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October 2023
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was at war with Hamas after the militant group’s forces poured across the border from Gaza on Saturday October 7, killing over 1,000 residents and capturing over 200 hostages.

News since January 10 2024

Antony Blinken, left, meets Israel's Foreign Minister Israel Katz, second right, in Tel Aviv on Tuesday. Picture: AFP

Blinken tells Israel civilian toll in Gaza ‘far too high’
The Australian
Leon Bruneau and Mai Yaghi, AFP
Wednesday January 10 2024

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken has told Israel the toll on Gazan civilians caused by its war against Hamas was “far too high”, urging his ally to alleviate their suffering.

More than three months into the deadliest ever Gaza war, Mr Blinken met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv overnight on Tuesday on his fourth round of Middle East crisis diplomacy since the conflict broke out.

Mr Blinken reaffirmed US “support for Israel’s right to prevent” a repetition of the unprecedented Hamas attacks of October 7 that sparked the war, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. But Mr Blinken also “stressed the importance of avoiding further civilian harm and protecting civilian infrastructure in Gaza”, said Mr Miller of the Hamas-run territory where a humanitarian crisis is deepening and local health officials have reported more than 23,000 deaths.

Mr Blinken later told a news conference that the “daily toll on civilians in Gaza, particularly children, is far too high”, and said more food, water and medicine were needed. Israel has agreed to a UN assessment mission in northern Gaza that would “determine what needs to be done to allow displaced Palestinians to return safely”, he said.

Mr Miller said that for the longer term, Blinken in his discussions with Mr Netanyahu “reiterated the need to ensure lasting, sustainable peace for Israel and the region, including by the realisation of a Palestinian state”. Israel “must stop taking steps that undercut Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves effectively”, Mr Blinken said during the news conference.

An Agence France-Presse correspondent reported intense strikes overnight in Khan Younis and Rafah, the biggest cities in the south of Gaza which are crowded with internally displaced people. Israel’s army said its forces had killed 40 militants over the past 24 hours in “expanded ground operations including air strikes” in Khan Younis, and that troops had seized AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and other weapons. “We lost all of our dreams,” said Hadeel Shehata, a 23-year-old displaced Palestinian living in a tent at a Rafah refugee camp.

The Gaza war began after Hamas gunmen launched their unprecedented October 7 attack that resulted in about 1140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians. Militants of Hamas, considered a “terrorist” group by the US, EU and Australia, also took around 250 hostages. Israel says 132 of them remain captive, including at least 25 believed to have been killed. Israel has responded with relentless bombardment and a ground invasion of Gaza that have killed at least 23,210 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

The Israeli army says its death toll inside Gaza had risen to 185 after nine soldiers were killed on Monday. “There has to be a ceasefire, for the hostages, the civilians... all the hundreds and hundreds of innocent people,” Marie-Pascale Radoux, whose Franco-Mexican son Orion is believed held hostage by Hamas in Gaza told AFP in France. “There are no words to explain what you feel... from anger to sadness, anxiety, fear, nightmares.”

Jordan’s royal palace said King Abdullah II would host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday for talks on Gaza. These would be part of Jordanian efforts to “push for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and ensure the uninterrupted delivery of humanitarian aid”, it said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, speaking in Qatar on Tuesday, said the October 7 attack “came after an attempt to marginalise the Palestinian cause”. “Despite the heavy price, the massacres and the war of genocide, it (Israel) failed to achieve any of its goals.” In further comments, released later by Hamas in Gaza, Haniyeh called on Muslim states “to support the resistance with weapons, because this is... not the battle of the Palestinian people alone”.

The war has displaced most of Gaza’s 2.4 million people, and the UN says many are at risk of famine and disease.

Israeli soldiers troops move out of the Gaza Strip this week. Picture: Reuters
Divisions in Israel’s war cabinet emerge
The Australian
Rory Jones and Dion Nissenbaum, Wall Street Journal
Anat Peled and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this article
Wednesday January 17 2024

Rifts among Israel’s war cabinet are spilling into public view, threatening to undermine the country’s military strategy in Gaza at a crucial stage in the conflict. The small collection of wartime decision makers — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and former head of the Israeli military, Benny Gantz — is diverging publicly on the two biggest dilemmas they face: whether Israel should negotiate to end the conflict and free the hostages, and who should govern the bombed-out strip once the war is over.

The divisions in Israel’s cabinet reflect longstanding personal and professional disagreements between the politicians, who came together after the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed 1200 Israelis to form a national unity government to prosecute the war and reassure Israelis. They were united by a common enemy in Hamas. But as pressure has mounted from the Biden administration to limit Palestinian civilian deaths in Gaza, and the government has failed to return all the hostages, divisions between the leaders have re-emerged.

Mr Gallant on Monday said that “political indecision” about who would take responsibility for post-war Gaza would hurt the military campaign. In a plan he articulated this month, Mr Gallant has called for Palestinian self-governance and a multinational task force led by the US, with European and Middle Eastern partners, to oversee the rehabilitation of the strip. The US wants a revitalised Palestinian Authority to take over with help from Arab states. Mr Netanyahu, under pressure from his far-right coalition partners to block the Palestinian Authority from governing in Gaza, hasn’t so far articulated a vision for post-war governance there.

“The end of the military campaign must be based on a political act,” Mr Gallant said Monday. Spokespeople for Gallant and the prime minister’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Prime Minister’s Office said Tuesday that hostages in Gaza would receive medicine for the first time under an agreement arranged by Israel’s spy agency and Qatar. The deal, first announced last week, will involve two Qatari air-force planes transporting French-sourced medication on Wednesday to Egypt, where Qatari representatives will escort the medical aid into Gaza to “their final destinations,” the office said.

Under pressure from the families of hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, Gantz, the head of the National Unity Party, and his deputy, Gadi Eisenkot, are pushing to enter talks with Hamas to bring home the roughly 130 captives still held in the enclave, according to Israeli media reports widely discussed among political analysts. Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gallant, both in the ruling Likud party, meanwhile say that maintaining military pressure on Hamas will force the group to make concessions, according to the reports.

“There’s clearly a distinction here between the two sides,” said Reuven Hazan, part of the political-science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “If it was up to Gantz and Eisenkot, and tomorrow Hamas made an offer of ending the conflict in exchange for releasing all of the hostages, they would go for it. Netanyahu would say no.”

While the prime minister and his defence minister are in agreement on continuing the war, they are increasingly at odds over who should govern Gaza after it — a question becoming more urgent as Israel moves to a lower-intensity phase of its war and seeks to prevent a vacuum emerging in the enclave. Hamas appears to be seeking to exploit the war cabinet’s divisions. It released a video Monday of what it said were dead bodies of two hostages held in Gaza. A third hostage, Noa Argamani, 26, was shown alive in the video, saying that the two dead hostages had been killed in Israeli airstrikes and calling on the Israeli government to end the war. The two hostages were identified on Tuesday as Itai Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi by Kibbutz Be’eri and the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which confirmed their deaths.

Mr Gallant on Monday said the most intensive phase of fighting is complete in northern Gaza, adding that the Israeli military is close to completing intense fighting in the south, around the city of Khan Younis. It isn’t clear that the entire Israeli security establishment agrees with that assessment. When asked later on Monday about Gallant’s comments, Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari pushed back, saying that fighting in the south “will take us time.” The military had more work to do both above ground and below ground in the vast tunnel network built by Hamas, Rear Admiral Hagari said.

Mairav Zonszein, the senior Israel analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that the divisions in the country’s war cabinet are creating a kind of paralysis that is preventing the government from executing an effective strategy. That, she said, could end with Israel reoccupying the Gaza Strip, much as it occupied southern Lebanon for 15 years from the 1980s. “There is no exit strategy,” she said.

