June 14. 2024. 2:29

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New cracks in Netanyahu coalition as Israel pushes further into north Gaza


Israeli troops and tanks pushed on Saturday (18 May) into parts of a congested northern Gaza Strip district that they had previously skirted in the more than seven-month-old war, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, medics and residents said.

Israel’s forces also took over some ground in Rafah, a southern city by the Egyptian border that is packed with displaced people and where the launch this month of a long-threatened incursion to crush hold-outs of Palestinian Islamist militant group Hamas has alarmed Cairo and Washington.

Exposing further cracks in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Benny Gantz, a centrist member of the war cabinet, threatened to resign if the right-wing leader does not agree by June 8 to a day-after plan that would include how Gaza might be ruled after the war with Hamas.

In what Israeli media said was the result of intelligence gleaned during the latest incursions, the military announced the recovery of the body of a man who was among more than 250 hostages seized by Hamas in a cross-border rampage on 7 October that triggered the war.

Ron Binyamin’s remains were located along with those of three other slain hostages whose repatriation was announced on Friday, the military said without providing further details.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas.

Israel has conducted renewed military sweeps this month of parts of northern Gaza where it had declared the end of major operations in January. At the time, it also predicted its forces would return to prevent a regrouping by the Palestinian Islamist group that rules Gaza.

One site has been Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps. On Saturday, troops and tanks edged into streets so far spared the ground offensive, residents said. In one strike, medics said 15 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded.

The Gaza health ministry and the Civil Emergency Service said teams received dozens of calls about possible casualties but were unable to carry out any searches because of the ongoing ground offensive and aerial bombardment.

“Today is the most difficult in terms of the occupation bombardment, air strikes and tank shelling have going on almost non-stop,” said one resident in Jabalia, Ibrahim Khaled, via a chat app.

“We know of dozens of people, martyrs (killed) and wounded, but no ambulance vehicle can get into the area,” he told Reuters.

The Israeli military said its forces have continued to operate in areas across Gaza including Jabalia and Rafah, carrying out what it called “precise operations against terrorists and infrastructure”.

“The IAF (air force) continues to operate in the Gaza Strip, and struck over 70 terror targets during the past day, including weapons storage facilities, military infrastructure sites, terrorists who posed a threat to IDF troops, and military compounds,” the military said in a statement.

Strains in Israeli coalition

Netanyahu has faced criticism at home and abroad for failing to articulate an endgame more than seven months into the war.

In a news conference, Gantz said he wanted the war cabinet to form a six-point plan in the next three weeks and that if his expectations are not met he would withdraw his centrist party from Netanyahu’s emergency coalition.

Gantz said his proposal would include creating a temporary US-European-Arab-Palestinian system of civil administration for Gaza while Israel retains security control.

Though Gantz is Netanyahu’s most formidable rival in opinion polls, were he to leave the government that would not be enough to bring about its collapse, as remaining parties would still give the premier a comfortable parliamentary majority.

Yet Gantz’s challenge shows increased strain on Israel’s coalition, which is dominated by far-right parties. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday demanded clarity on post-war plans and for Netanyahu to forswear any military reoccupation of Gaza.

Armed wings of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Fatah said fighters attacked Israeli forces in Jabalia and Rafah with anti-tank rockets, mortar bombs, and explosive devices already planted in some of the roads, killing and wounding many soldiers.

Israel’s military said 281 soldiers have been killed in fighting since the first ground incursions in Gaza on 20 October.

At least 35,386 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since Oct. 7, according to the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

In the Hamas cross-border attack on 7 October, 1,200 people were killed, according to Israeli tallies. About 125 people are believed to remain in captivity in Gaza.

In Rafah, where Israeli tanks thrust into some of the eastern suburbs and clashed with Palestinian fighters, residents said Israeli bombing from the air and ground persisted through the night into Saturday morning.

Rafah had been sheltering more than one million displaced Gazans. UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said on Saturday that nearly 800,000 Palestinians have fled the city since Israel launched its ground operation there on 6 May.

Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s security.

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