The Israeli soldiers stand rifles in hand, arm over shoulder, speaking to the camera. Behind them is the shell of a Gazan building.
“We are here adding light after the black sabbath that the people of Israel had,” one of the men says in the video, circulating on Telegram. “We are occupying, deporting, and settling. Occupying, deporting, and settling. Did you hear that Bibi? Occupying, deporting, and settling.”
JERUSALEM (AP) — A member of Israel's War Cabinet cast doubt on the country's strategy for releasing hostages held by Hamas, saying only a cease-fire can free them, as the prime minister rejected the United States' calls to scale back its offensive.
The comments by Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief, marked the latest sign of disagreement among top Israeli officials over the direction of the war against Hamas, now in its fourth month.
In his first public statements on the course of the war, Eisenkot said that claims the dozens of hostages could be freed by means other than a cease-fire amounted to spreading “illusions” — an implicit criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who heads the five-member War Cabinet and who insists that pursuing the war will win their release.
Eisenkot's statements came as some relatives of hostages have intensified their protests, a sign of mounting frustration over the government's seeming lack of progress toward a deal to release the remaining captives.
Eli Shtivi, whose 28-year-old son Idan has been held in Gaza since he was kidnapped by Hamas militants from the open-air Tribe of Nova music festival on Oct. 7., began a hunger strike Friday night outside Netanyahu’s private residence in the coastal town of Caesarea. Shtivi pledged to eat only a quarter of a pita a day — the reported daily meal of the hostages — until the prime minister agrees to meet with him. Dozens of people joined him for what organizers said was an overnight protest.
The day before, rifle-toting Israeli police scuffled with protesters who blocked a major highway in Tel Aviv to call for an immediate deal to release the hostages. Police detained seven protesters overnight, according to Israeli media.
Meanwhile, communications began to gradually return in Gaza after a nearly eight-day blackout, the longest such cutoff since the war began. The phone and internet blackout made it nearly impossible for people in Gaza to communicate with the outside world or within the territory, hampering deliveries of humanitarian aid and rescue efforts amid continued Israeli bombardment.
For the past week, Gaza residents have struggled to get a signal on their phones. Many head to the beach, where some can pick up a non-Palestinian network. With families scattered across the tiny Mediterranean territory, networks are critical to make sure relatives are still alive as Israeli airstrikes crush homes.
“The people behind me came to check on their friends, family and loved ones," said Karam Mezre, referring to others sitting with him on a rock at the beach in central Gaza, scanning their phones.
Even when communications return, "it is intermittent and not stable,” said Hamza Al-Barasi, who was displaced from Gaza City.
The blackout has also made it difficult for information to get out of Gaza on the daily death and destruction from Israel's offensive. The assault has pulverized much of the Gaza Strip, home to some 2.3 million people, as Israel vows to crush Hamas after its unprecedented Oct. 7 raid into Israel. In the attack, about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and 250 others taken hostage. Israel has said more than 130 hostages remain in Gaza, but not all of them are believed to be alive.
Israel’s offensive, one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history, has killed nearly 25,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and uprooted more than 80% of the territory’s population.
Israel has also cut off all but a trickle of supplies into the besieged territory, including food, water and fuel, causing what U.N. officials say is a humanitarian disaster.
The United States, Israel’s closest ally, has provided strong military and political support for the campaign, but has increasingly called on Israel to scale back its assault and take steps toward establishing a Palestinian state after the war — a suggestion Netanyahu has soundly rejected.
Speaking during a nationally televised news conference Thursday, Netanyahu reiterated his longstanding opposition to a two-state solution, saying Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River.”
On Friday, President Joe Biden and Netanyahu spoke by phone after a glaring, almost four-week gap in direct communication amid fundamental differences over their visions for Gaza once the war ends.
Biden, for his part, in Friday’s call reaffirmed his commitment to work toward helping the Palestinians move toward statehood.
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have also said the fighting will continue until Hamas is crushed, and argue that only military action can win the hostages’ release.
But commentators have begun to question whether Netanyahu’s objectives are realistic, given the slow pace of the offensive and growing international criticism, including genocide accusations at the United Nations world court, which Israel vehemently denies. Critics accuse Netanyahu of trying to avoid looming investigations of governmental failures, keep his coalition intact and put off elections. Polls show that the popularity of Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has plummeted during the war.
Speaking to the investigative program “Uvda” on Israel’s Channel 12 television, Eisenkot said the Israeli hostages "will only return alive if there is a deal, linked to a significant pause in fighting.” He said dramatic rescue operations are unlikely because the hostages are apparently spread out, many of them in underground tunnels.
Claiming hostages can be freed by means other than a deal “is to spread illusions,” said Eisenkot, whose son was killed in December while fighting in Gaza.