Now in its fourth month, the Israeli campaign has destroyed swaths of the enclave, displaced nearly two million people and resulted in widespread shortages of food and medicine. More than 24,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, the majority of them women and children, according to Palestinian authorities whose numbers don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians. Israel says it has killed thousands of Hamas fighters and disrupted the group’s ability to launch attacks against Israel. But Israel hasn’t achieved its initial war aim of destroying Hamas completely. The Israeli military is still seeking to find and destroy tunnels where Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, and others are believed to be hiding.

Gallant is likely driven by a mix of political and military calculations when he publicly challenges Netanyahu for refusing to discuss plans for a day after, Zonszein said. “I think he feels a responsibility toward sending 20-year-olds on a mission that is clearly failing,” she said.

People inspect the damage to their homes caused by Israeli airstrikes in Rafah, Gza Strip, on Saturday. Picture: Getty Images
Arab mediators propose new hostage-release plan
The Australian
Summer Said and Chao Deng, Wall Street Journal
Warren P. Strobel, Jared Malsin and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this article
Sunday January 28 2024

International mediators are proposing a deal to secure the release of all the remaining hostages in Gaza in exchange for a roughly four-month ceasefire. The plan offered to Israel and Hamas would lead to an end to the war in Gaza, Egyptian officials said Saturday.

The new proposal comes as Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Burns meets in Paris this weekend with the Qatari prime minister, and negotiators from the Egyptian and Israeli intelligence agencies for talks aimed at ending the war, officials familiar with the plan said.

The proposal calls for an initial pause in fighting of six weeks to allow for the release of children, women and elderly in need of urgent medical attention. In exchange Israel would set free a significant number of Palestinian prisoners and increase the flow of aid into Gaza, the Egyptian officials said. The following phases would see Hamas releasing Israeli female soldiers, then male soldiers and human remains, these officials said. In return, Hamas would get international guarantees, including from the US, that during the pause in fighting a comprehensive agreement would be reached that would lead to a permanent end to the war that has engulfed Gaza since Hamas militants attacked southern Israel on Oct. 7. Israel says 1,200 people were killed in the attacks and over 240 taken hostage.

Israel and Hamas have yet to officially respond to the latest proposal, which was made in recent days and tries to bridge the gap between the two sides on key issues, the officials said. It doesn’t mean a deal is imminent, they added. Both sides have rejected several proposals made via Egypt and Qatar following the end of the last ceasefire on Nov. 30, but they now largely agree on a framework that includes several phases and a potential long-term ceasefire, the officials said.

Hamas didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Israel is “fully committed to the release of all hostages and to destroying Hamas” and “will continue to do whatever possible to ensure the release of all hostages,” said an Israeli official.

The latest proposal comes as fighting rages in the militant group’s last major stronghold, the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. Israel says that senior Hamas figures are hiding in tunnels under Khan Younis with at least some of the hostages. The war has taken a devastating toll on Gaza’s 2.2 million residents, most of whom are now displaced within the enclave and are facing a shortage of food, medicines, clean water, and other basic goods. More than 26,000 people, a majority women and children, have been killed in the war in Gaza, according to health authorities in the strip. That figure doesn’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Israel and Hamas remain far apart on key issues such as when Israeli forces would leave Gaza and when Palestinians forced from their homes by Israeli evacuation orders will be allowed to return, the officials said.

In November, 105 hostages were released, most of them Israeli civilian women and children, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and a weeklong ceasefire. Around 130 hostages remain captive in Gaza, including 19 women and two children, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office. Some of the women are Israeli soldiers. Five of the female hostages are dead, Israeli authorities have said.

On Saturday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Qatar should put more pressure on Hamas to release hostages, amid heightened tensions between the two countries after weeks of strained negotiations over a hostage deal. “I won’t give up even on a single way to apply pressure on Hamas, or on whoever can apply pressure to Hamas, in order to return our hostages,” he said. “Qatar hosts Hamas leaders, it funds Hamas, it has influence over Hamas.”

The verbal feud has created friction between the two countries, but didn’t appear to deter American efforts aimed at ending the war in Gaza and containing a broader Middle East conflict, stretching from Yemen to Lebanon. The CIA chief’s return is expected to inject new momentum into the talks. Burns has played a central role in US diplomatic efforts around Gaza, and was a key negotiator in last November’s weeklong truce.

Emmanuel Macron leads a ceremony at Les Invalides, where victims’ photographs were held aloft by troops. Picture: AFP
Benjamin Netanyahu spurns Hamas truce offer, says ‘crushing victory’ close
The Australian
George Grylls and Adam Sage, The Times
Friday February 9 2024

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a ceasefire deal proposed by Hamas and poured scorn on peace efforts to end the four-month war in Gaza, vowing to pursue a “crushing victory” instead. Mr Netanyahu said the families of 136 hostages were uppermost in his thoughts but he insisted that continued military action was the best way of securing their freedom, as he predicted the war would continue for months rather than years. In an evening press conference staged after Hamas outlined its ceasefire deal, Mr Netanyahu promised to advance on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, despite international calls for restraint. “We are on the way to complete victory. The victory is within reach,” he said.

The ceasefire proposal by Hamas included the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza – something Mr Netanyahu had ruled out – as well as further pauses in fighting. He swiftly rejected those demands: “Surrendering to Hamas’s delusional demands that we heard now not only won’t lead to freeing the captives, it will just invite another massacre.”

Mr Netanyahu must balance the demands of Western allies urging him to scale back the war and the belligerence of hard-right ministers who insist the assault should continue and have threatened to collapse his government at any perceived softening of his position. The Prime Minister can ill afford to hold elections since polling suggests he would lose power.

The Hamas counter-offer was made after a week of deliberation amid reports of a rift between the group’s leadership in Gaza and those based abroad. The militia proposed a 135-day ceasefire, split into three 45-day phases. It came in response to Israeli demands conveyed via Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries. In the first stage of the Hamas-envisaged truce, Israeli female hostages, men under 19 and the elderly and sick would have been exchanged for Palestinian women and children prisoners. The second stage would have freed the remaining Israeli male hostages in return for the withdrawal of the Israeli army from Gaza. Bodies would have been returned in the final stage.

El-Reshiq, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said the militia aimed “to stop the aggression against our Palestinian people and secure a complete and lasting ceasefire as well as provide relief, aid, shelter and reconstruction”. A senior Hamas official, Sami Abu Zuhri, later described Mr Netanyahu’s comments as “political bravado”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was still “a lot of work” to bridge the gap between the two sides, but expressed hope that a deal to end the fighting was still possible. “While there are some clear non-starters in Hamas’s response, we do think it creates space for an agreement to be reached,” he said. Speaking on a visit to Israel as part of his fifth tour of the Middle East since October 7, Mr Blinken also reiterated US support for the creation of a Palestinian state, something previously rejected by Mr Netanyahu. He stopped short of calling on Israel not to strike Rafah, but added that any “military operation that Israel undertakes needs to put civilians first and foremost in mind”. “Israel has the responsibility – has the obligation – to do everything possible to ensure civilians are protected,” he added.

In a sign of the domestic pressure Mr Netanyahu is under from some quarters of Israeli society to maintain his aggressive approach, hard-right demonstrators who have blocked convoys of humanitarian aid to Gaza will march to Jerusalem on Thursday. The families of some hostages have attended the protests but other families are lobbying for a deal. Mr Netanyahu has signalled that Israeli soldiers will imminently launch a ground offensive on Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, arguing it is the last bastion of Hamas resistance in Gaza.

UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said he was “alarmed” by the threats made against the city, whose population has swelled because of millions of Palestinians fleeing their homes. “Such an action would exponentially increase what is already a humanitarian nightmare with untold regional consequences,” Mr Guterres said.

In Khan Younis, 11km to the northeast, Israel’s Defence Forces killed 40 Hamas fighters.

