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Peace and Conflict

IDF claims victory in Khan Yunis | Update 19th February 2024

IDF claims victory in Khan Yunis via BICom

What happened: 18 of Hamas’s 24 battalions have been defeated and the Khan Yunis Brigade is now no longer effectively operating.

  • 200 terrorists have surrendered at the city's Nasser Hospital, alongside dozens at Al Amal Hospital.
  • The IDF says troops have detained hundreds of terror operatives — some of whom were dressed up as hospital staff — and other suspects who were holed up at the hospital, including many who participated in the October 7th massacre.
  • Troops also found links to the hostages held by the terror group as well as unopened boxes of medications bearing the names of hostages.
  • Defence Minister Yoav Gallant described Hamas’ military capacity as remaining on the fringes of central Gazan camps and within Rafah, and vowed to disband Hamas' remaining six battalions. "Nobody is coming to help them – not the Iranians, not international aid" he added.
  • Gallant also said that Hamas is looking for a replacement for its Gazan leader Yahya Sinwar: “there is a bid for who will be the ruling actor… the external leadership is looking for internal leadership."

Palestinian Statehood?: Israel's cabinet pushed back against reported plans within the international community to unilaterally recognise a Palestinian state.

  • A unanimously agreed statement read “a settlement, if it is to be reached, will come about solely through direct negotiations between the parties, without preconditions” and called unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state “a massive and unprecedented reward to terrorism and would foil any future peace settlement.”
  • Minister Gantz later emphasised the importance of cooperation with the US, adding that victory in Gaza “goes hand in hand with our will to expand the circle of peace and form a united regional axis facing Iran. For that reason, the normalisation process with Saudi Arabia is an important endeavour we must pursue – and I am personally working toward it… It is through facilitating long-term processes that will consolidate a regional architecture facing the Iranian axis of terror, and by advancing international arrangements that will improve the lives of people throughout the region and promote stability and peace,” he says.
  • Gantz also warned about “one-sided actions”. “After October 7, the pathway to regional stability and peace is not through one-sided actions like recognition of a Palestinian state.”

Context: Israel has historically rejected unilateral recognition, but this latest statement by this right-wing government leaves open the opportunity for a two-state solution.

  • Israel was supported in this position by US Ambassador to Israel Lew, who said “We have never said there should be a unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state but rather an “over-the-horizon process that includes a vision for a demilitarised Palestinian state.”
  • Despite accusations, the IDF is insisting that the Nasser hospital is able to continue its operations and that it has acted “without harming the patients and medical staff and in accordance with the values of the IDF and international law.
  • As part of its vision for two states, the Biden Administration is making moves to support the ailing Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank.
  • The US has repeatedly indicated a preference for having the PA assume a central role in a post-Hamas Gaza, and is reacting to news that Mahmoud Abbas’s government is fast running out of money.
  • A senior Palestinian official claimed that US reduction in aid and the suspension of Israeli tax revenues after the Hamas-led October 7 attack has put the PA ‘on the verge of financial collapse.’ Approximately 90,000 West Bank PA employees – including members of the security services and police – as well as 30,000 PA employees who live in Gaza have not received their salaries since November.
  • The PA has also suffered from the loss of taxes from Palestinian labourers who since October 7 are no longer entering Israel and West Bank settlements. These labourers used to earn a relatively high salary and bring in over 1bn USD into PA territory annually, an amount constituting slightly more than a quarter of the West Bank’s GDP.
  • To support the PA, the Biden administration would need to circumvent a US law that prevents it from contributing directly to the PA, due to Ramallah's pay-for-slay policy which provides stipends for terrorists and their families.
  • Yesterday the Norwegian government announced it had agreed to assist in the transfer of frozen tax funds earmarked for the PA that were collected by Israel.

Looking ahead: Contrary to prior statements made by Israeli officials, a ground operation in Rafah is not thought to be imminent.

  • Before undertaking an operation in Rafah, the IDF will need to move the civilian population. Khan Yunis and other places are options.
  • Israel is hoping that continued military advancements will create pressure to renew hostage negotiations on more favourable terms. There is hope that any ground operation could be completed before Ramadan, but that remains an optimistic time frame.
  • The IDF will also likely operate against two Hamas battalions in the refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip before turning its attention to Rafah.
  • Gantz also warned that Israel would carry out a ground operation in Rafah unless the hostages were freed before Ramadan, on 10 March.

via BICom