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Peace and Conflict

Medical aid enters Gaza | Update 18 January 2024

Medical aid enters Gaza via BICom

Medication deal: Trucks transporting medication have now entered the Gaza Strip, with some of it earmarked for the hostages. 

  • The consignment was flown into Egypt by the Qataris yesterday, before proceeding to Kerem Shalom for security screening by Israel.
  • It is thought to include three months’ worth of medication for those 45 of the hostages with pre-existing medical conditions.
  • According to Hamas officials, the terms of the Qatari-French brokered deal include 1,000 boxes of medication for Gazans for every one provided for the hostages.
  • The question of who will deliver the medication to the hostages, or whether or not the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will have access to them, is unclear.
  • There is further scepticism on the Israeli side as to whether the medication will actually be provided to the hostages. Israel has proposed three possible methods of verification:
    • Supervision by the ICRC.
    • Verified video footage of hostages being administered medication, which would also serve as proof of life.
    • Qatari envoys personally delivering the medication.
  • News of the arrival of the medication has become subsumed into the wider story of disfunction and miscommunication at the political level, after it appeared that Prime Minister Netanyahu had not kept Defence Minister Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Halevi up to speed, prompting confusion and conflicting statements about the inspection mechanism.

Gaza Strip: The IDF continues to operate across the Strip while the most intense fighting remains in the Khan Yunis area.

  • Relating to fighting in Khan Yunis, the IDF said they “eliminated more than thirty terrorists in the area, just in the last day.” They also continue to operate underground in Khan Yunis, “scanning, locating, and destroying... the underground maze.” 
  • IDF Spokesperson Hagari added, “the fighting in the tunnels and their destruction is challenging, combining new combat methods, some of which did not previously exist in the IDF, and even, If I can modestly say, not in other places in the world.”
  • In the central area, troops returned to the area they had previously vacated, from where Hamas launched a large barrage of rockets towards Netivot earlier in the week. Yesterday, troops located and destroyed thirty rocket launcher barrels that were hidden underground, loaded with additional rockets for further launch and ready to be fired.
  • According to the IDF, they also “completed the destruction of the weapon production infrastructure of Hamas's Central Camps Brigade, a brigade that controlled the centre of the Gaza Strip. The infrastructure included workshops and factories above and below ground. These were central to Hamas's empowerment capability, and from there, they transported the weapons and rockets to all areas of the Strip.”
  • “In the northern Gaza Strip, IDF troops killed two armed terrorists who planned to ambush IDF troops. Furthermore, a number of aerial strikes on armed terrorists that posed a threat to IDF troops were carried out, including against terrorists operating adjacent to a school.”

Northern border: The IDF continues to attack Hezbollah targets. On Wednesday, they struck a terrorist cell that fired rockets from Lebanon in the Mount Dov area. The IDF also confirmed they “eliminated a Hamas terrorist cell that carried out shooting from the Qlaileh area in southern Lebanon.”

  • Elsewhere too, several launches from Lebanon toward Israel were identified.
  • Around 20 rockets were launched towards the coastal Rosh Hanikara area, there were no casualties reported.
  • Two rockets were detected in Metula, one caused damage to infrastructure.
  • The IDF announced “one of the terrorist cells responsible for firing at Rosh HaNikra in northern Israel was immediately identified, tracked and struck by an IDF aircraft.”  

Context: Israeli media is reporting that the impetus for a medication deal at this time came not from the government, nor from the IDF or the Defence Ministry, both of whom had been working on the medication issue for several weeks.

  • Instead, it appears that the Hostage and Missing Families Forum held direct talks with the French government, who began brokering the arrangement before Netanyahu then became personally involved and tasked the Mossad with facilitating the arrangement with the Qataris.
  • The French and Qataris had insisted on framing the deal as the initiative of a civilian body, and the public introduction of the prime minister to the equation is said to have caused its delay.
  • Israeli doctors have raised concerns about the hostages taking their medication without professional supervision and at the same dosage they received prior to their kidnap. “Restarting medications after such a long period of malnutrition, lack of sleep and sunlight could require dosage adjustments that only a qualified medical professional would be knowledgeable about and could guide a patient on,” Prof. Alon Hershko, a chair at Hadassah Medical Centre told the Times of Israel.
  • Since their capture on October 7, there has been much Israeli and international criticism of the ICRC for not gaining access to the hostages to assess their well-being.
  • The medication deal is not thought, at this stage, to be a precursor to a further hostage release deal. Publicly, Hamas continues to insist that further releases are contingent on a full cease-fire being declared, something Israel rejects.
  • The Israeli government continues to reinforce its dual objectives of destroying Hamas’s military capacity and bring about the release of the hostages.
  • IDF Spokesperson Hagari related to the hostages in his briefing on Wednesday evening saying, “we are making every effort to produce intelligence about the hostages and adjust the operational activity according to the intelligence available to us. It must be said to the public - there is no complete picture of the hostages. We are in a continuous intelligence effort to complete this picture, to build it, to achieve it all the time.”
  • In total over 250 people were kidnapped on October 7. 121 have so far been extricated, while 136 remain in captivity. Of those it is estimated at least 27 are no longer alive.     
  • Today marks the first birthday of the youngest hostage, Kfir Bibas, taken along with his mother and four-year-old brother. In further torment for their extended family, it is unclear if they are still alive. 
  • Although meeting the criteria of the women and children released in November, none of the Bibas family members were freed. Instead, Hamas forced the father Yarden Bibas (held separately) to appear in a propaganda video saying his wife and two young children had been killed in an airstrike. There is no evidence to ascertain if this is accurate.
  • As per yesterday’s BICOM briefing, the Israeli war cabinet is seemingly divided between those, like Benny Gantz and Gabi Eisenkot, who are prepared to consider ending the fighting if it means the return of the hostages, and others, such as Ron Dermer and Gallant who insist that the fighting must continue.
  • Gallant said yesterday, “we are continuing the fighting until victory. Until we pound the Hamas organisation, until we strip it of all its major military capabilities and remove them from power in Gaza. On the issue of hostages too, we have no right to stop the fighting as long as there are hostages in Gaza.”
  • Elsewhere, according to reports from US network NBC, US frustrations with Netanyahu have led the Biden Administration to begin to work together with a number of Israeli figures on the implementation of a Palestinian-Saudi plan for the post-Netanyahu era.
  • Netanyahu has reportedly rejected a proposal from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken which would see Saudi Arabia normalise relations with Israel in return for Israel’s cooperation with a pathway towards a two-state solution.
  • Blinken’s proposal is said to have come after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and four other Arab leaders confirmed to him that they would also be prepared to fund Gazan reconstruction and support the return of a reformed Palestinian Authority to Gaza.
  • Prior to October 7, the Saudi normalisation deal was thought to be at a relatively advanced stage. The process had been a major priority of the Biden administration, and scuppering it a principle strategic goal of Hamas and its Iranian paymaster.

Looking ahead: Chief of Staff Halevi has said that war in the north is now a more likely proposition. “I don’t know when there will be war in the north,” he said. “I do know that I can tell you that the likelihood of this happening in the next few months is much higher than it was in the past. I can tell you that I think that we will be starting it with a lot more advantages, with a lot of experience and a lot of capabilities and with surprises, and when we have to, we will go forward with all our might.”

  • It is thought that even in the event of a ceasefire, Hamas would not agree to release all remaining hostages, and that it would keep at least some as an insurance policy against Israeli attempts to assassinate its top leaders.
  • This afternoon the extended Bibas family and supporters are gathering at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv  to further highlight the family’s ongoing trauma.

via BICom