President Emmanuel Macron denounced the Hamas attack on Israel four months ago as the “biggest anti-Semitic massacre of our century” as he led a tribute to the 42 French victims who died. France was the first country outside Israel to hold a big national commemoration of the Hamas attack. After Israel, it had the most citizens among the dead on Oct­ober 7. It was the biggest single loss of life for France since 86 people were killed in an Islamist attack in Nice in 2016.

“Their lives deserve that we fight relentlessly against ideas of hatred,” Mr Macron told the families of the victims who had mostly flown from Israel for the ceremony at Les Invalides in Paris. Mr Macron has also promised a memorial for the French citizens who died during the Israeli offensive in Gaza, declaring that “all lives are equal and are invaluable in the eyes of France”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, (L) meets with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank earlier this month. Picture: AFP.
Palestinian Authority government resigns after international pressure
The Australian
Summer Said, Dow Jones
Tuesday February 27 2024

The Palestinian Authority’s government resigned on Monday, an early step toward the overhauls the US and Middle Eastern powers see as a condition for the body to take charge of Gaza after the war. The move falls short of changes Western and Arab governments have pressured the Palestinian Authority to make, including replacing longtime career politicians with a technocratic team and for Mahmoud Abbas, the authority’s unpopular, 88-year-old president, to step aside and invest a new prime minister with some of the president’s powers.

However the US welcomed the move, with State Department spokesman Matthew Miller telling reporters it was a “positive and important step toward achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority. Ultimately, the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is a question for the Palestinians themselves to decide,” Mr Miller said. “But we do welcome steps for the PA to reform and revitalise itself.”

American and Arab negotiators are scrambling to broker a ceasefire to avoid more civilian casualties and prevent the conflict from further spreading across the region. In a sign of escalating tensions, Israel said it had struck aerial defence systems operated by the Lebanese militia Hezbollah 80 km deep into Lebanon after an Israeli drone was downed by a surface-to-air missile there. Two Hezbollah members were killed in the Israeli strike in Lebanon, the group said.

Beyond discussions about an immediate ceasefire, Gaza’s future status is among the most contentious issues facing the international community as Israel’s military offensive in the enclave approaches its fifth month, and is key to ending the conflict. Israel’s government on Monday said that its military presented a plan to increase aid flow and evacuate civilians from the city of Rafah in southern Gaza, as pressure mounts on Israel to share its strategy for protecting the more than one million Palestinians sheltering there as Israel seeks to invade the city. Meanwhile, Israel said that it had discovered a 10 km long tunnel network used by Hamas, which would make it one of the longest tunnels Israel has found in the Gaza Strip.

The US has called for a reformed Palestinian Authority – which currently governs Palestinian population centres in the Israel-occupied West Bank semi-autonomously – to administer Gaza post-war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has resisted any role for the authority in Gaza after the war.

“The next phase and its challenges require new political and governmental arrangements that take into consideration the new reality in Gaza, the national unity talks, and the urgency of reaching internal Palestinian reconciliation based on national interest,” the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said in a speech Monday morning as he tendered his and his government’s resignation. The proposed PA cabinet resignation was approved by Abbas, who requested that the resigning ministers temporarily continue working until a new government is formed.

The authority’s president hasn’t faced a presidential ballot since he was elected in 2005. Perceived by Palestinians as ineffective, corrupt and too dependent on the goodwill of the US and Israel’s government, Abbas and the authority have seen their popular support plummet in the West Bank and Gaza, according to polls, with around 90% of Palestinians now calling for his resignation. Such unpopularity is a major obstacle to the authority taking over Gaza after a potential Israeli withdrawal. “This is a half step toward a government change,” said an official from the Palestine Liberation Organization, which represents Palestinians internationally. The official said the proposed changes didn’t involve Abbas.

Another official from the organisation questioned what a future technocratic government for the Palestinian Authority could achieve in rebuilding and governing Gaza without fresh funding and a long-term political perspective for the territory.

Abbas has told Arab and US officials that he is working on forming a new government, with Mohammad Mustafa, a former Palestinian economy minister and World Bank executive, as the likely candidate for prime minister, according to senior Arab officials. Abbas has also tasked a number of Palestinian officials to prepare a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza, which would include establishing a reconstruction authority, operating under the supervision of the World Bank and subject to an international accounting firm. One plan for post-war Gaza being formulated by five Arab states could see the Islamist Hamas movement being folded into the widely secular PLO, ending the yearslong split between Palestinian factions.

A question mark hanging over the future of Gaza is what role, if any, Hamas would be able to play in a future administration for the enclave, something Israel categorically opposes. Hamas said its political leader, Ismail Haniyeh, met with Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha on Monday to discuss routes to end the war in Gaza and the organisation of Palestinian affairs.

The US, Israel, Egypt and Qatar have been meeting in recent days in hopes of striking a deal to pause fighting in Gaza and free Israeli hostages, Egyptian officials have said. Some senior members of Fatah, the ruling party of the Palestinian Authority, are still seeking reconciliation with Hamas, its main rival, which forcefully took power from Fatah in Gaza in 2007. Fatah is expected to hold talks with Hamas and other Palestinian factions in Moscow later Monday. Officials familiar with the meeting, however, say the Moscow gathering was largely symbolic as Russia lacks a clear road map for a more unified Palestinian front.

Diana Buttu, a former Palestinian peace negotiator, said Shtayyeh – the prime minister – and his cabinet never wielded extensive power given the Palestinian Authority’s lack of sovereignty under Israeli military occupation and Abbas’s efforts to centralise the authority’s limited prerogatives under himself. “The Palestinian Authority was meant to survive for five years, it was meant to be interim,” Buttu said. “It’s been 30 years. It’s like an old car breaking down. Shtayyeh inherited a position on life support.”

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is determined to resume normalisation ties with Israel. Picture: AFP.
Palestinians ‘not worth a toothpick’: Major Saudi newspaper attacks Hamas leaders
The Australian
Anne Barrowclough
Thursday March 7 2024

An influential Saudi newspaper has launched an excoriating attack on the leaders of Hamas, accusing them of sacrificing the lives of ordinary Gazans for their militant cause and living in luxury while Palestinians die. “The dismembered bodies on the roads of Gaza are a bridge to the cause,” writes Saudi journalist Muhammed al-Saed in the article in the Okaz newspaper, one of the most influential outlets in the region. In the eyes of Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, “all of Palestine, with its men, women and children, living and dead, is not worth a toothpick,” he adds.

As the clock ticks down until the hoped-for ceasefire that negotiators are keen to have agreed before the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, al-Saed claims a truce will only help Hamas leaders, some of whom will use the rebuilding of the destroyed enclave to enrich themselves. He is also critical of Palestinian “cafe activists,” who he says will “return to playing backgammon, drinking shisha, and exchanging advice on ways to immigrate to America and Britain, which they have been cursing during the past weeks,” if and when a truce between Israel and Hamas begins.

Al-Saed reserves his harshest criticism for Hamas leaders Sinwar, the architect of the October 7 massacre and Haniyeh, the organisation’s political leader. Sinwar, who has hidden in the tunnels under Gaza since October 7 with a human shield of Israeli hostages to escape Israeli Defence Forces, would “return to the orange farm that he loves in the middle of Gaza, among his children and grandchildren, and he will sit at the end of the week in his seaside chalet,” he writes.

He adds that Sinwar would claim to Gazan residents that the Hamas cause “was victorious because he was not killed or captured”. He claims Sinwar would be protected by his relatives from the anger of Gazans who had lost their loved ones over the “whim” of the October 7 massacre. “His supporters will carry him on their stocky shoulders, after the people of Gaza carried 30,000 bodies on their emaciated shoulders,” he writes.

