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Peace and Conflict

March 19th - Day 165 of the war: News in Brief

March 19th - Day 165 of the war: News in Brief via BICom

1. IDF Spokesperson Rear Admiral Hagari confirmed last night that the military operation in the Shifa hospital in Gaza City was ongoing, sharing more details. He reiterated the necessity of the raid as, “Hamas terrorists, including field commanders, fled to the area of the hospital, are hiding there and turned it into a command centre from which they dispatched and managed terrorist operations and managed combat. We have been tracking this compound for some time and waited for the most appropriate time to act.” He added details that “forces entered the compound, surprised terrorists barricaded themselves in several buildings in the hospital and opened fire from within the hospital towards our forces, from rooms within the building and from various parts of the compound, there were a number of encounters with terrorists in the area. Our forces returned fire, and exchanges of fire developed on site.” Hagari also noted during the fighting an IDF soldier, Matan Vinogradov, fell in combat. Hagari added, “We have arrested more than 200 terrorist suspects. We have killed more than 20 terrorists inside the hospital area, first among them the terrorist Faiq al-Mabhouh, who served as the director of the Special Operations Directorate in Hamas’s domestic security organisation.” The IDF is keen to highlight the importance of this tactical raid, as it prove the IDF’s capacity to return to operate in areas that Hamas sought to re-establish itself. The IDF is insistent that they will not allow Hamas to reconstitute its forces in the northern Gaza Strip and as ever vehemently objects to Hamas’ continued exploitation of hospitals which includes patients, medical personnel and the civilian population as human shields. Faiq al-Mabhouh, was the brother of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, the senior Hamas operative who was assassinated in Dubai in 2010.

2. The Israeli negotiation team arrived in the Qatari capital yesterday, in an effort to secure the release of more hostages. Their mandate was approved by the War Cabinet and Security Cabinet, to provide for a 42-day ceasefire and a Palestinian security prisoner release in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages. Mossad Director Barnea was personally in discussion with Qatari and Egyptian mediators overnight before returning to Israel this morning. From there, he will oversee work teams from the Mossad, the Shin Bet, the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, and Hostage Coordinator Maj. Gen. (res.) Nitzan Alon’s team. Egyptian media is reporting that senior Egyptian intelligence officials persuaded Hamas not to halt the talks in response to the IDF operation in Shifa Hospital yesterday. On the release of Palestinian security prisoners, Hamas demands are not thought to be prohibitive, with a possible compromise found on the basis of the Gilad Shalit model, which granted Israel the right to veto the release of any individual “heavyweight” prisoners. The release of unrepentant murderers is deeply painful on the Israeli side, but it is also widely understood that no deal can be secured without such releases. Talks are likely to be protracted, with the Hamas delegation likely to defer to Gazan leader Sinwar, still in hiding deep inside the Gaza Strip, and with each relay of messages expected to take a day and a half. Another thorny issue is likely to be Hamas’s demand that Gazans be allowed to return to the north of the Strip, something Israel opposes.

3. Amid widespread reports of their increasingly strained working relationship, President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke on the phone for 45 minutes yesterday. According to the White House, Biden affirmed the need to defeat Hamas in Gaza while also protecting the civilian population and facilitating the safe and unhindered delivery of aid throughout Gaza, with special emphasis on the north. The two also agreed to convene work teams from both nations in Washington to produce “alternative approaches for an operation in Rafah.” US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan later added that the White House would look to present a more pinpoint alternative to a full incursion into the city, Hamas’s last Gazan stronghold. “A major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally,” Sullivan said. Sullivan also confirmed the death in an Israeli strike last week of Hamas’s third in command in Gaza, Marwan Issa.  Sullivan said, “the rest of the top leaders are in hiding, likely deep in the Hamas tunnel network and justice will come for them too. We are helping them to ensure that." Meanwhile, on a visit to the Philippines, US Secretary of State Blinken again urged that more aid be sent to Gaza, claiming that the entire population was experiencing “severe levels of acute food insecurity.”

4. Throughout Monday, Hezbollah rocket attacks have continued across Israel’s northern border from Lebanon. Several launches were identified crossing from Lebanon toward Yiftach, Har Dov, and Manara. As usual, the IDF returned fire to the sources of the attacks. Further, according to the IDF, “an aircraft identified terrorists entering a Hezbollah military compound in the area of Meiss El Jabal. A short while after the identification of the terrorists, IDF fighter jets struck the military compound. In addition, IDF fighter jets struck a Hezbollah military compound in the area of al-Adisa.”  Hezbollah has fired over 2,600 rockets into northern Israel since the war begun.

5. Sources in Syria claim that overnight Israel attacked military targets in the Damascus. This would be the second strike in the last two days and is thought to have targeted Hezbollah military assets. According to the Syrian military, their air defences intercepted “some of the missiles.” Ynet quotes a Saudi report from a security source saying, "continued arms smuggling from Syria will increase Israeli strikes on the military stores and the continued Syrian support of Hezbollah and Iran, will prevent it from achieving stability and the Syrian people will pay the price." Two days ago there were reports of an attack attributed to Israel on Hezbollah's ammunition depots in the Yabrod area, north of Damascus.

6. Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely, alongside British Ambassador to Israel Simon Walters, yesterday announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. “As two of the world’s leading countries in the fields of science, research, innovation and technology,” she said, “this agreement strengthens our cooperation in: Sustainability and protecting the environment; health and medicine; Artificial Intelligence; space exploration and education. The UK and Israel are working together to enhance our scientific collaboration.” Meanwhile, UK Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden yesterday affirmed Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas, but called for an “immediate ceasefire to allow… aid in, and crucially, the hostages to come out.” UK Foreign Secretary Cameron met with hostage families yesterday and said “their ordeals are unimaginable. Hamas could end this conflict today. They must release all hostages immediately.”

via BICom