Defense Minister Gallant has said troops disabled the Hamas command structure in northern Gaza, from which significant numbers of troops were withdrawn earlier in the week, and that the focus is now on the southern half of the territory.
But Eisenkot also dismissed suggestions that the military has delivered a decisive blow against Hamas.
“We haven’t yet reached a strategic achievement, or rather only partially,” Eisenkot said. “We did not bring down Hamas.”
The militant group has continued to fight back across Gaza, even in the most devastated areas, and launched rockets into Israel.
In his interview, Eisenkot also confirmed that a preemptive strike against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia was called off at the last minute during the early days of the war. He said he was among those arguing against such a strike in an Oct. 11 Cabinet meeting that he said left him hoarse from shouting.
Such an attack would have been a “strategic mistake” and would likely have triggered a regional war, Eisenkot said.
In a thinly veiled criticism of Netanyahu, Eisenkot also said strategic decisions about the war’s direction must be made urgently and that a discussion about an endgame should have started immediately after the war began.
He said he examines every day whether he should remain in the War Cabinet, which also includes Netanyahu, Gallant, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Ron Dermer, strategic affairs minister in the Netanyahu government. Eisenkot is a parliament member from the opposition National Unity alliance headed by Gantz.
“I know what my red line is,” Eisenkot said when asked at what point he would quit. “It’s connected to the hostages, that is one of the objectives, but it’s also connected to the way in which we need to run this war.”
The war has rippled across the Middle East, with Iranian-backed groups attacking U.S. and Israeli targets. Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon threatens to erupt into all-out war, and Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen continue to target international shipping despite U.S.-led airstrikes.
The United States conducted a sixth strike against Houthi rebels in Yemen on Friday, taking out anti-ship missile launchers that were prepared to fire, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations. President Joe Biden has acknowledged that bombing the militants has yet to stop their attacks on shipping in the crucial Red Sea corridor.
Jobain reported from Rafah, Gaza Strip, and Mroue reported from Beirut.
***From Rolling Stone:***Nancy Pelosi suggested that Russia may be funding pro-Palestinian protesters who have been interrupting Democratic campaign events, saying that some calling for a ceasefire are promoting “Putin’s message.”Protesters disrupted Pelosi’s appearance in Seattle on Thursday to call for an end to Israel‘s assault on Palestine. Vocal demonstrators have also been appearing regularly at President Joe Biden’s events. Pelosi said that she would like the FBI to investigate whether Russia is financing these groups.Read more: [https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/pelosi-fbi-pro-palestine-protesters-russia-1234955648/](https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/pelosi-fbi-pro-palestine-protesters-russia-1234955648/)
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's military announced it would review the shooting of a Palestinian man who was killed in the Gaza Strip while walking in a group of people waving a white flag, saying footage of the episode raised concerns of possible wrongdoing by soldiers.
A video shows a group of five men walking slowly down a street in an area west of the southern city of Khan Younis, a current focus of Israel's ground offensive.
As clouds of dark smoke billow overhead, the men hold their hands in the air. One waves a white flag, an international symbol of surrender.
Suddenly, shots ring out, killing Ramzi Abu Sahloul, a 51-year-old Palestinian shopkeeper, who was part of the group.
The shooter is not seen in the video. But before the shots are fired, the camera pans, showing what looks to be an Israeli tank positioned nearby. Ahmed Hijazi, a citizen journalist who filmed the episode, told The Associated Press that an Israeli tank fired on the group.
“After the soldiers shot him, I rushed to help, but the firing continued toward us,” Hijazi said.
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An Israeli military official said Sunday that the army was reviewing the shooting, which took place Jan. 22.
The official said the video, first broadcast by CNN, had helped authorities understand that there were military forces in the area and that there might possible wrongdoing by soldiers. The British channel ITV earlier had aired a similar video.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because there had not yet been an announcement, would not say whether a formal investigation would take place.
The military says forces take great care to verify targets before they strike.
In the video, Hijazi interviewed Abu Sahloul shortly before he was shot. Abu Sahloul said that the group of men was trying to reach relatives whom they had left behind earlier in the day while evacuating their home in southern Gaza.
“The Israelis came to us and told us to evacuate, but they didn’t let my brother out,” Abu Sahloul says. “We want to go and try to get them, God willing.”
Within seconds, Abu Sahloul is shot dead. The other men quickly grab his body and rush back in the direction from which they came. The men declined to be interviewed for fear of retribution.
Palestinians and human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of using disproportionate or indiscriminate force in its Gaza offensive, leading to heavy civilian casualties. They say that even when such killings are caught on video, military investigations rarely result in indictments of the soldiers involved.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, over 26,000 Palestinians have been killed by a blistering Israeli ground and air offensive, according to health officials in Hamas-run Gaza. They do not differentiate between civilians and combatants but say two-thirds of the dead are women and minors.