Al-Saed goes on to say Hamas leaders Khaled Mashal, Ismail Haniyeh, and Musa Abu Marzouk, all of whom live in luxurious exile, would declare “Divine victory” as they raced to counter Sinwar, “who they fear will steal their historical moment”. “After that, Ismail Haniyeh will take his private plane heading to Tehran, kissing the hand of the Supreme Leader, and visiting the grave of Qassem Soleimani, praising them and offering the duties of loyalty and obedience,” he writes.

The journalist claims that other Hamas leaders would take advantage of the rebuilding of Gaza to enrich themselves via their “contracting companies”. “As for the rest of the broken and bereaved Gazans, they will return, and each of them has a story of loss,” he writes.

The article is unusual not just for its language but for its attack on a militant organisation that has enjoyed implicit support from its Arab neighbours. But Arab watchers believe it has been published to persuade Saudis, who have been horrified at Israel’s attacks on Gaza, to turn their backs on Hamas and embrace the resumption of normalisation talks with Israel.

The talks over normalising ties, which began early last year, were a major step in relations between the two countries. They were put on ice after the October 7 massacre by the militant group but they were never abandoned and Geoffrey Miller, a geopolitical analyst who specialises in the Middle East., believes that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is determined to get the talks back on track as soon as the conflict in Gaza has been resolved.

“The short term goal is to pressure Hamas into agreeing a ceasefire,” he says. “But MBS doesn’t want his long term goal of normalisation to be derailed.”

A resumption of talks, however, would come up against Saudi opposition to Israel in the wake of the Gaza invasion. A poll by the Washington Institute at the end of 2023 found the overwhelming majority – 91 per cent – of Saudis supported Palestinians over the conflict, and even more (96 per cent) agreed with the proposal that “Arab countries should immediately break all diplomatic, political, economic, and any other contacts with Israel, in protest against its military action in Gaza.” While Hamas as an organisation remains unpopular in Saudi Arabia, the poll found 96 per cent of Saudis did not believe that Hamas militants targeted civilians on October 7.

Miller, who recently visited Saudi Arabia, points out that Saudi media, although nominally independent, acts as a mouthpiece of sorts for the country’s royal family and nothing gets published without their consent. He believes al-Saed’s article was almost certainly published to get Saudis used to the idea of a resumption of normalisation talks soon after the ceasefire.

In a similar article in 2022, al-Saed attacked Palestinians and urged Saudi leaders to break with them, in a commentary understood at the time to be aimed at preparing Saudis for a move toward negotiations for normalisation. “These kinds of articles are used to soften up the public,” Miller tells The Australian. “The biggest takeaway from this is that Mohammad bin Salman is determined to get back to business with the negotiations faster than we thought.

“Remember the theory at the time of attack, that Hamas launched it in part to disrupt the talks. MBS is determined not to let the group upset the apple cart. “Given the level of resentment toward the Israelis – as mentioned in the Washington Institute poll – it seems incredible that it could happen so quickly but MBS likes to move quickly and he’s determined not to see these fail. Hence an article like this one.”



Someone at last telling it as it is ! Why are Palestinians sacrificed while their leaders run a hide ? Over decades and decades they are used ,thousands apon thousands women, children dead ,and young men coached to their death! There have been many instances where a peace could have been chosen?


Wouldn’t it be nice if Albanese or Penny Wong would be more vocal about the Palestinian leadership.

Don't you mean that Albanese and Wong et al should  simply be more honest?


Well, the BBC and our ABC won't like the story. Neither will Labor.


They won’t report it. 


Agree Joseph and I'd be surprised if it's reported in the SMH.


Nicely put Saudi... Hamas leaders want revenge and death to all... but hide in Qatar amongst their riches... hypocrites and just liars.


At last a Muslim calls it as it is. 
But I am perplexed as to how 96% of Saudis could think that Hamas did not target civilians on October 7.
From where are they getting this ridiculous idea? 


Most likely Aljazeera or our ABC !!


Plenty of them believed 9/11 either didn't happen or that the CIA did it and the number of Holocaust Deniers is astounding even when they are shown evidence of it or hear testimony from survivors or those who found the Concentration Camps . People believe what they want to believe.  


Some folk do persist in promoting a notion of "human shield" - dehumanises civilians.

Chris P

To shield behind and under humans in tunnels absolutely dehumanises them.
It's far from just a notion as that's exactly what Hamas has done.


One side's human shield is the other side's civilian - and vice versa.

Apparently switching labels around makes it easier for each side to target folk.  But to everybody else they are all just people.


Al Jazeera?

First boat bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip unloads
First boat bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza Strip unloads
The Australian
Monday March 18 2024

GAZA: Efforts towards a truce in the Israel-Hamas war appeared to rekindle on Saturday after a new proposal from the Palestinian militant group which also called for more aid into Gaza, where the first food shipment by sea reached shore. Israel said it would send a delegation to Qatar for a new round of talks on a possible deal. It also advanced plans for a military operation in Rafah, where most of Gaza's population has sought refuge from more than five months of war and deprivation.

The US charity World Central Kitchen said its team had finished unloading almost 200 tonnes of food, the first shipment to arrive on a new maritime aid corridor from Cyprus. "All cargo was offloaded and is being readied for distribution in Gaza," it said in a statement.

The Cypriot government said that a second aid ship, the Jennifer, would depart soon, although World Central Kitchen later said rough weather made it hard to predict when the vessel, carrying 240 tonnes of food, would set sail. The UN has reported particular difficulty in accessing north Gaza to distribute food and other aid.

Residents say they have resorted to eating wild plants and animal fodder, and some have stormed the few aid trucks that have made it through. "Doctors are reporting that they no longer see normal-sized babies," Dominic Allen, of the United Nations Population Fund, said after visiting the area.

Hamas had put forward a new proposal for a six-week ceasefire and the exchange of about 42 Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, a Hamas official said. The militants said Israeli forces would need to pull out of "all cities and populated areas" in Gaza. The Hamas proposal also calls for more humanitarian aid. Israel has so far rejected withdrawing troops from Gaza, saying such a move would amount to victory for Hamas.

Jordanian airmen check humanitarian aid packages secured in an aircraft before being air dropped during a flyover mission over the Gaza Strip. Picture: AFP
Israelis craft plan to put Hamas rivals in charge of Gaza aid
The Australian
Summer Said, Dov Lieber, Benoit Faucon, Wall Street Journal
Friday March 22 2024

Israeli security officials are quietly developing a plan to distribute aid in the Gaza Strip that could eventually create a Palestinian-led governing authority there, ­Israeli and Arab officials said, causing a fierce backlash from Hamas and creating divisions in Israel’s war cabinet.

A top Israeli defence official has held talks with Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan to build regional support for an emerging effort to enlist Palestinian leaders and businessmen who have no links to Hamas – a US-designated terrorist organisation – in distributing aid, some of the officials said. The aid would enter by land and sea after Israeli inspection and would head to large warehouses in central Gaza, where Palestinians would then distribute it. When the war is over, the people in charge of aid would ­assume authority to govern, backed up by security forces funded by wealthy Arab governments.

The effort represents some of the first steps Israel has begun taking to fill a power vacuum left by its invasion of the Gaza Strip following Hamas’s October 7 ­attack on Israel. The US and Arab governments have pressured ­Israel to do more to get humanitarian aid for Gazans and lay out a clear vision for post-war Gaza’s administration. The aid effort has already hit obstacles and could fall apart. It so far doesn’t have the support ­of Benjamin Netanyahu, given that some of those involved would be affiliated with Fatah, a rival party to Hamas seen by the Israeli Prime Minister as supporting ­terrorism.

“Gaza will be run by those who do not seek to kill Israelis,” said a senior Israeli official from the Prime Minister’s office.

