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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 19 OCTOBER 2023

Biden pledges ‘unprecedented support’ for Israel; US vetoes resolution at UN Security Council

Biden pledges ‘unprecedented support’ for Israel; US vetoes resolution at UN Security Council
US President Joe Biden (left) during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, on 18 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Miriam Alster / Pool)

US President Joe Biden said he would ask Congress this week for ‘unprecedented support’ for Israel as it prepares to crush Hamas, but also announced $100m in US humanitarian aid for residents of Gaza and the West Bank.

During a brief visit to Tel Aviv, US President Joe Biden said he’d been shown evidence by the Pentagon suggesting Israel wasn’t responsible for the deadly blast at a Gaza City hospital on Tuesday night, which killed hundreds according to officials in the Hamas-run territory, and threatened to plunge the region into chaos. Israel and Hamas — designated a terrorist group by the US and Europe — have traded accusations over who was to blame.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

The US vetoed a resolution at the United Nations Security Council that called for “humanitarian pauses” to enable aid delivery to Gaza because the Brazilian proposal didn’t mention Israel’s right to self-defence.

Latest developments

Boeing speeds delivery of GPS kits for Israel 

Boeing is speeding delivery to Israel of as many as 1,800 kits that convert unguided bombs into precision munitions, according to congressional aides and a US official.

The Joint Attack Direct Munition, or JDAM, kits were pledged under a 2021 deal worth some $735-million. They were due to be delivered over several years, but that timetable has now been accelerated. The kits are for bombs of 227kg and heavier.

Biden’s Israel envoy pick to push forward on Saudi deal 

Jack Lew, Biden’s nominee for ambassador to Israel, told a Senate panel on Wednesday he would advance pre-war negotiations to normalise ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia after the conflict ends.

The Biden administration, prior to the Hamas attacks on 7 October, was pursuing a deal aimed at Saudi recognition of Israel in exchange for US security guarantees for Riyadh. Saudi Arabia paused the discussions amid the violence between Hamas and Israel, Bloomberg News reported.

“It was the mission I thought I was going over to start with,” Lew told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a Wednesday hearing. “I dearly pray we get back to that mission.”

EU expedites ability to fine social media platforms 

The European Commission is speeding up the ability to fine tech companies for not doing enough to tackle illegal and gruesome content, as well as disinformation, in light of the conflict.

“As part of our discussions with the platforms, we have specifically asked them to prepare for the risk of live-streaming executions by Hamas — an imminent risk from which we must protect our citizens,” Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton told the European Parliament.

Breton didn’t give a date when the commission aims to set up the European Digital Services Committee, which was originally expected in mid-February next year. That’s a key step in allowing the commission to investigate and fine companies that don’t follow the Digital Service Act rules. He also proposed an international cooperation mechanism to speed up responses and channel evidence to the commission.

Israel sets conditions on Gaza aid 

The Israeli government said it would allow humanitarian aid into southern Gaza from Egypt as long as it can be sure none will be diverted to Hamas.

The government said it had agreed to allow deliveries of food, water and medicine for the civilian population in the south. Last week, Israel told residents of northern Gaza to move to the south as it continued airstrikes and prepared a ground offensive.

Israel also demanded that the Red Cross be given access to hostages held in Gaza by Hamas, amid calls for the relief group to be allowed in to help residents there.

Biden says Israel agreed to let aid into Gaza

The US asked Israel to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza from Egypt and the government agreed, Biden said.

Israel won’t prevent the flow of food and water to those in southern Gaza, Biden said before departing. Supplies to the region have been largely cut off since the 7 October attacks by Hamas on Israel, causing a growing humanitarian crisis in the densely populated territory.

Biden also announced $100-million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and the West Bank.

US vetoes UN Security Council resolution on Israel-Hamas 

The US vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution on the war submitted by Brazil. The UK and Russia abstained in the vote, and the remaining 12 members approved. The proposal called for “humanitarian pauses” to allow aid delivery to Gaza. It also condemned the attacks by Hamas, referred to the group as “terrorists” and demanded the immediate release of civilian hostages, according to Brazilian officials.

The US vetoed the measure because it did not mention Israel’s right of self defence, said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, according to the international body’s website.

Protests at Egypt’s crossing to Gaza as aid still blocked 

Aid workers staged a protest at Egypt’s border crossing with Gaza, as hundreds of tonnes of crucial humanitarian assistance remained blocked from entering the besieged territory.

“We’re staying until aid goes in,” they chanted at the gates of Rafah, the sole official entry point to the territory not controlled by Israel. The World Health Organization’s chief on Wednesday complained of supplies stuck at the border for four days: “Every second we wait to get medical aid in, we lose lives,” Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said.

Biden says Pentagon has evidence of Israeli innocence 

Biden told reporters he was shown evidence by the Pentagon that Israel was not behind the explosion at a Gaza City hospital. He spoke hours after telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he believed Tuesday’s blast was probably the fault of the “other team, not you.”

Biden spoke to reporters on Wednesday as he met first responders and survivors of the Hamas-led raid on Israel on 7 October.

Participants included a 25-year-old woman who helped organise the defence of her kibbutz, a grandmother held hostage for nearly a full day, and a family that narrowly survived an attack on their home. Others at the session included a doctor and emergency medic who have treated Israelis and Palestinians injured in the conflict.

To hear a discussion on Biden’s options, click here.

US sanctions individuals linked to Hamas 

The US sanctioned several individuals associated with Hamas’s investment portfolio as well as two senior members of the organisation’s leadership, in a move designed to limit its ability to raise funds.

Six of the sanctioned individuals are accused of running an investment portfolio worth hundreds of millions of dollars, with companies in Turkey, Algeria, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates and other countries. The network uses front companies to disguise its activities and generates revenue used to support senior Hamas officials, allowing them to live in luxury, the US Treasury Department said on Wednesday. DM

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