Norway Calls on Donors to Resume Funding to Palestinian UNRWA Agency

10 February 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians examine the damage to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) buildings on their way back to their homes in the wake of the Israeli army withdrew from North of Gaza City. (dpa)
10 February 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians examine the damage to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) buildings on their way back to their homes in the wake of the Israeli army withdrew from North of Gaza City. (dpa)
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Norway Calls on Donors to Resume Funding to Palestinian UNRWA Agency

10 February 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians examine the damage to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) buildings on their way back to their homes in the wake of the Israeli army withdrew from North of Gaza City. (dpa)
10 February 2024, Palestinian Territories, Gaza City: Palestinians examine the damage to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) buildings on their way back to their homes in the wake of the Israeli army withdrew from North of Gaza City. (dpa)

Norway called on international donors on Tuesday to resume payments to the UN agency for Palestinians refugees (UNRWA) after a report found Israel had yet to provide evidence that some UNRWA staff were linked to terrorist groups.

The United States, Britain and others earlier this year paused payments to UNRWA following Israel's claims, while Norway, also a major donor to the organization, argued that funding cuts put the population of Gaza at risk.

A review of the agency's neutrality led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna on Monday concluded Israel had yet to back up its accusations that hundreds of UNRWA staff were operatives in Gaza terrorist groups.

"I would now like to call on countries that have still frozen their contributions to UNRWA to resume funding," Norway's foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said in a statement.

A separate investigation by internal UN investigators is looking into Israeli allegations that 12 UNRWA staff took part in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks which triggered the Gaza war.

"Norway has emphasized that it is unacceptable to punish an entire organization, with 30,000 employees, and all Palestine refugees for the alleged misdeeds of a small number of the organization's employees," Barth Eide said.

While 10 countries have since ended their suspensions, the United States, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Lithuania have not. A UN spokesperson on Monday said UNRWA currently had enough funding to pay for operations until June.



Over 300 KSrelief Relief Trucks Head to Yemen in Q1 2024

Photo by SPA
Photo by SPA
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Over 300 KSrelief Relief Trucks Head to Yemen in Q1 2024

Photo by SPA
Photo by SPA

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSrelief) continued its vital support for the Yemeni people in the first quarter of 2024. A significant aid convoy consisting of 330 relief trucks crossed the Al-Wadiah border crossing to deliver a total of 5,752 tons and 313 kilograms of critical supplies.
The vital assistance included food baskets, shelter materials, medical aid, dates, and logistical support to ensure the efficient distribution of these resources. The aid reached 14 Yemeni governorates: Hadramout, Al-Jawf, Al-Mahra, Sanaa, Shabwa, Abyan, Aden, Saada, Hajjah, Marib, Hodeidah, Taiz, Lahj, and Al-Dhalea, SPA reported.
The initiative exemplifies the unwavering commitment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, through KSrelief, to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people amid a humanitarian crisis.


UN Has Got Only 12% of Funds Sought for War-wracked Sudan

FILE PHOTO: Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and newly arrived ride their donkeys looking for space to temporarily settle, near the border between Sudan and Chad in Goungour, Chad May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and newly arrived ride their donkeys looking for space to temporarily settle, near the border between Sudan and Chad in Goungour, Chad May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
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UN Has Got Only 12% of Funds Sought for War-wracked Sudan

FILE PHOTO: Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and newly arrived ride their donkeys looking for space to temporarily settle, near the border between Sudan and Chad in Goungour, Chad May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese refugees who fled the violence in Sudan's Darfur region and newly arrived ride their donkeys looking for space to temporarily settle, near the border between Sudan and Chad in Goungour, Chad May 8, 2023. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo

The United Nations warned on Friday that it had only received 12 percent of the $2.7 billion being sought for war-wracked Sudan, adding that "famine is closing in".

Tens of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced in Sudan since war broke out in April 2023 between the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF).

The United Nations says more than 1.4 million people have fled the country.

"It is a catastrophically underfunded appeal," Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told reporters.

"Without more resources coming in fast, humanitarian organisations won’t be able to scale up in time to stave off famine and prevent further deprivation," he said, AFP reported.

"In Sudan, half of the population, 25 million people, need humanitarian aid. Famine is closing in. Diseases are closing in. The fighting is closing in on civilians, especially in Darfur."