Another Israeli official said Hamas’s vehement opposition could make the plan unfeasible. But the chaos reigning across Gaza has frustrated the Biden ­administration, the Israeli ­defence establishment and critics inside Mr Netanyahu’s emergency government. They say that the organised distribution of aid is currently impossible and that Hamas can reassert itself within the governance vacuum. A force that can effectively distribute aid in Gaza is needed now, they say, and realistically that force would be connected to the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank-based government, or to Fatah, the authority’s ruling party.

Ghassan Alian, the head of the Israeli security arm overseeing civilian affairs in occupied territories, sees the aid effort as an ­important part of Israel’s plan to evacuate the city of Rafah, Hamas’s last stronghold, before an offensive on the border city. The aid-distribution network would feed 750,000 to a million people in displacement camps that Israel has planned for absorbing Rafah’s population, which has swelled as Gazans sought refuge there, the officials said. One of the officials said Major General Alian’s vision is that anti-Hamas Palestinians would form “a local administrative authority” to distribute aid, cutting out the militant group from the process.

The effort has triggered retaliatory threats from Hamas. The group has labelled anyone who works with the Israelis as traitors and threatened them with death. Several Palestinian families once thought to be open to the idea have withdrawn in recent days. “Accepting communication with the occupation forces by heads of families and tribes for work in the Gaza Strip is considered national betrayal, which we will not allow,” a Hamas security official said on March 10, shortly after Israel’s efforts began.

Hamas has played no formal role in distributing aid in Gaza but views the nascent Israeli plan as a way to create an independent governing structure. “We will strike with an iron hand against anyone who tampers with the internal front in the Gaza Strip and will not permit the imposition of new rules,” the Hamas security official said.

Another Hamas official said the group already felt it was being sidelined by the sea bridge backed by the US, UAE and other partners to deliver aid to Gaza. The humanitarian corridor was negotiated directly with the municipality of Gaza City without the group being consulted, the official said. He said Hamas was also nervous about the involvement of Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior member of Fatah who was the head of security in Gaza for the Palestinian Authority before going into exile in the UAE.

More broadly, Hamas wants security to be handled by forces that would be apolitical but would operate with the militant group’s approval, Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, said. He said security in recent weeks has been handled by volunteers in the southern city of Rafah and in the north, with the group’s approval, to replace the Hamas-run police.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin. Picture: John Feder/The Australian
Australia out of step with US on UNRWA funding
Ben Packham, The Australian
Sunday March 24 2024

The Albanese government has slipped further out of step with the US on Gaza after the Biden administration slapped a one year ban on support for UNRWA, just over a week after Australia resumed funding the Palestinian aid agency. Australian Jewish groups said the US move – in a bill to avert a partial government shutdown – should mark the beginning of the end for the “corrupt, inept” organisation whose employees have been accused of participating in Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced on March 15 that Australia would resume its $6m a year in support for UNRWA, declaring it was “not a terrorist organisation, and that existing and additional safeguards sufficiently protect Australian taxpayer funding”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin said the move had been a “serious mistake” that will allow Hamas to once again hijack aid distribution and heap more suffering on its own people. He said the US decision “hopefully signals the beginning of the end for a corrupt, inept bureaucracy whose facilities double as weapons depots and whose staff moonlight as Hamas killers”. “Crucially, the package does not cut aid to Gaza, it merely redirects it to other humanitarian projects to ensure that the aid gets to the right places and taxpayer dollars don’t end up in the pockets of terrorists,” Mr Ryvchin said. “All governments should follow this lead.”

Congress voted early on Saturday in Washington DC to strip hundreds of millions of dollars from the UN Relief and Works Agency, amid Israeli allegations that 12 of the agency’s employees took part in the October 7 massacre. The new funding restrictions, advanced by Republicans as part of an $1.2 trillion government spending package, extend America’s funding pause for UNRWA for at least a year.

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said in a speech from the House floor on Friday that UNRWA was “a de facto subsidiary of Hamas”. “The passage of this bill means not one additional dollar from American taxpayers will go fund this deeply flawed organisation,” he said.

The UN denies such assertions, and has launched an independent investigation into the claims due to be released next month.

A day before the Albanese government announced Australia’s reinstatement of UNRWA’s funding, it was briefed on new Israeli intelligence findings suggesting the number of UNRWA employees who took part in the October 7 massacre had grown from 12 to 15. DFAT was informed on March 14 that Israel had believed 15 UNRWA employees had crossed over into Israel, directly assisted in kidnappings or helped with the transfer of weapons. The Israeli intelligence briefing also suggested there were 2135 UNRWA employees who were active members of a terrorist organisation and that 1650 of the agency’s employees were Hamas members. DFAT officials were told 485 UNRWA staff were operatives in the military wings of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

Australia has broken with the Biden administration on Gaza multiple times since the October 7 attack, voting against the US in the United Nations to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and refusing to repudiate South Africa’s genocide case against Israel - a case Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “meritless”.

IDF bolsters troops, air defences as Iran revenge strike looms
The Australian
Thursday, April 4 2024

The Israel military is calling up reservists and bolstering its air defences as the country prepares for a retaliatory attack from Iran – possibly from within its own territory – after the killing of its senior military commanders in Syria on Monday 5pm local time, midnight Brisbane time. The Israeli Defence Forces said in a statement: “It was decided to increase manpower and draft reserve soldiers to the IDF Aerial Defence Array,” after a threat assessment, according to local media.

The unusual move came after Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed revenge for the air strike on the Iranian consular annex in Damascus which killed seven Revolutionary Guards, including Mohammad Reza Zahedi, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ most senior official in Syria, along with his deputy and chief of general staff. “The defeat of the Zionist regime in Gaza will continue and this regime will be close to decline and dissolution,” Khamenei said in a speech to the country’s officials in Tehran. “Desperate efforts like the one they committed in Syria will not save them from defeat. Of course, they will also be slapped for that action.”

World Central Kitchen: That Syrian raid had been followed ca 10:43pm local time (5:43am on Tuesday Brisbane time) by Israeli drones accidentally targeting a three-car convoy belonging to the World Central Kitchen (WCK) in the Gaza Strip, killing seven aid workers, including one Australian click here for further details, from Wikipedia.

Israel’s Channel 12 news reported there were concerns Iran could retaliate against Israel by launching missiles from within its own borders rather than via any of its proxies, such as Hezbollah or the Houthis in Yemen. “I won’t be surprised if Iran fires directly at Israel,” former Military Intelligence head Amos Yadlin told the broadcaster, adding that a January missile strike carried out by Iran on neighbouring Pakistan set a precedent. Such a direct attack would dramatically escalate the current shadow war being carried out by Israel and Iran, particularly if Israel felt compelled to respond accordingly.

However the assessment in Israel is that a response would come via proxies rather than Iran itself, local media reports.

Officials from Israel and the US warned that while Iran did not want to spark an all-out war, Tehran would feel compelled to respond to the assassinations of its military commanders. An official told The Times of Israel Iran could attack Israel, Israeli embassies or Jewish facilities abroad. “If they don’t respond in this case, it really would be a signal that their deterrence is a paper tiger,” he said.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant addresses soldiers near the Lebanese border, December 17, 2023 (photo credit: ARIEL HERMONI/DEFENSE MINISTRY)
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant said earlier Israel was “increasing preparedness” in the face of threats from across the Middle East. Speaking at a military drill in Haifa, Mr Gallant said the country’s defence establishment was “expanding our operations against Hezbollah, against other bodies that threaten us,” and reiterated that Israel “strikes our enemies all over the Middle East.”

“We need to be prepared and ready for every scenario and every threat, against near enemies and distant enemies,” Mr Gallant said.

Iran’s state media said the funeral ceremony of the IRGC members would be held on Friday, coinciding with the annual Quds Day, which will see Iranian people march in support of Palestinians and against Israel. Iran’s supreme leader urged people to take to the streets for this year’s event. “If in previous years, Quds Day was celebrated only in Islamic countries, this year, most likely, Quds Day will also be celebrated in non-Islamic countries.” He also said he hoped for a day that “the Muslim world can celebrate the destruction of Israel.”

