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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 16 OCTOBER 2023

US confident Egypt-Gaza border will open for humanitarian aid; Israeli jets strike Hezbollah in Lebanon

US confident Egypt-Gaza border will open for humanitarian aid; Israeli jets strike Hezbollah in Lebanon
Israeli armoured fighting vehicles manoeuvre at an area along the border with Gaza, southern Israel, on 15 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Abir Sultan)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was confident Egypt’s border with Gaza would be opened to allow humanitarian aid to come in. The top US diplomat returns to Israel on Monday following a round of talks across the region aimed at heading off a widening of the Israel-Hamas conflict. The US also said it has held talks with Iran through back channels — warning Tehran against escalating the conflict.

Rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and southern Israel overnight, and the Israel Defense Forces attacked targets in and around the northern part of Gaza. An exchange of fire grew more intense on Israel’s border with Lebanon, with Israeli army jets striking Hezbollah’s military infrastructure in response to rocket attacks.

Moroccans took to the streets to demand the kingdom cut ties with Israel, which were restored in 2020, and bank shares led a slide in the Israeli stock market to multiyear lows.

Latest developments

Blinken confident Egypt’s Gaza border will be opened for aid  

The US is confident Egypt’s border with Gaza will be opened to allow in crucial humanitarian aid, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters in Cairo.

“Rafah will be open,” the top US diplomat said after meeting President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi. “We’re putting in place with the United Nations, with Egypt, with Israel a mechanism by which to get assistance in.” A US envoy, David Satterfield, would be in Egypt on Monday to work out practical details, Blinken said.

Biden says it’s not an either/or choice on Israel, Ukraine 

President Joe Biden said the US had the “capacity” and “obligation” to provide assistance to both Ukraine and Israel, as the White House prepares to roll out a supplemental funding package with aid for both nations in the coming week.

“We’re the United States of America for God’s sake,” Biden said in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes. “We can take care of both of these and still maintain our overall international defence.”

Israel jets strike Hezbollah in Lebanon

The Israeli military launched airstrikes on Hezbollah military infrastructure in Lebanon, while Israeli soldiers fired shots near the borders with Lebanon in response to gunfire, the Israel Defense Forces said. Hezbollah, the Iran-funded group that operates from Lebanon, attacked five Israeli sites near Lebanese borders after it had launched missiles at Israeli army barracks in Hanita, the militant group’s Al Manar TV reported.

Minister confirms decision to turn on water in southern Gaza  

Israel has decided to open the water supply at a specific point in southern Gaza, said Israel Katz, minister of energy and infrastructure. The decision was agreed to by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Biden, he said.

Israel has been urging the population in northern Gaza to relocate to the south for their safety.

Israel’s response has exceeded self-defence – El-Sisi 

Israel’s response to Hamas’ attacks last weekend had “exceeded self-defence” and reached the level of collective punishment, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi said on Sunday as he met with Antony Blinken in Cairo.

The Egyptian leader said that while Egypt condemned the violence over the past nine days, “we also need to understand this is the result of an accumulation of anger that’s built up” over the past four decades.

Israel says it can weather economic impact of war 

While there’s no target exchange rate for the Israeli central bank’s programme to sell up to $30-billion in foreign exchange, the bank would aim to make sure there were “no unnecessary fluctuations or overshooting”, said Governor Amir Yaron.

Addressing the G30 forum in Marrakech, Yaron said that while every war “has a considerable economic dimension”, with appropriate budget adjustment, “there should be no major changes to Israel’s fundamental fiscal position”.

Read more: Israel hopes it will avoid rating cut on war, at least for now

US held back-channel talks with Iran – Sullivan 

The US has held back-channel talks with Iran to warn against escalating the conflict in Israel, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Sunday.

“We have means of communicating privately with Iran, and we have availed ourselves of those means over the past few days,” Sullivan said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Iran’s Raisi warns Macron on widening conflict 

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict with French President Emmanuel Macron in a call on Sunday.

Raisi was quoted by Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency as warning that “the scene will expand” if Israel’s siege of Gaza doesn’t stop.

Blinken will return to Israel on Monday 

Blinken will return to Israel on Monday for further consultations with senior officials there, his spokesperson said.

