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Peace and Conflict

March 12th - Day 160 of the war: News in Brief

March 12th - Day 160 of the war: News in Brief via BICom

1. The first week of Ramadan is so far proceeding relatively calmly. An estimated 40,000 people prayed peacefully in Jerusalem last night, with the flashpoint Temple Mount seeing no significant unrest so far. On Tuesday, the IDF’s military liaison to the Palestinians confirmed that only men over 55, women over 50, and children under 10 from the West Bank would be allowed to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan tomorrow. Thousands of police officers will deploy to the Old City. With Hamas looking to incite violence during the holy month, two soldiers were stabbed in an attack at a checkpoint south of Jerusalem yesterday morning. Israeli security forces shot the attacker and the two troops were moderately wounded. Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai said, “The closer we get to the [first] Friday of Ramadan, everyone is trying to stir things up in this area; we are currently on our highest alert.”

2. COGAT confirmed that aid for Gaza is arriving by land, air, and now by sea. IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said yesterday that Israel was trying “to flood” Gaza with humanitarian aid. “We are learning and improving and doing different changes so as not to create a routine but to create a diversity of ways that we can enter,” he said. In a statement yesterday, the IDF confirmed it was cooperating with the first ship carrying aid by sea, operated by the World Central Kitchen and funded by the UAE. Israel also cooperated with the World Food Organisation sending six aid trucks into the northern Strip yesterday. Israeli media reported the trucks were looted by locals and did not reach their destination. About 100 US troops departed a Virginia base on Tuesday, carrying equipment needed to build the temporary pier for the distribution of aid in Gaza. When operational in between 5-7 weeks, the pier will bring in up to two million meals a day. US Secretary of State Blinken said “I want to emphasise it is a complement to, not a substitute for, other ways of getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and in particular overland routes remain the most critical way to get assistance in and then to people who need it, but this will help close the gap.”

3. The UK announced yesterday that it had made a “major humanitarian push” in Gaza, sending around 150 tonnes of aid, including 840 family tents, 13,440 blankets, almost 3,000 shelter kits, and shelter-fixing kits, 6,000 sleeping mats and more than 3,000 dignity kits to support women and girls. A UK field hospital will also arrive this week, to be staffed by both local health workers and international medics, while Foreign Secretary Cameron announced a further £10 million in aid funding, bringing UK support to more than £100 million this financial year. Cameron said “too many people in Gaza are suffering. No one should be without basic amenities like shelter and bedding, and everyone deserves the dignity that basic hygiene kits provide. Our largest aid delivery, combined with a new UK funded field hospital, will save lives.” The UK also joined the US and other allied states in issuing a statement on opening a maritime aid corridor yesterday.

4. The IDF continues to operate across the length of Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, in the Hamad neighbourhood in western Khan Yunis, the IDF killed, “approximately one hundred terrorists….The operations also involved more than one hundred aerial strikes carried out in close proximity to the ground forces.” Ahead of any potential ground incursion into Rafah, the IDF carried out a precise targeted strike, killing Muhammad Abu Hasna, the head of Hamas’ Operations Unit in the Rafah area. According to the IDF spokesperson’s office, “Hasna was a combat support operative in Hamas’ military wing. He was also involved in taking control of humanitarian aid and distributing it to Hamas terrorists. Furthermore, Hasna coordinated the activities of various Hamas units, as well as communicated with and activated Hamas field operatives. Hasna was also responsible for an intelligence operations room which provides information on IDF positions for use in Hamas attacks.” Also yesterday, a mortar was fired from central Gaza toward Kibbutz Nahal Oz, however it fell inside the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, “Within a few minutes, the terrorists responsible for the attempted launch were struck and eliminated by IDF aircraft.”

5. Israel media is reporting growing tensions in the War Cabinet over the future administration of the Gaza Strip. Prime Minister Netanyahu has reportedly rejected a plan presented by the security establishment, backed by Defence Minister Gallant and with US support, for training several thousand Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip to serve as a security force in the central and northern Strip and to be tasked with distributing humanitarian aid, among other things. The plan would see between 4000 and 7000 Palestinian troops chosen by Palestinian Authority's Head of Intelligence Maj. Gen. Majed Faraj, then being vetted by Israel, before being trained, armed and deployed to Gaza. Netanyahu rejected the idea as it would empower the PA – something which, despite significant US encouragement, he is reluctant to do. Gallant is quoted as saying “The problem with the humanitarian [aid] isn’t getting the goods in, but who distributes it. Someone has got to take control and he isn’t going to be a Swede. He’s got to be Fatah.”

6. Northern Israel continues to be attacked from Lebanon.  This morning, an anti-tank guided missile was fired at the IDF base in Zarit, as well as rocket fire directed to Kfar Blum. No injuries have been reported. Over the last couple of days, Hezbollah has fired hundreds of rockets into northern Israel.  In response the Israeli Air Force has struck Hezbollah targets, including military compounds in the areas of Qantara, Yater and Aalma El Chaeb. In addition, the IDF announced, “an aircraft in the area of Tyre struck Hadi Ali Mustafa, a significant operative in Hamas’ department responsible for its international terrorist activities. In his position, Hadi directed terrorist cells and activities in the field, and advanced terror attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets in various countries around the world. Hadi operated under the direction of Samir Fendi, one of Saleh al-Arouri’s associates who was killed together with him” in a strike in January. Earlier in the week, the IDF revealed that over the last five months they have struck approximately 4,500 Hezbollah targets, killing over 300 Hezbollah fighters.

7. After two days of often angry debate, the Knesset passed an amended wartime budget yesterday, by 62 votes to 55. The government spending limit for 2024 has been increased to NIS 584.1 billion (£125 billion), more than NIS 70 billion (£15 billion) higher than the original budget. The budget sees significantly expanded military expenditure, as well as other wartime civilian considerations. Netanyahu said it “guarantees the continuation of the war until complete victory and benefits the citizens of Israel and the state’s economy.” Critics argue the budget does not go far enough scaling back on interests linked to coalition factions, including controversial allocations for the ultra-Orthodox. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said it was the most “sectoral, detached and profligate budget in the history of the State of Israel” and that it would be “the last budget this government will pass.”

8. Following Gideon Saar’s announcement earlier this week that his New Hope faction was leaving the National Unity Party, Channels 12 and 13 report fresh polling. Both polls show Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party (now operating alone after Saar’s split) as the largest Knesset Faction. Channel 13 shows Blue and White 34 seats (Channel 12 33); Likud 17 (18); Yesh Atid 14 (13); Shas 9 (11); Jewish Power 9 (8); Yisrael Beiteinu 8 (11); United Torah Judaism 7 (7); New Hope 6 (5); United Arab List 4 (4); Religious Zionist Party 4 (0); Meretz 4 (4); Hadash-Ta’al 4 (5). Both polls therefore predict workable majorities for the Anti-Netanyahu bloc. Channel 13 conducts a separate poll asking voters if their votes would be different were Naftali Bennett and Yossi Cohen to form two new parties. A prospective Bennett party shows a strong 18 seats and Cohen 11 – their support coming from voters otherwise attracted to Blue and White, the Likud, and Yesh Atid. Channel 12 shows less support for Bennett (12 seats).

via BICom