Israeli army spokesman Daniel Hagari speaks to reporters. Picture: AFP.
Iran attack on Israel ‘within next two days’
The Australian, AFP
Saturday April 13 2024

Israel is preparing for a direct attack from Iran on its south or north regions as soon as the next 24 to 48 hours, the Wall St Journal reports, citing a person familiar with the matter. However a person briefed by the Iranian leadership, told the newspaper that while plans to attack Israel are under discussion, no final decision has been made.

Iran has repeatedly warned of severe reprisals for the Israeli attack on an Iranian consular compound in Syria, when a number of leading members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps were killed. On Thursday (AEDT) Bloomberg reported that intelligence officials warned of an “imminent” attack on Israeli assets by Iran or its proxies, but the WSJ reports that sources believe the attack could be within Israel’s borders. Any such attack could lead to a major escalation in the region, potentially drawing in the US.

A US official with knowledge of the matter told the newspaper American intelligence reports indicate an Iranian retaliatory strike within days, “possibly on Israeli soil” as opposed to Israeli interests elsewhere. The reports come as the top US commander for the Middle East arrived in Israel on Friday (AEDT) for discussions with the country’s military officials. General Erik Kurilla, the US commander for the Middle East, will “meet with key IDF leadership” to “discuss the current security threats in the region,” Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder told journalists.

Earlier, the US moved an aircraft carrier strike group away from the western coast of Yemen to the northern waters of the Red Sea, closer to Israel, ahead of an attack. The move, led by the USS Eisenhower, was aimed at defending against a large-scale missile or drone attack on Israel by Iran or one of its proxy groups in the region, The London Times reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was prepared “defensively and offensively” for a potential strike by Iran as the country’s military warned an attack would be “clear proof” of Iran’s plans to escalate conflict in the region. On a visit to a military air base on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said his country was “prepared for scenarios involving challenges in other sectors”. In an apparent reference to Iranian threats, he added: “Whoever harms us, we will harm them.” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said his troops were on alert “and are highly prepared for various scenarios.”

As the country prepared for an attack, a rotation of Israeli air force combat aircraft remained airborne for the last 48 hours on the north, east and southern borders of the country in a “high alert” status, able to scramble within 10 minutes of Iranian missiles being in the air, according to military blogger OSINT defender. The Israeli air force also conducted exercises with the US and Cyprus to “simulate an attack in Iran”, according to the Israeli army radio station GLZ. The drills, which included at least one squadron of fighter jets, carried out a simulated retaliatory strike in preparation for an attack on Israeli territory by Iran or its proxies, according to OSINTdefender, a military blogger.

Israel’s Channel 12 reports that a source in the Biden administration said the US was expecting a “larger than usual” attack, but added that it was not expected to have “an intensity that would bring the US into combat.” However US employees in Israel and their family members have been warned against personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beersheba areas. “Out of an abundance of caution, US government employees and their family members are restricted from personal travel outside the greater Tel Aviv (including Herzliya, Netanya and Even Yehuda), Jerusalem, and Beersheba areas until further notice,” the US embassy said in a security alert posted on its website.

Israel’s military’s civil defence body has also instructed municipalities around the country to prepare for an attack and ensure that public shelters are fit for use, the Khan broadcaster reporters.

The White House said it had “warned” Iran against a retaliatory strike after President Biden vowed on Thursday “iron-clad support” for Israel in the event of an attack. “We warned Iran,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters in a briefing.

European leaders have also warned Iran against a strike. British Foreign Minister David Cameron says he made it clear to his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, that Iran should not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict. “Today I made clear to Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian that Iran must not draw the Middle East into a wider conflict,” Mr Cameron wrote on X. “I am deeply concerned about the potential for miscalculation leading to further violence. Iran should instead work to de-escalate and prevent further attacks,” he added.

Iranian sources told Reuters that Tehran had signaled to Washington it would respond in a way that aims to avoid major escalation and it would not act hastily. Iran’s message to Washington was conveyed by Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian during a visit to Oman, Reuters reports.

Israel warned on Wednesday that if Iran directly attacked its territory in retaliation for the bombing of the Iranian consulate building in Syria on April 1, Israel would strike directly at Iranian territory. “If Iran attacks from its territory — Israel will respond and attack in Iran,” Israel Katz, the Israeli foreign minister, said on X.


Sunday 6am 14th April (Brisbane time) Midnight in the Middle East

Iran launches scores of 'suicide' drones at Israel
Anne Barrowclough, The Australian

Iran has launched scores of drones toward Israel, in the first stage of an expected attack that could escalate into a major conflict. Israeli Defence Spokesman Daniel Hagari said the attack so far consisted of "suicide" drones which are currently passing over Iraq. He said it would take hours for the drones to reach Israel. He said the Israeli Air Force was tracking the drones, and said the military would use GPS jamming and other means to intercept them. The military “is on high alert and is constantly monitoring the operational situation,” Rear Adm Hagari said.

Jordan, situated between Israel and Iran, closed its airspace. Israel had ordered its schools shut and banned large gatherings on Saturday in preparation for a possible attack Sunday morning local time as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared for his war cabinet to meet late into the night.

One hour later, a second wave of drones was launched from Iran, according to Iranian state media. According to Reuters, a number of drones were seen flying from the direction of Iran over Iraq’s Sulaymaniya province. “Dozens of drones were spotted flying from Iran in the direction of Israel over Iraqi airspace,” two Iraqi security sources told Reuters. Iraq has closed its airspace and suspended all air traffic, the country's news agency reports.

Israeli aircraft are reported to be intercepting the drones in Syrian airspace. The White House confirmed the drone attack is likely to last several hours, as it pledged to support its ally’s defence against Tehran. “This attack is likely to unfold over a number of hours,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement, adding that “the United States will stand with the people of Israel and support their defense against these threats from Iran.”

Aftermath The more than 150 attack drones that Iran launched first – one of the largest swarms used at one time in combat – would take five to seven hours to reach Israel. Then came more than 30 land-attack cruise missiles with flight times of two to three hours. Last were ballistic missiles that would reach Israel in just a dozen minutes. The Iranians timed the launches so the weapons would arrive simultaneously, an attempt to overwhelm Israel’s defences. They avoided civilian targets in favour of military ones, like the Nevatim base in the Negev Desert, where Israel’s advanced F-35 fighters are based.

Israel’s Arrow system intercepted most of the ballistic missiles, while the two American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean downed several others. An American Patriot antimissile battery in Erbil, Iraq, intercepted another one. The lumbering drones, in the meantime, were shot down by a combination of American, British, French and Israeli aircraft.

Benjamin Netanyahu and his war cabinet meet in Tel Aviv. Picture: AFP
Edge of all-out war: Iran attack on Israel crosses Rubicon
Cameron Stewart, The Australian
Monday April 15 2024

The Middle East is on the brink of all-out war between Iran and Israel after the Islamic regime launched its first-ever direct military strike on Israel, prompting fears Israel would launch a major retaliatory attack on Iranian soil. In a massive escalation of tensions across the region, Iran launched more than 300 drones and missiles against Israel in an assault that was thwarted by Israeli and US forces, which shot down an estimated 99 per cent of the incoming attacks.

The attack forced many Israelis to seek protection in shelters where they listened to explosions as the Iron Dome missile defence system destroyed numerous incoming missiles and drones. Joe Biden condemned the Iranian attacks in “the strongest ­possible terms”, but has told Israel it will not join any offensive ­operations against Tehran, amid speculation that Israel will now launch a direct military strike in Iran.

