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Peace and Conflict

Four bodies retrieved as fighting in Gaza continues

Four bodies retrieved as fighting in Gaza continues via BICom

What’s happened: Over the weekend, the IDF recovered the bodies of four hostages. The first three were Shani Louk, 22,  Itzhak Gelernter, 56, and Amit Bouskila, 28, all of whom were taken from the Reim music festival.

  • A fourth body recovered has been identified as Ron Binyamin, a 53-year-old resident of Rehovot. On October 7th, he left for a bike ride with friends near Beeri.
  • The IDF said that all four were murdered on October 7th .
  • In addition there were further IDF casualties. Two soldiers from the Givati Brigade’s commando unit were killed in action, while an IDF officer critically injured last week died from his wounds. 283 soldiers have died since the launch of the ground offensive .
  • IDF operations are continuing. On Sunday the IDF located several smuggling tunnels between Gaza and Egypt.  
  • Despite IDF advancements, there was still several instances of rockets fired from inside Gaza.
  • US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan this morning concluded his meetings on his latest trip to Israel. Sullivan met yesterday with Netanyahu, National Security Council Director Hanegbi, Minister Dermer, President Herzog, and others.
  • According to the White House, they focused on humanitarian issues amid the IDF operation in Rafah. Netanyahu’s office added they also discussed proposals to get the hostages released and expanded humanitarian aid to Gaza.
  • Sullivan is also understood to have briefed Netanyahu on the current prospects for normalisation with Saudi Arabia, following his recent talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Saudi reports said the two discussed a “semi-final” version of a wide-ranging security agreement between Washington and Riyadh.
  • Despite Sullivan’s positivity over the potential for a deal, Netanyahu yesterday pledged not to comply with moves towards the creation of a Palestinian state, even if this came at the cost of normalisation with Saudi Arabia.
  • This morning, Sullivan met with Ministers Gallant and Gantz, and with Opposition Leader Lapid.
  • On Sunday the IDF released a video clip found by troops in Gaza, recorded by Hamas of 8-year-old Ella Elyakim, who was subsequently released back in November. The footage was released with the approval of her family to show the extent of Hamas’s psychological warfare.   

War Cabinet tension: Saturday night it was Minister Benny Gantz’s turn (following Defence Minister Gallant’s last week) to present Prime Minister Netanyahu with an ultimatum.

  • Gantz presented the Security Cabinet with a demand to formulate a plan which should include six objectives:the hostages’ return; toppling Hamas and demilitarising the Gaza Strip; deciding on an alternative regime for Gaza; a return home by the residents of northern Israel by September 1; promoting normalisation; and endorsing the plan to broaden military service to all Israelis. 
  • Gantz said, “personal and political considerations have begun to invade the holy of holies of Israel’s security. Prime Minister Netanyahu, the choice is in your hands. If you prioritise that national above the personal, you will find us to be partners to the battle. But if you choose the path of zealots and lead the entire country to an abyss—we will be forced to quit the government.”
  • In response, Netanyahu said, “the conditions that Benny Gantz has set are laundered words that have clear meaning: ending the war and defeat for Israel, forsaking most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and establishing a Palestinian state. Our soldiers have not died in vain and certainly not in order to replace Hamastan with Fatahstan.”
  • According to the statement, “Netanyahu is determined to destroy Hamas’s battalions, he is opposed to the Palestinian Authority’s entry into Gaza and to the establishment of a Palestinian state, which will necessarily be a terrorist state. Prime Minister Netanyahu thinks that the emergency government is important for the attainment of all of the war’s objectives, including the return of all of our hostages, and expects Gantz to clarify his positions to the public on these issues.”
  • Gantz’s office issued a response: “Had the prime minister listened to Gantz, we would have gone into Rafah months ago and finished the job. We have to finish it, and to create the necessary conditions for that. The Palestinian Authority will not be able to rule Gaza, other Palestinian actors will—but only if we cultivate the support of moderate Arab countries and American support for that. The prime minister ought to be addressing that and not sabotaging those efforts.”
  • In parallel, tens of thousands of people demonstrated over the weekend, some demanding the hostages’ return in a deal and some demanding to hold elections immediately.
  • Speaking at the demonstration on Saturday night, Leader of the Opposition Lapid called on the National Unity Party to quit the government. He said: “I call, from here, on Benny and Gadi: Enough. Stop. Leave! You are in a situation that the fact that Netanyahu is still in power is because of you.”
  • The war cabinet also convened on Saturday night. According to leaked accounts the atmosphere was tense, with Minister Eisenkot saying to the prime minister, “You’re holding the negotiations over a hostage release as if they were coalition negotiations… Your position is making it impossible to free hostages.”
  • On the operation in Rafah, Defence Minister Gallant noted on Sunday, “we’ve begun to close Hamas’s faucets in the southern Gaza Strip, and this operation will continue."

Context: There remain 128 hostages in Gaza, held now for 226 days. It is unknown how many of the hostages remain alive. Israeli assessments estimate around 40 are no longer alive. Even this could be optimistic, with US assessments and Palestinian sources suggesting significantly fewer remain alive.

  • The operation to locate the bodies of the four hostages was complicated. It was based on field intelligence and information obtained from interrogating terrorists who had been arrested.
  • Louk was the only one who was presumed dead after footage of her body was paraded through the streets of Gaza on the back of a truck.
  • The bodies were found in body bags, the assumption being that Hamas had probably been prepared for them to be returned as part of a deal.
  • With negotiations currently stalled, there is a real fear that some of the bodies will never be located, if they were killed on October 7th and subsequently discarded; others could be buried beneath the rubble of buildings.
  • Whilst the IDF advances in eastern Rafah, it is conscious to limit damage to non-combatants as well as mindful that there could be hostages in the area too.
  • According to UN data 800,000 Gazans have now left Rafah. This still leaves an estimated 600,000 who will still need to move north if the IDF are to enter into the centre of the city.
  • The operation in Rafah and along the Egyptian-Gaza border remains critical to cut off Hamas’s ability to smuggle weapons. In addition the Rafah crossing has been a crucial source of income via taxation for Hamas.
  • Many in Israel’s security establishment are acutely aware of the strategic importance of Israeli-Egyptian ties and are looking for ways to repair relations, particularly regarding their shared agenda of demilitarising Hamas.
  • Israel continues to facilitate humanitarian aid into Gaza. According to the IDF, “over 160,000 Liters of Fuel and Diesel, Hundreds of Pallets of Humanitarian Aid via the Floating Pier, and over 1,000 Humanitarian Aid Trucks through the Erez and Kerem Shalom Crossings.”
  • In addition, over the last week, “204 flour trucks were transferred on behalf of the World Food Program in order to provide supplies to the organisation’s bakery activities throughout the Gaza Strip.”  
  • Meanwhile, in the north, throughout the weekend, hundreds of rocket, anti-tank missiles and UAVs were fired from Lebanon at Israeli territory. Even though many of these were intercepted, some hit Israeli territory and caused extensive damage to property.

Looking ahead: The Knesset’s summer session begins later today, at the same time large anti-government protests are expected to reach Jerusalem.      

  • Gantz set a deadline of June 8th, for the security cabinet to approve a plan for the next stages of the war.

via BICom