The United Nations has expressed growing concern in recent days over reports of heavy fighting in densely populated areas as the RSF seeks control of El-Fasher, the last major city in the western Darfur region not under its control.

"Now is the time for donors to make good on pledges made, step up and help us help Sudan and be part of changing the current trajectory that's leading toward the cliff's edge. Don't be missing in action," he said.

Shible Sahbani, the UN's World Health Organization representative in Sudan, said: "Thirteen months of war in Sudan, nine million people displaced which represent around 17 percent of the population and the largest internal displacement crisis in the world today.

"This conflict has... nearly destroyed the health system which is almost collapsed now. Close to 16,000 people have died due to this war, 33,000 have been injured," she said, speaking from Port Sudan.

Sahbani said the real toll was "probably much higher".

The RSF and Sudan's armed forces are seen as both wanting to secure a battleground victory and each side has received support from outside players.

The UN human rights chief Volker Turk this week separately spoke to Lieutenant-General Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan, president of the Transitional Sovereignty Council, and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, Commander of the Rapid Support Forces.

"He urged them both to act immediately – and publicly – to de-escalate the situation," UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.


WHO: No Medical Supplies Received In Gaza For 10 Days

Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP)
Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP)
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WHO: No Medical Supplies Received In Gaza For 10 Days

Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP)
Displaced Palestinians arrive in central Gaza after fleeing from the southern Gaza city of Rafah in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, May 8, 2024. (AP)

The World Health Organization said Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days as Israel pursues a new offensive against Hamas.

Israel's closure of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has caused "a difficult situation", WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. "The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6."

Israeli troops entered the city of Rafah on May 7 to extend their offensive against Hamas over the militant group's attacks seven months earlier. They closed the Rafah crossing into Egypt that is crucial for humanitarian supplies.

With UN agencies warning of a growing risk of famine in Gaza, the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings from Israel are also virtually shut down.

Jasarevic said the biggest concern was over fuel needed to keep clinics and hospitals running. Gaza's health facilities need up to 1.8 million litres of fuel a month to keep operating, AFP reported.

The spokesman said only 159,000 litres had entered Rafah since the border closure. "This is clearly not sufficient," he added, highlighting how only 13 out of 36 hospitals across the Palestinian territory were now "partially" operating.

"Hospitals still functioning are running out of fuel, and that puts so many lives at danger," said Jasarevic. "Current military operations in Rafah are putting countless lives at risk."


US Evacuates 17 US Citizen Doctors From Gaza

Girls carrying food containers in a temporary camp in Rafah, near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Girls carrying food containers in a temporary camp in Rafah, near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
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US Evacuates 17 US Citizen Doctors From Gaza

Girls carrying food containers in a temporary camp in Rafah, near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Girls carrying food containers in a temporary camp in Rafah, near the border with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

The United States on Friday evacuated out of Gaza 17 American doctors who had been stuck since an Israeli takeover of the Rafah crossing closed the border with Egypt, official sources said, AFP reported.

US diplomats arranged for the 17 doctors to leave instead through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel.

"Some of the US citizen doctors who had been stuck in Gaza have now safely departed and made their way to safety with assistance from the US embassy in Jerusalem," a State Department spokesperson said.

"We have been in close contact with the groups that these US doctors are part of, and we have been in contact with the families of these US citizens," he said.

A source familiar with the operation said that three other US citizen doctors who were part of the volunteer medical mission chose to stay despite the uncertainty on when they will again have a chance to leave.

The Rafah crossing into Egypt has been the main gateway for goods and people entering Gaza. It has been closed since Israel on May 7 said it had seized the border post from Hamas.

Egypt has accused Israel of denying responsibility for a humanitarian crisis in Gaza and says that truck drivers and aid workers do not feel safe crossing through an Israeli checkpoint into Gaza.


Dozens of Israeli Protesters Attack Truck in Apparent Effort to Block Gaza Aid

 A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Dozens of Israeli Protesters Attack Truck in Apparent Effort to Block Gaza Aid

 A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A soldier holds a child as smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Dozens of Israeli protesters attacked a truck in the occupied West Bank, beating its driver and setting it on fire in an apparent attempt to prevent aid from reaching Gaza, the Israeli military said Friday.

Soldiers tried to intervene but were attacked by the protesters, lightly injuring two officers and a soldier, the military said. According to Israeli media, the truck was carrying ordinary commercial goods, not aid for Gaza.