A full-scale war between Iran and Israel would cause turmoil across the Middle East at a time when Israel is also at war against Hamas in Gaza and is fending off daily attacks on its northern border from Iran’s terrorist ally, Hezbollah, in Lebanon.

Anthony Albanese condemned Iran over its “reckless” attacks on Israel, calling the action a “grave threat to the security of Israel and the entire region”. “It risks greater instability and devastation across the Middle East,” the Prime Minister said. “Anyone who cares for the protection of innocent life must stand against these attacks.” Mr Albanese said Iran’s “ongoing flouting of international law, its egregious human rights abuses and threat to international security” are why the government had imposed targeted financial sanctions and travel bans, including Magnitsky-style sanctions, on 85 individuals and 97 entities.

In its first-ever direct military attack on Israel, Iran launched 185 drones, 36 cruise missiles and 100 surface-to-surface missiles, mostly fired from within Iran. Iranian state media said the ­attack, dubbed Operation True Promise, was in retaliation for the Israeli strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound this month in Syria that killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including two senior commanders.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: “Attacking our consulate is like attacking our soil. The malicious regime has made a wrong move in this case. It should be punished and it will be punished.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry claimed the attack on Israel was a “defensive measure” that showed the country’s “responsible approach toward regional and international peace and security”.

Israel’s air defences, assisted by US military forces based in the region, meant nearly 99 per cent of the aerial threats launched at Israel were intercepted, IDF Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said. The Iranian strikes caused only slight damage to the Nevatim air force base in the Negev desert in southern Israel, while 12 people in the region were taken to medical centres, including a seriously injured seven-year-old girl.

“Iran thought it would paralyse the base,” Rear Admiral Hagari said. “It failed.” But he described Iran’s actions as a “major escalation” of tensions across the region. “We intercepted. We blocked. Together we will win,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

President Biden condemned the “unprecedented” air attacks by Iran and convened a G-7 leaders meeting to co-ordinate a united response. He said that thanks to the recent deployment of US aircraft and warships to the region “we helped Israel take down nearly all of the incoming drones and missiles”. “Israel demonstrated a remarkable capacity to defend against and defeat even unprecedented attacks – sending a clear message to its foes that they cannot effectively threaten the security of Israel,” Mr Biden said.

The President has said the US will offer “ironclad” support for ­Israel’s security, while Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin called on Iran not to launch any further ­attacks. “We do not seek conflict with Iran, but we will not hesitate to act to protect our forces and support the defence of Israel,” he said. The UN Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting to discuss Iran’s attack on Israel.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps said it had launched “dozens of drones and missiles” toward Israel “in reaction to the Zionist regime’s crimes” and threatened more strikes if Iran or its interests were hit in any retaliatory attack. Crowds gathered in Tehran to celebrate the attack on Israel despite many not being aware the attacks had failed to cause major damage to targets or loss of life.

Iran’s attack sent tensions soaring on Israel’s northern border where pro-Iran Hezbollah and Israeli forces have exchanged almost daily attacks since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. Hezbollah sent two explosive drones into Israeli territory triggering an attack by Israeli fighter jets on targets belonging to ­Hezbollah’s elite Radwan forces in southern Lebanon as well as ­several other targets of the terrorist group.

Aftermath 19th April Iran fired air defense batteries early Friday morning local time after reports of explosions near a major airbase at the city of Isfahan. Iranian army commander General Abdolrahim Mousavi said crews targeted several flying objects. “The explosion this morning in the sky of Isfahan was related to the shooting of air defense systems at a suspicious object that did not cause any damage,” Mousavi said.

A camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Picture: AFP
IDF evacuates 100,000 from eastern Rafah
AFP, The Australian
Monday May 6 2024

The Israeli army said Monday it was evacuating about 100,000 people from eastern Rafah, ahead of an expected ground assault in the southern city of Gaza. “The estimate is around 100,000 people,” a military spokesman told journalists when asked how many people were being evacuated. The Israeli army called on Gazans living in eastern Rafah to head to an “expanded humanitarian area” in the Palestinian territory. “IDF (military) encourages the residents of eastern Rafah to advance towards expanded humanitarian area,” the military said in a statement.

About 1.2 million people are currently sheltering in Rafah, according to the World Health Organization, most having fled there from elsewhere in Gaza during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas Palestinian militants.

The evacuation “is part of our plans to dismantle Hamas ... we had a violent reminder of their presence and their operational abilities in Rafah yesterday,” the military spokesman said. “This is an evacuation plan to get people out of harm’s way.” On Sunday, three Israeli soldiers were killed and a dozen wounded, the army said, when a barrage of rockets was fired towards the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza. The army said the rockets were fired from an area adjacent to Rafah. The soldiers were hit while guarding heavy machinery, tanks and bulldozers stationed in the area.

Rain fell on Monday as the army airdropped leaflets advising about the evacuation, an AFP correspondent said. Hamas’s armed wing claimed the rocket attack, which led Israeli authorities to close the crossing, used to deliver aid into Gaza.

The prospect of an invasion in Rafah has triggered alarm from aid groups and world leaders. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday said Israel had yet to present “a credible plan to genuinely protect the civilians who are in harm’s way”, and without such a plan Washington “can’t support a major military operation going into Rafah.” Soon after the war in Gaza began on October 7, Israel told Palestinians living in the north of Gaza to move to “safe zones” in the territory’s south -- including Rafah. But Rafah has been repeatedly bombed from the air and Palestinians regularly say that no area of Gaza is safe.

“The IDF has expanded the humanitarian area in Al-Mawasi to accommodate the increased levels of aid flowing into Gaza,” the military statement said, referring to a coastal area near Rafah. “This morning ... we began a limited scope operation to temporarily evacuate residents in the eastern part of Rafah,” a military spokesman told journalists in an online briefing. “This is a limited scope operation.” In its statement, the military added that messages “to temporarily move to the humanitarian area will be conveyed through posters, SMS messages, phone calls and media broadcasts in Arabic.” Troops will continue to pursue Hamas militants “everywhere in Gaza until all hostages that they are holding in captivity are back home”, the statement said.

Palestinian health officials said an Israeli airstrike on Rafah led to the deaths of 45 Palestinian civilians and wounded others, including women and children.
Israeli tanks close in on central Rafah as global uproar grows
Rory Jones and Fatima Abdulkarim, Dow Jones
Wednesday, May 29 2024

Israeli tanks advanced further into Rafah Tuesday, according to witnesses, as the Israeli military said it was expanding operations in the southern Gazan city even amid growing international condemnation. The tanks passed near the Al-Awda mosque, a central Rafah landmark, Palestinians in the city told The Wall Street Journal. The Israeli military didn’t comment on the specifics of its expansion into Rafah, but Israel’s Army Radio said the military had added a brigade to the five already operating in the city and troops were engaging in close-quarters combat with Hamas.

Israel is trying to thread the needle between pursuing a fight with Hamas in Rafah without further damaging its relationship with the US, its closest ally, or derailing fragile relations with the Arab world. An air strike on Sunday in Rafah that Palestinian officials said killed dozens of civilians has demonstrated the inherent challenge that Israel faces.

Israel for months has said it wants to destroy the last of Hamas’s military structure in Rafah and disrupt the US-designated terrorist group’s smuggling network from Egypt into Gaza. But the US has repeatedly warned Israel that it needs to do more to protect civilians. Sunday’s airstrike raises further questions about whether the Israeli military can achieve its goals without crossing American red lines. The incident is heaping fresh political tension on President Biden, coming after weeks of pro-Gaza protests that roiled college campuses across the US. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the deaths of civilians in the airstrike a “tragic mistake.” It came just days after the United Nations’ top court demanded that Israel halt some operations in Rafah, with the outcry over the civilian deaths echoing the one that followed an Israeli strike in April that killed seven aid workers in Gaza from World Central Kitchen.

