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Middle East Conflict: Israel and Hamas

Middle East Conflict: Israel and Hamas Continue to Fight as Hostage Deal Remains Uncertain

The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip has entered its fifth month, with no sign of a lasting ceasefire or a resolution to the humanitarian crisis. The war, which began on October 7, 2023, after Hamas launched rockets at Israel in response to Israeli raids and arrests in East Jerusalem, has claimed the lives of more than 6,000 Palestinians and 300 Israelis, according to official sources. Thousands more have been injured and displaced, and the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure and economy have been severely damaged.

Despite the efforts of international mediators, including Qatar, Egypt, the United States, and France, to broker a deal that would end the hostilities and release the hostages held by both sides, the prospects of a breakthrough remain dim. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will not stop its military operation until it achieves its goal of destroying Hamas’s military capabilities and tunnels, and restoring its deterrence. He has also rejected any agreement that would only postpone a ground invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas is believed to be holding dozens of Israeli soldiers and civilians captive.

Netanyahu convened his war cabinet on Monday, February 26, 2024, and was briefed by the intelligence chiefs who had returned from the Paris talks with Qatari, Egyptian, and US mediators. After the Paris meeting, the US said that the mediators had come to an understanding of the basic contours of a hostage deal for a temporary ceasefire, but Netanyahu said it was not clear whether such a deal would materialize, adding that Hamas needed to “come down to a reasonable situation”.

“If anyone here thinks that when we reach an agreement to release the hostages in the south and the fire stops, this will make things easier here, they are mistaken. We will continue the fire and we will do so independently from the south until we achieve our goals. The goal is simple: to withdraw Hezbollah to where it should be, either via diplomatic agreement or we will do it by force,” Netanyahu said, referring to the Lebanese militant group that is allied with Hamas and Iran.

Netanyahu also said that Israel plans to move ahead in Rafah, despite international warnings that a ground invasion would have catastrophic consequences for over 1.4 million Palestinians who live there. He said that Israel’s military had proposed a plan for evacuating civilians from the Gaza Strip, but did not give any details about how or where the civilians would be moved.

Responding to Netanyahu’s remarks, a senior Hamas official said his comments cast doubt over Israel’s willingness to secure a deal. He said that Israel’s true plan was to take over and fragment Palestinian lands and not to allow the Palestinians to determine their destiny themselves.

“I say that the global community today has a large responsibility to not only stop the aggression on the Gaza Strip, and of course that’s important and the urgent priority, but also to work in ending the occupation, to allow the Palestinians to determine their destiny themselves. And if it cannot do this, then it has to at least back the Palestinian resistance and end the arming of the occupation while enforcing sanctions on it,” the Hamas official said.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, is undergoing a major change after Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and his government resigned on Monday, citing the new “reality” in Gaza. Shtayyeh said he was resigning to allow for the formation of a broad consensus among Palestinians about political arrangements post Israel’s war in Gaza.

“I have submitted the resignation of the government to the president last Tuesday, which was February 20, 2024, and today I submit it in writing. This decision comes based on the political, security, and economic developments that are related to the offensive on our people in Gaza and the unprecedented escalation in the West Bank and Jerusalem, and to what our people and the Palestinian cause are facing,” Shtayyeh said.

The Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has been under increasing pressure from Washington to also shake up the Palestinian Authority, as international efforts to stop the war intensify. The US has been pushing for the Palestinian Authority to realign postwar, and to take a more active role in the reconstruction and administration of Gaza, which has been under Hamas’s control since 2007.

The US has also urged Abbas to resume peace talks with Israel, based on the two-state solution, and to hold elections that would include all Palestinian factions, including Hamas. Abbas has said he is ready to engage in dialogue with Israel, but has also demanded that Israel end its occupation, settlement expansion, and aggression in Jerusalem and Gaza.

The Middle East conflict has also sparked violence and unrest within Israel, where Jewish and Arab mobs have clashed in several cities, prompting the president to warn of civil war. The defense minister ordered a “massive reinforcement” of security forces to suppress the internal unrest, which has resulted in more than 400 arrests. Police say Israeli Arabs have been responsible for most of the trouble, and reject the accusation that they are standing by while gangs of Jewish youths target Arab homes.

The conflict has also drawn international condemnation and solidarity, with protests and rallies held in many countries around the world, calling for an end to the bloodshed and the occupation. The UN Security Council has held several emergency meetings, but has failed to issue a joint statement or a resolution, due to the US’s veto power and support for Israel. The UN Secretary-General has called for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access to Gaza, and has warned that the conflict could escalate into a full-scale war.

The conflict has also exposed the divisions and challenges in the region, with some Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, trying to mediate and de-escalate the situation, while others, such as Iran, Turkey, and Qatar, providing political and material support to Hamas and the Palestinian resistance. The conflict has also tested the recent normalization agreements between Israel and some Arab states, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan, which have faced criticism and backlash from their own populations and other Arab and Muslim countries for their perceived betrayal of the Palestinian cause.

As the war rages on, the humanitarian situation in Gaza worsens, with shortages of food, water, medicine, and electricity, and the risk of covid-19 spreading among the crowded and vulnerable population. The UN has said that more than 50,000 people have been displaced and are seeking shelter in UN-run schools and other facilities, while more than 400,000 people have limited or no access to water. The UN has also said that more than 40 health facilities and 50 schools have been damaged or destroyed by Israeli strikes, and that more than 2,000 children have been injured or traumatized.

The UN has launched an emergency appeal for $95 million to provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza for the next three months, and has urged all parties to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure. The UN has also said that a lasting solution to the conflict requires addressing the root causes of the crisis, namely the occupation, the blockade, the lack of a political horizon, and the denial of Palestinian rights.


 

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