Some 1.1 million Palestinians are on the brink of starvation in Gaza, according to the United Nations. Israeli restrictions on land border crossings and heavy fighting have hindered food and other supplies from reaching Palestinians.

On Friday, a newly built US floating pier on Gaza's coast started unloading trucks of aid for the besieged enclave. However, the US and aid groups warn that the sea corridor is not a substitute for land deliveries that could bring in all the food, water and fuel needed in Gaza.

At the UN's top court, Israel strongly denied charges it's committing genocide against the Palestinians, arguing Friday that it's doing everything it can to protect the civilian population during its military operation in Gaza. South Africa has asked the International Court of Justice to order a cease-fire.

Israeli forces are pushing into Rafah, a city along Gaza's southern border with Egypt, saying it's the last stronghold of Hamas. Fighting is also intensifying in northern Gaza, where Hamas has regrouped in areas Israel captured earlier in the conflict.

Seven months of Israel's war in Gaza have killed more than 35,000 people, most of them women and children, according to local health officials. Most of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been driven from their homes by the fighting.

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people there, mostly civilians, and taking about 250 hostage. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.


Israeli Military Finds Bodies of 3 Hostages in Gaza

 Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
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Israeli Military Finds Bodies of 3 Hostages in Gaza

 Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)
Palestinians walk past damaged and destroyed buildings in Gaza City on May 17, 2024 amid the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas. (AFP)

The Israeli military said Friday its troops in Gaza found the bodies of three Israeli hostages taken by Hamas during its Oct. 7 attack, including German-Israeli Shani Louk.

The military identified the other two bodies as those of a 28-year-old woman, Amit Buskila, and a 56-year-old man, Itzhak Gelerenter.

All three were killed by Hamas at the Nova music festival, an outdoor dance party near the Gaza border, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said at a news conference.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deaths “heartbreaking,” saying, “We will return all of our hostages, both the living and the dead.”

The military said the bodies were found overnight, without elaborating, and did not give immediate details on where they were located. Israel has been operating in the Gaza Strip's southern city of Rafah, where it says it has intelligence that hostages are being held.

Hamas-led gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and abducted around 250 others in the Oct. 7 attack. Around half of those hostages have since been freed, most in swaps for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel during a weeklong cease-fire in November.

Israel says around 100 hostages are still captive in Gaza, along with the bodies of around 30 more. Israel's war in Gaza since the attack has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Netanyahu has vowed to both eliminate Hamas and bring all the hostages back, but he’s made little progress. He faces pressure to resign, and the US has threatened to scale back its support over the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Israelis are divided into two main camps: those who want the government to put the war on hold and free the hostages, and others who think the hostages are an unfortunate price to pay for eradicating Hamas. On-and-off negotiations mediated by Qatar, the United States and Egypt have yielded little.


Western Nations Urge Israel to Comply with International Law in Gaza 

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
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Western Nations Urge Israel to Comply with International Law in Gaza 

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)

Israel must comply with international law in Gaza and address the devastating humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave, a group of Western nations wrote in a letter to the Israeli government seen by Reuters on Friday.

All countries belonging to the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, apart from the United States, signed the letter, along with Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The five-page letter comes as Israeli forces bear down on the southern Gaza city of Rafah as part of its drive to eradicate Hamas, despite warnings this could result in mass casualties in an area where displaced civilians have found shelter.

"In exerting its right to defend itself, Israel must fully comply with international law, including international humanitarian law," the letter said, reiterating "outrage" for the Oct. 7 Hamas raid into Israel which triggered the conflict.

Israel denies blocking humanitarian aid and says it needs to eliminate Hamas for its own protection.

The Western nations said they were opposed to "a full-scale military operation in Rafah" and called on Israel to let humanitarian aid reach the population "through all relevant crossing points, including the one in Rafah".

"According to UN estimates, an intensified military offensive would affect approximately 1.4 million people," the letter said, underscoring the need "for specific, concrete and measurable steps" to significantly boost the flow of aid.

The letter recognizes Israel made progress in addressing a number of issues, including letting more aid trucks into the Gaza Strip, the reopening of the Erez crossing into northern Gaza and the temporary use of Ashdod port in southern Israel.

But it called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to do more, including working towards a "sustainable ceasefire", facilitating further evacuations and resuming "electricity, water and telecommunication services".