The top US diplomat was previously in Israel on Thursday as part of a frenetic tour of the region that included stops in Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates as well as Saudi Arabia, as the Biden administration tries to limit the threat of a spreading conflict in the Middle East.

Blinken meets Saudi crown prince

Blinken travelled to Riyadh on Sunday for an hour-long talk with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the top US diplomat deemed “very productive”.

MBS highlighted Riyadh’s diplomatic outreach “to calm the situation”, the official Saudi Press Agency reported. Saudi Arabia has called for respect to international humanitarian law in the conflict. including lifting the siege on Gaza.

Israel’s TA-35 stock index down 3.3% as war enters second week  

Israel’s TA-35 stock index fell sharply on Sunday as Israel continued to strike back against Hamas targets and tensions rose on the northern border with Hezbollah. The index was down by 3.3% in the early afternoon, having reached the lowest levels since mid-2021.

Banking stocks led the decline. The sector was down 12.3% last week “on account of volatility concerns,” the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange said.

Other Middle Eastern markets were narrowly mixed.

Egypt looks to host regional summit on Palestine issue  

Egypt has sent invitations for a proposed regional summit to address the Palestinian issue, its presidency said on Sunday. The statement provided no details on who was invited or potential dates.

Egypt’s government was intensifying communications with regional and international relief organisations to deliver the aid needed in the Gaza Strip, according to the statement.

Moroccans push to sever Israel ties in mass protest 

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Rabat, Morocco’s capital, demanding King Mohammed VI sever ties with Israel which were restored in 2020.

The marchers denounced as “barbaric” ongoing military intervention by Israel in Gaza and demanded the closing of its liaison office in the Moroccan capital.

UK foreign minister urges Israel to show restraint 

James Cleverly called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza and respect international law in any military operations against Hamas, saying his “strong advice” was being offered from “a position of friendship”.

It was in Israel’s interest to avoid civilian casualties because Hamas wanted to turn the conflict “into a wider Arab-Israeli war, or indeed a war between the Muslim world and the wider world”, the UK foreign minister said on Sky News.

His comments came hours after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK stood unequivocally with Israel, making no mention of the plight facing Palestinian civilians.

Gaza death toll reaches 2,300

The number of people killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza had reached more than 2,300, local authorities said, with thousands more wounded in the past eight days.

This now outnumbers the death toll of the 51-day Israel-Hamas war of 2014, according to Ashraf Al-Qedra, a spokesperson for the Gaza health ministry.

The 2014 war killed more than 2,200 Palestinians, according to UN figures. At the time it was the deadliest and most destructive violence since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip.

US to ship out some citizens from Israel 

The US government was assisting US nationals and their immediate family members with a valid travel document to depart Haifa via sea for Cyprus on Monday, 16 October, according to a statement on the US Embassy in Israel website.

Israel says it killed Hamas military leader  

The Israeli military said on Sunday its fighter jets killed the Hamas military leader responsible for the attack on one of Israel’s communities last Saturday, Kibbutz Nirim. In a statement, the military said this occurred on Saturday night during operations that also took out Hamas rocket launchers.

It said the man was the commander of the Nukhba forces in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Nukhba is the elite Hamas military unit that Israel says trained and led the 7 October attack. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist group by the US and the European Union.

Rockets fired at Tel Aviv, southern Israel 

Rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and southern Israel overnight, Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israel Defence Forces, said in a briefing on X. The IDF was still attacking Hamas targets in and around the northern part of the Gaza Strip, he said.

Israeli forces were deployed along the Gaza Strip and preparing for the next stage of operations, he said. There would be “significant military activity” in the northern part of the strip, he said, reiterating a call for civilians to move to the south.

“The next stage of operations will be enhanced operations against Hamas,” Conricus said.

Israel acknowledges reports of Gaza activity

Israel confirmed for the first time that there were intelligence indications of something happening in Gaza two hours before the attacks last week. The head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, spoke to military personnel about the reports, said Tzachi Hanegbi, head of Israel’s National Security Council.

“Both sides assessed that this is something other than it turned out to be,” he said. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Is there not a simple solution – Egypt and Jordan simply allow innocent Palestinians from Gaza refuge? By refusing this, are they not complicit?

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