The strike “further increases the political tensions,” said Hugh Lovatt, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. It “further isolates Israel, further turns countries against Israel,” he said. Israel’s relationship with neighbouring Egypt is also in jeopardy after a rare cross-border clash Monday between the two countries’ forces left an Egyptian officer dead. Egypt has become increasingly frustrated with Israel’s operation in Rafah, which sits on the other side of its border with Gaza. Amid the tensions, mediators from Egypt, Qatar and the US are making fresh efforts to restart ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas to halt fighting in the Gaza Strip, after an earlier attempt this month fell apart over terms for ending the war and returning hostages.

Nearly one million people have fled Rafah since the Israeli military ordered an evacuation of the eastern part of the city on May 6, but the city’s mayor estimates that around 500,000 remain as they struggle to find another place to take shelter. The strike on Sunday night took place in the western Rafah neighbourhood of Tel Al-Sultan, just south of a stretch of beach called Al-Mawasi that Israeli authorities have designated as a humanitarian area, according to the Israeli military and some Palestinian witnesses.

Israeli military officials said the strike wasn’t within the humanitarian area itself, while Palestinians said they believed it was. The strike caused huge explosions in a tent encampment where Palestinian civilians were sheltering, witnesses said. Palestinian authorities said it led to the deaths of at least 45 civilians and wounded others, including women and children. Video footage from Reuters showed people trying to extinguish a fire in the dark of night as screaming could be heard in the background, and families standing among the rubble and burned items the following day.

Israel said the attack was aimed at, and succeeded in, killing two Hamas officials, Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar, who were meeting in the targeted compound. It said they were behind several deadly attacks against Israel and had been released from Israeli jail as part of a prisoner exchange in 2011. The Journal was unable to independently confirm their deaths. A Hamas member said Nagar had died in the strike, but that he wasn’t a senior member of the militant group.

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Tuesday that the airstrike had used small warheads that were precision guided and aimed at an enclosed structure. Hagari said that Israel is still investigating what caused Sunday’s fire that led to the death of Palestinian civilians, and said that the strike was more than a kilometre away from the designated humanitarian zone. In Sunday’s strike, Hagari said that Israel had used munitions it had employed frequently before during the war in Gaza. “Our munition alone would not have ignited a fire of this size. Something else ignited the fire,” he said.

Hagari said aerial surveillance and other measures had been taken before the strike to ensure there were no non-combatants in the compound. While he said there weren’t any women or children inside the targeted compound, a compound nearby was unintentionally set alight, leading to the civilian deaths. The Israeli military said it had identified areas near the targeted site that had been used to launch rockets. The strike “needs to be measured in comparison to the military advantage that was expected from the strike, which in this case, was eliminating important Hamas operatives, and that’s significant for Israel,” said Daphné Richemond-Barak, a professor at Israel’s Reichman University.

Still, the strike was located next to a U.N. building and was on the edge of a crowd of tents and makeshift housing, according to satellite images provided by Planet Labs. “To lob ammunition with a significant payload like that at an area of flimsy shacks and highly flammable tents, you will almost certainly kill a lot of people beyond your point of target,” said Donatella Rovera, an adviser at Amnesty International. “And that’s exactly what happened.” The Israeli military has changed the boundary of the humanitarian zone at Al-Mawasi at least five times since the beginning of the war, including near the strike area, according to an analysis of the military’s statements by Forensic Architecture, a research group at Goldsmiths, University of London. The Israeli military didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether it had been consistent in its messaging.

Hamas in a statement Tuesday said Israel “intends to continue committing more massacres against civilians” and called on the international community to intervene.

The rising international criticism of the war and the recent U.N. order on the operation in Rafah would likely influence how Israel fights in the city, rather than bringing the operation to a halt, said Shlomo Mofaz, a former senior official in Israeli military intelligence. Mofaz said that the military would have to be more careful about its air strikes and ensuring that civilians had evacuated from the battlefield in Rafah. “There may be targets they want to hit but they won’t attack them and it may influence the battle plan,” he said. But at least for now, “the fighting there will continue despite the international pressure,” he added.

Separately, fighting continued Tuesday in northern and central Gaza, where the Israeli military said it killed militants in aerial strikes and located weapons storage facilities. Mediators are seeking an initial six-week truce in which Hamas would release roughly 20 living Israeli hostages, along with an unspecified number of bodies of Israelis who died while in captivity. The initial deal could be followed by a ceasefire of up to one year and a phased Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, according to Arab mediators. Restarting talks would depend upon whether Hamas agrees to engage, Arab mediators said. Hamas has been approached but hasn’t yet agreed to participate, believing Israel to not be serious about reaching a deal, the mediators said.

Previous ceasefire talks have largely failed because Hamas wants any deal to include a permanent ceasefire, while Netanyahu has vowed to destroy the group.

Israel takes control of border
The Australian
Dov Lieber, Wall Street Journal
Friday, May 31 2024

Tel Aviv: Israel said it has secured control of Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, achieving a key goal of the Rafah offensive as it seeks to eliminate Hamas without crossing red lines set by President Biden. Israeli officials say taking control of the roughly 14.4km border, known as the Philadelphi Corridor, will allow Israel to prevent Hamas from rearming by smuggling weapons through tunnels that reach into Egypt. Israel last controlled the corridor in 2005, before relinquishing control of the enclave to the Palestinians.

The latest advance also risks sparking new tensions between Israel and Egypt. An Israeli military official said Israel had so far found 20 cross-border tunnels in the area, some already known to Israel and Egypt and some that were unknown before the operation. The official said Israel had informed Egypt about cross-border tunnels it had found, and Israel has said it hoped to work with Egypt to prevent future smuggling. A senior Egyptian official said Israel hadn’t communicated to Cairo anything about the tunnels and said Israel was “using these allegations to justify continuing the Rafah operation.”

In comments from the Biden administration, “I can’t confirm whether they seized the corridor or not, but I can tell you that their movements along the corridor did not come as a surprise to us and was in keeping with what we understood their plan to be, to go after Hamas in a targeted, limited way, not in a concentrated way,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council. “When they briefed us on their plans for Rafah, it did include moving along that corridor and out of the city proper to put pressure on Hamas in the city,” he said.

Israel has gradually deployed limited numbers of troops, forced a rapid evacuation of the Gaza city, and refrained from a full-scale ground assault. The tactics have inoculated Israel from deeper criticism from the Biden administration so far, as it faces crescendoing international condemnation, especially after an Israeli air strike resulted in dozens of civilian deaths in a Rafah tent encampment on Sunday. Even that strike drew a muted response from US officials. Israel said it killed two important Hamas leaders and used smaller munitions with precision-guidance systems, following the advice of American officials. Israeli military officials said the air force fired on an area near a civilian population but that the munitions used couldn’t have caused the fire that tore through the encampment.

American diplomatic support and weapons supply depend on Israel’s ability to manage a balance between accomplishing its military objectives in Rafah and appeasing the Biden administration. Pro-Palestinian protests on US college campuses have piled pressure on the White House to restrain Israel. Such tensions may persist for some time. Fighting in Gaza is likely to continue through this year, Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, said Wednesday in an interview with Israel’s public broadcaster Kan.

Mr Kirby said Tuesday that the White House still opposed a major ground operation in Rafah, and he set out what that would look like. “Lots of units, tens of thousands of troops, or thousands of troops moving in a co-ordinated set of manoeuvres against a wide variety of targets on the ground in a massive way,” Kirby said. “That’s a major ground operation … and we have not seen them move in that way.” In delineating the parameters in such a way, the Biden administration risks being accused of making its red lines more elastic.

Behind the scenes, the administration worked hard to influence how Israel went into Rafah, an operation the Israelis said was non-negotiable because they believe that Hamas’s last military units must be destroyed there and that tunnels from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula to the city represent the militant group’s most crucial supply lines.

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