Since Hamas' Oct. 7 attack, Israel's Gaza offensive has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, local health officials say. Hamas-led gunmen killed some 1,200 people and abducted 253 in their attack to Israel, according to Israeli tallies.


Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Fierce Fighting in Northern Gaza, as Aid Starts to Roll off US-Built Pier

Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)
Smoke rises in northern Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, as seen from Israel, May 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south gunmen attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza's eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.

As fighting raged in the north and south of the territory, the US military said trucks had started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier built off Gaza.

"Israel's focus is Jabalia now, tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world," said Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia.

"Shame on the world. Meanwhile, the Americans are going to get us some food," Rajab, a father-of-four, told Reuters via a chat app. "We want no food, we want this war to end and then we can manage our lives on our own."

Israel had said its forces had cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent the group re-establishing itself there.

The fighting has coincided with an assault on Rafah at the southern edge of the strip bordering Egypt sending hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from both ends of the territory at once. Thick smoke could be seen rising over Rafah on Friday.

The aid being delivered via the floating pier, built by the US military in the Israel port of Ashdod and towed into place off Gaza this week, is the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.

The United Nations said it was finalizing plans to distribute aid delivered via the route, through it reiterated that truck convoys by land - disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah - were the most efficient way of getting aid in.

"To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now," deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

HUMANITARIAN FEARS

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement troops had killed more than 60 militants in recent days and located a weapons warehouse close to a shelter complex in what it described as a "divisional-level offensive" in Jabalia.

A divisional operation would typically involve multiple brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.

"Even now, the soldiers are exchanging fire with terrorist cells in the area," the IDF said. "The 7th Brigade's fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure."

At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed in the war, according to figures from the enclave's health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and the threat of disease.

Doctors complain they have to perform surgery, including amputations, with no anesthetics or painkillers as the medical system in the territory has virtually collapsed.

Israel says it must complete its objective of destroying Hamas for its own safety after the deaths of 1,200 people on Oct. 7, and to free the 128 hostages still held out of 253 abducted by the gunmen, according to its tallies.

To achieve that, it says it must capture Rafah, where around half of the territory's 2.3 million people had sought shelter from the fighting further north.

Israel's operation against Rafah, which began in early May but has yet to escalate to an all-out assault, has ignited one of the biggest rifts in generations with its main ally, the United States. Washington held up a weapons shipment over fears of civilian casualties.

Underlining concerns among other Western nations that have generally backed Israel, a letter seen by Reuters on Friday and signed by more than a dozen democracies, including all members of the G7 apart from the US, urged Israel to comply with international humanitarian law in Gaza.

'TRAGIC WAR'

Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they were firing anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said that since the military offensive on Rafah started on May 6, more than 630,000 people have been forced to flee Rafah.

"Many have sought refuge in Deir al-Balah, which is now unbearably overcrowded with dire conditions," it added. Deir al-Balah, up the coast from Rafah to the north, is the only other city in Gaza yet to be assaulted by Israeli forces.

At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.

Noam said Israel was fighting a war of self-defense and that the military operation in Rafah was not aimed at civilians but at dismantling the last Hamas stronghold.

"There is a tragic war going on, but there is no genocide" in Gaza, Noam said.

The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


Israeli Cabinet Rifts Over Gaza Break Out into the Open 

Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
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Israeli Cabinet Rifts Over Gaza Break Out into the Open 

Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)
Israeli tanks patrol near the security fence with Jabalia in the northern part of the Gaza Strip, in the background, southern Israel, 16 May 2024. (EPA)

Israeli government splits over the war in Gaza broke open this week, after the defense minister publicly demanded a clear strategy from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as troops returned to battle Hamas fighters in areas thought to have been cleared months ago.

The comments from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who said he would not agree to setting up a military government in the enclave, reflect growing unease in the security establishment at the lack of direction from Netanyahu over who will be left to run Gaza when the fighting stops.

They also brought out the sharp split between the two centrist former army generals in the cabinet, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, who both backed Gallant's call, and the hard right nationalist religious parties led by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Internal Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who condemned the comments.

"That's no way to run a war," the right-wing Israel Today tabloid headlined its Thursday edition over a photo of Netanyahu and Gallant facing in different directions.

Apart from dismantling Hamas and returning some 130 hostages still held by the movement, Netanyahu has not articulated any clear strategic goal for the end of the campaign, which has killed some 35,000 Palestinians and left Israel increasingly isolated internationally.