Israel launched the offensive in response to an Oct. 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel in which militants killed 1,200 Palestinians and brought some 250 hostages back to Gaza.
Israel says that Hamas fighters have embedded themselves within civilian infrastructure, making it difficult to destroy the militant group without harming civilians. It says over 9,000 militants have been killed, though it hasn't released evidence to back the claim.
Abu Sahloul’s widow, 50-year-old Hanan Abu Sahloul, said that in the hours before last week's shooting, the army had entered a building where the family was sheltering along with over 300 others. She said that Israeli forces ordered residents to leave without their belongings.
“When I tried to take my bag, a soldier aimed his gun at my head and ordered me to leave it,” she said.
In the video taken by Hijazi, Hanan Abu Sahloul can be seen running toward her husband, screaming, while the group of men hastily haul his limp body back toward safety.
As gunshots continue to ring out, a bloodstain quickly spreads over her husband’s chest, dark red quickly enveloping the white flag that one of the other men placed on his chest.
“He was immediately killed — without even a few breaths to say goodbye,” Hanan Abu Sahloul said.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Israel-Hamas war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war
DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Hamas' response to the latest plan for a cease-fire in Gaza and the release of hostages was “generally positive,” key mediator Qatar said Tuesday, as the militant group reiterated its demand for an end to the war, something Israel has thus far ruled out.
Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdurrahman Al Thani announced the response during a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said he would brief Israeli leaders on it Wednesday when he meets with them.
Blinken, who met with Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the day before, said the Saudis still have a “strong interest” in normalizing relations with Israel but require an end to the war and a “clear, credible, time-bound path to the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Qatar, which has long mediated with Hamas, has been working with the U.S. and Egypt to broker a cease-fire that would involve a halt in fighting for several weeks and the release of the over 100 hostages still held by Hamas after its Oct. 7 cross-border raid that ignited the war.
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Hamas said in a statement that it responded in a “positive spirit” to the latest proposal. But the militant group said it still seeks “a comprehensive and complete” cease-fire to end “the aggression against our people.” Hamas is also expected to demand the release of a large number of Palestinian prisoners, including high-profile militants, in exchange for the hostages.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out both demands, saying Israel is committed to continuing its offensive until “total victory” over Hamas and to returning all the hostages. He has also dismissed U.S. calls for the creation of a Palestinian state.
When asked by reporters, President Joe Biden said Hamas' response “seems to be a little over the top” but that negotiations would go on.
A U.S. official said Blinken was told the Hamas response was delivered to Qatar just an hour before his meeting with the prime minister. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Blinken acknowledged “there's still a lot of work to be done.” But he said he still believed an agreement on the hostages was possible and that a pathway to more lasting peace and security in the region was “coming ever more sharply into focus.”
“We know the immense benefits that would come for everyone concerned with Israel’s further integration into the region, starting with the benefits for Israel,” Blinken said. “That’s something that Israelis will have to decide for themselves."
“All of this requires difficult, hard decisions, made all the more challenging given the focus on the conflict in Gaza,” Blinken said.
Netanyahu's office said the Hamas response had been delivered to Israel's Mossad spy agency and was being “thoroughly evaluated.”
WAR GRINDS ON IN GAZA
The Palestinian death toll from nearly four months of war has reached 27,585, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. The ministry does not distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count but says most of the dead have been women and children.
The war has leveled vast swaths of the tiny enclave and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.
Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, in the Oct. 7 attack and abducted around 250. More than 100 captives, mostly women and children, were released during a weeklong cease-fire in November in exchange for the release of 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.
The Israeli military said Tuesday it was battling militants in areas across the Gaza Strip, including the southern city of Khan Younis. It said troops killed dozens of militants over the past day, without providing evidence.
An Israeli airstrike in the city hit an apartment building, killing two parents and four of their five children, according to the children's grandfather.
Mahmoud al-Khatib said his 41-year-old son, Tariq, was sleeping along with his family when an Israeli warplane bombed their apartment in the middle of the night. The Israeli military rarely comments on individual strikes but blames Hamas for civilians deaths because it fights in residential areas.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS PERSISTS
U.N. humanitarian monitors said Tuesday that Israel’s evacuation orders in the Gaza Strip now cover two-thirds of the territory, or 246 square kilometers (95 square miles). The affected area was home to 1.78 million Palestinians, or 77% of Gaza’s population, before the war.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said in its daily report that the newly displaced have only about 1.5 to 2 liters (50 to 67 ounces) of water per day to drink, cook and wash. It also reported a significant increase in chronic diarrhea among children.
