jann, Israel, on Sunday.Credit…Amir Levy/Getty Images

Mr. Ben-Gvir and the far-right finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, have publicly criticized the military leadership during the war and have also vows to overthrow Netanyahu’s government if he agrees to a ceasefire before Hamas is completely destroyed – a goal that many experts say is unattainable.

Predictably, on Sunday, Mr. Ben-Gvir was quick to attack the military’s announcement of a humanitarian pause for a social media postsdenounced it as a “crazy and delusional approach” and added that “wicked fools” had decided it “must not continue to hold its position”.

Mr. Ben-Gvir did not specify who he meant.

Gabby Sobelman Report contributions.

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