However, backed by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, both close to the West Bank settler movement, he has rejected any involvement in running postwar Gaza by the Palestinian Authority, set up under the Oslo interim peace accords three decades ago and generally seen internationally as the most legitimate Palestinian governing body.

Netanyahu, struggling to hold his increasingly fractious coalition together, has so far stuck to his pledge of total victory over Hamas. Afterwards, Gaza could be run by a "non-Hamas civilian administration with an Israeli military responsibility, overall military responsibility", he said in an interview with CNBC television on Wednesday.

Israeli officials have said that Palestinian clan leaders or other civil society figures may be recruited to fill the void but there has been no evidence that any such leaders, able or willing to replace Hamas, have been identified and no friendly Arab countries have stepped forward to help.

"From Israel the options are either they end the war, and they withdraw, or they establish for all intents and purposes a military government there, and they control the entire territory for who knows how long, because once they leave an area, Hamas will reappear," said Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House.

GUERRILLA TACTICS

Gallant's refusal to contemplate any form of permanent military government reflects the material and political costs of an operation that could stretch the military and the economy painfully, reviving memories of Israel's years-long occupation of southern Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel's biggest circulation newspaper, quoted a confidential assessment from the defense establishment on Friday which estimated the cost of maintaining a military government in the Gaza Strip at about 20 billion shekels ($5.43 billion) a year, in addition to the costs of reconstruction. The additional troop requirements would draw forces away from the northern border with Lebanon as well as central Israel and mean a sharp increase in reserve duty requirements, it said.

Taking full control of Gaza would require at least four divisions, or around 50,000 troops, said Michael Milshtein, a former intelligence officer and one of Israel's leading specialists on Hamas.

While thousands of Hamas fighters have been killed in the campaign and Israeli commanders say most of the movement's organized battalions have been broken down, smaller groups have popped up in areas the army left in the early stages of the war.

"They are a very flexible organization and they can adjust very quickly," Milshtein said. "They have adopted new patterns of guerrilla warfare."

The likely cost to Israel of a prolonged insurgency was illustrated on Wednesday, when five Israeli soldiers were killed by an Israeli tank in a so-called "friendly fire" incident, as Israeli troops fought fierce battles in the Jabalia area north of Gaza City.

Israel's military spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said the military's job was to "break down those places where Hamas is returning and trying to reassemble itself" but he said any question of an alternative government to Hamas would be a matter to be decided at the political level.

Although most surveys show Israelis still broadly back the war, that support has been slipping, with more and more prioritizing a return of the hostages over destroying Hamas. Such incidents may erode support further if they continue.

A taste of the broader social divisions likely to be unleashed has been seen in the long-running dispute over conscripting ultra-Orthodox Torah students into the military, a move backed by Gantz and his allies as well as by many secular Israelis but fiercely resisted by the religious parties.

Netanyahu has so far managed to avoid a walk-out by either side that could potentially bring his government down.

But Gallant, who has already led a revolt against Netanyahu from within the cabinet over plans to cut the power of judges last year, has clashed repeatedly with Smotrich and Ben-Gvir and his latest challenge to the prime minister may not be his last.


Hamas ‘Regrets’ Abbas’ Speech at Arab Summit, Stresses its Keenness on Palestinian Unity

Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
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Hamas ‘Regrets’ Abbas’ Speech at Arab Summit, Stresses its Keenness on Palestinian Unity

Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)
Hamas fighters in Gaza. (AFP)

The Hamas group expressed its “regret” at the statement by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas about its October 7 operation before the Arab League summit in Manama on Thursday.

He said the armed group “unilaterally” carried out the attack and “gave Israel more excuses to attack Gaza.”

Hamas responded by saying that “Israel does not need excuses to commit its crimes” against the Palestinian people.

Abbas added that Hamas continued to reject efforts to end the division between Palestinians “in service of an Israeli plot the occupation government was working on implementing weeks before October 7.”

The plot, he went on to say, aimed to consolidate the separation of Gaza from the West Bank and Jerusalem to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and weaken the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization.

Hamas dismissed Abbas’ remarks, saying it has “repeatedly expressed its keenness on restoring national unity.”

It added that it has shown the necessary “flexibility in an effort to strengthen the internal Palestinian front and unite the national rank.”