MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 17 OCTOBER 2023
Biden weighs up trip to Israel; Gaza close to ‘breaking point’, says EU official
US President Joe Biden is considering a trip to Israel in the wake of the Middle East crisis. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also returned to Israel to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after talks with Arab governments. A top European official said the situation in Gaza was near ‘breaking point’.
Russian President Vladimir Putin held a call with the leaders of Egypt, Syria, Iran and the Palestinian Authority to discuss the conflict, and the Kremlin said there was a “unanimous opinion” on the need for an urgent ceasefire. Putin spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israel says it’s keeping open an internal corridor for evacuation of the northern Gaza Strip, with more than 600,000 people having already left for the south. The 7 October attacks by Hamas — designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union — have killed at least 1,400 Israelis. Palestinian officials say Israel airstrikes have killed more than 2,700 people in Gaza.
- A million Gazans have nowhere to hide
- France is on edge after Israel-Hamas war reopens old scars
- US diplomacy calms emerging markets as Israel stocks rebound
- Israel opens another ‘safe passage’ for Gazans to move south
Gaza close to ‘breaking point’, says EU official
The humanitarian situation is “about to reach breaking point” in Gaza, warned the EU’s commissioner for crisis management, Janez Lenarcic.
Lenarcic said the EU was launching an air bridge operation, with the first two flights due this week. He called for the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt to be opened immediately, and said relief workers must be allowed to do their jobs.
Biden receives Israel briefing as he weighs up foreign trip
US President Joe Biden received a briefing from national security officials as he considered travelling to Israel. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Central Intelligence Agency Director Bill Burns led the briefing. Biden scrapped a planned trip to Colorado on Monday in order to remain in Washington to monitor the situation.
Putin holds calls with Netanyahu, regional leaders
Putin held a call with four Middle Eastern leaders — the presidents of Egypt, Iran, Syria and the Palestinian Authority — to discuss the Israel-Hamas war, the Kremlin said.
“There was a unanimous opinion on the need for an urgent ceasefire and the establishment of a humanitarian truce,” the Kremlin said in the statement. Russia said it was ready to coordinate efforts to stop the hostilities. Putin held a separate phone call with Netanyahu.
At least 1,200 Palestinians believed trapped under Gaza rubble
Gaza’s Health Ministry says at least 1,200 Palestinians have been trapped under the rubble of buildings destroyed by Israeli airstrikes.
“We hope some of them may still be alive,” ministry spokesperson Asjraf Al-Qidra told reporters, noting that those trapped include about 500 children. He said the death toll, which on Monday stood at 2,778, covered only those who arrived at hospitals and were identified by families. About 9,940 Palestinians have been wounded.
Israeli currency falls past four per dollar
Currency traders pushed the shekel to an eight-year low and briefly past the symbolic threshold of 4four per dollar, testing the central bank’s resolve to contain market fallout from Israel’s war with Hamas.
The session on Monday was shaping up as the worst day for the currency since the immediate aftermath of the attack by Hamas on Israel. The shekel weakened by as much as 0.6% to 4.0014 against the dollar for a sixth day of declines.
Netanyahu warns against opening new fighting fronts
“Don’t test us in the north,” Netanyahu said in a speech to parliament, a warning to Iran and the militant group Hezbollah to not open a new fighting front along the border with Lebanon.
Earlier, Israel’s army said it was evacuating residents close to the border with Lebanon to allow for potential military action. The evacuation of Israelis living within 2km of the border aimed to reduce the risks and allow more freedom for a potential operation against Hezbollah, said Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari.
The IDF said 199 people were taken hostages and believed to have been transferred to Gaza.
Iran says time for political solutions is running out
“The time for political solutions is running out and the possible expansion of the war on other fronts is approaching the inevitable stage,” Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian wrote on X.
Earlier, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said the opening of new fronts in the war may not be limited to a single border and “could be as broad as Palestine’s geography”. Iran doesn’t recognise Israel, which borders Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt as well as the Palestinian Territories.
“Resistance” fighters that Iran is in touch with can sustain their fight against Israel for a long time, Kanaani said. Iran calls Hamas, Hezbollah and other armed groups in the region that are fighting against Israel “the resistance axis”.
France in contact with Israel to allow Gaza aid
France was in contact with Israeli officials to ensure the passage of humanitarian aid to Gaza, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said during a press conference with her Egyptian counterpart in Cairo. She added the country was allocating €10-million for humanitarian work in Gaza.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said that, while Cairo had been looking to allow aid into Gaza, Israel had not “taken a stand” that would allow his country to open the Rafah crossing with Gaza.
Scholz to meet Netanyahu during visit to Israel
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Israel on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a person familiar with the plan.
Scholz will then travel to Egypt, where he will meet President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Wednesday, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information.
EU leaders to discuss next steps in conflict
European Union leaders plan to use a virtual meeting on Tuesday evening to discuss the next steps to be taken to address the crisis in Israel and Gaza, as well as to align more closely on their messaging, according to an EU official.
The video conference comes after a confused week of messaging from EU officials about the status of Palestinian aid, as well as criticism from some officials that EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was stepping beyond the limits of her role in issuing foreign-policy stances for the bloc.
Over 100 trucks ready to cross into Gaza, says Egypt aid group
Convoys of humanitarian aid were lined up in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula Gaza Strip, waiting to cross into Gaza, according to the CEO of the Egyptian Food Bank. About 2,000 tonnes of supplies were loaded on 115 trucks that were waiting for the green light to enter Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing. Six cargo planes’ worth of supplies from other countries were also waiting to enter when the crossing opens. DM
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