Parents of babies face a particularly difficult challenge because of the high cost or lack of diapers, baby formula and milk.
Zainab Al-Zein, who is sheltering in the central town of Deir al-Balah, said she had to feed her 2.5-month-old daughter solid food, such as biscuits and ground rice, well ahead of the typical 6-month mark because milk and formula were not available.
“This is known, of course, as unhealthy eating, and we know that it causes her intestinal distress, bloating and colic," al-Zein said. “As you can see, 24 hours like this, she cries and cries continuously.”
Shurafa reported from Deir al-Balah, Gaza Strip.
Dose damn dem chaos agents at it again. Who here is tired of winning?https://www.cnn.com/2024/02/06/politics/house-vote-israel-aid-package/index.html
WASHINGTON (AP) — A new directive by President Joe Biden appeared to ease a split among Democrats over his military support for Israel's war in Gaza, with lawmakers on Friday praising the order authorizing a swift cutoff of military aid to countries that violate international protections of civilians.
For Biden, the commitment to conditioning U.S. military aid for Israel and other allies and strategic partners will help him shore up support among center-left Senate Democrats for his proposed $95 billion supplemental assistance package, which is aimed primarily at military aid for Ukraine in its war with Russia and for Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza.
Democratic senators on Friday called Biden's directive — meant to bring breadth, oversight, deadlines and teeth to efforts to ensure foreign governments don't use U.S. military aid against civilians — historic.
“This is a sea-change in terms of how you approach U.S. military aid and its impact on civilians,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said. She spoke at a Capitol news conference with other Democrats who'd negotiated with the White House for two months on the matter, in an effort led by Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
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Human rights advocates said the challenge for the new directive would be the same faced by all previous efforts to withhold U.S. weapons and funding from human rights abusers — whether administrations will actually enforce the human rights conditions against strategically important allies and partners.
“The issue was never knowledge” of U.S. military aid being used in violation of international law “so much as enforcement,” said Kenneth Roth, a former head of Human Rights Watch and a visiting professor at Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
The new order comes in what's officially known as a presidential memorandum. Those have the force of law, although succeeding presidents can overturn them.
Biden's order has immediate effect. It gives Secretary of State Antony Blinken 45 days to obtain “credible and reliable written assurances” from foreign recipients of U.S. military aid that are in active conflicts, which includes Israel and Ukraine, that they are using U.S. military assistance in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law and other standards.
Foreign governments that fail to provide those assurances on time would have their military aid paused. Administrations also have the option of suspending U.S. military assistance if they deem a foreign government isn't really complying with humanitarian law and protections, despite claiming it is.
Other requirements include regular reports from the administration on compliance going forward. That includes countries not actively fighting a war.
The supply of air defense systems and some other defensive gear is exempted. While supporters say the stringent language of the order will limit the ability of presidential administrations to evade the spirit of the measure, the order does allow administrations to waive the requirements in “rare and extraordinary circumstances.”
The Biden administration has frustrated some Senate Democrats during Israel’s war in Gaza by declaring a national security emergency to rush military aid to Israel, skirting the usual process of congressional notification.
The administration also has quietly lobbied against moves by independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and others to attach conditions to military aid to Israel in the supplemental legislation, with the idea of pressuring Israel to do more to spare Palestinian civilians.
Nearly 28,000 Palestinians, two-thirds of them women and children, have been killed since Israel launched its military campaign in Gaza. That followed the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas that killed about 1,200 people in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has not appeared to have substantially backed off on airstrikes daily claiming civilian lives despite the pressure from the United States, its most important ally and military supporter. The U.S. is also frustrated at Israel's restrictions on humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza. Biden this week said some of his strongest criticism of Israel's conduct of the war, calling it “over the top.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre underscored Friday that the administration is “not imposing new standards for military aid” with the memorandum. She said it was done in the interest of improving transparency.
She added that Israeli officials were briefed on the memorandum before its release.
“They reiterated their willingness to provide these types of assurances,” Jean-Pierre said.
The U.S. already has laws — including the Foreign Assistance Act and the Leahy Law — meant to bar security assistance to governments that are serial human rights abusers. Those “are honored in the breach,” Roth, the human rights expert, said.
“If the administration is so indifferent to existing law, it's not clear what difference a new set of reports will make,” Roth said.
The Democratic senators said Friday they would continue working to strengthen the new system laid out in the order.
That includes seeking funding for the additional government oversight and codifying it into legislation so it's harder for future presidents to trash.
“This is a very big deal,” Van Hollen said. “And it will give President Biden and the United States more tools and more leverage ... to ensure that U.S. military assistance complies with American values and American" standards.
Seung Min Kim contributed to this report.