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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 20 OCTOBER 2023

Israel plans wartime economic stimulus programme; defence minister reinforces prospects of Gaza ground invasion

Israel plans wartime economic stimulus programme; defence minister reinforces prospects of Gaza ground invasion
A military vehicle at the Rafah border crossing to Gaza on 19 October 2023 in North Sinai, Egypt. (Photo: Mahmoud Khaled / Getty Images)

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the government was planning a wartime stimulus programme ‘larger and wider’ than the support provided to the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, with the budget deficit possibly widening this year to 3.5% of gross domestic product.

Egypt’s border crossing with Gaza would open on Friday, an Egyptian broadcaster reported, potentially allowing vital aid into the besieged territory and fulfilling a demand of Arab nations, the US and Europe.

“You see Gaza from far away now, but soon you will see it from the inside,” Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops gathering in southern Israel, close to the border with Gaza, reinforcing prospects of a ground invasion. To the north, Israel said it responded to the source of fire after 20 rocket and missile launches from Lebanon, including five that fell in open areas and one that was intercepted by aerial defences.

Latest developments

Israel plans stimulus to support economy during war

Speaking at a briefing in Jerusalem, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said one billion shekels ($247-million) would be spent on a directorate to handle the rebuilding of southern settlements as well as assistance to victims of this month’s attack by Hamas, a group designated as terrorists by the US and European Union. Authorities are also set to provide compensation grants to small and medium-sized businesses all across Israel for the first time during war.

Smotrich said the government was planning a wartime stimulus programme “larger and wider” than the support provided to the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, with the budget deficit possibly widening this year to 3.5% of gross domestic product.

Israel tells some diplomats to leave Turkey over security

Israel asked some of its diplomats in Turkey to leave the country on security grounds, according to a person familiar with the matter. The decision comes after Israel raised a travel warning to Turkey to the highest level. The Israeli foreign ministry said it wouldn’t comment on the security of its diplomats.

Israel is also evacuating embassies in other Middle Eastern countries, according to public broadcaster KAN TV.

Egypt calls for uninterrupted distribution of aid to Gaza 

Distribution of aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip should be “uninterrupted” and continuous, Egypt’s foreign minister said on Thursday, saying there was no alternative to a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The idea of relocating Palestinians to other countries was “not an option,” Sameh Shoukry said, speaking at a joint press conference with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in Cairo. The UN chief said both Israel and Hamas must halt fighting and that, among other steps by both sides, Hamas should immediately and unconditionally release the hostages it’s taken.

Egypt-Gaza border to open on Friday, says broadcaster 

Egypt’s border crossing with Gaza would open on Friday, according to a social media posting on X by Egyptian broadcaster Al-Qahera News.

The Rafah border crossing is the only official entry point into Gaza that isn’t controlled by Israel. Al-Qahera News, which often reflects the thinking of Egyptian authorities, cited people it didn’t identify and didn’t give further details.

Germany’s top diplomat phones Palestinian counterpart

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock started her two-day trip to the region by speaking by phone with her counterpart in the Palestinian Territories, Riyad al-Maliki. “We see the suffering of the Palestinians,” Baerbock told him according to a social media post on X. “Hamas does not represent the Palestinian civilian population.”

Baerbock also discussed the Israel-Gaza conflict with her Jordanian counterpart, Ayman Safadi, in Amman. On Friday, she planned to travel to Israel and Lebanon.

Israel’s Gallant says troops to see Gaza from the inside soon  

Israel has said it’s preparing for significant ground operations in Gaza against Hamas, the group behind the 7 October attack. On Thursday, Israel’s defence minister reinforced that message.

“You see Gaza from far away now, but soon you will see it from the inside,” Yoav Gallant told troops gathering in southern Israel, close to the border with Gaza.

Germany calls on citizens to leave Lebanon, West Bank 

The German Foreign Office urged citizens to leave Lebanon and the West Bank immediately.

“A further deterioration of the situation and an expansion of the conflict cannot be ruled out,” it said on its official travel and security advice website.

Missiles, rockets launched from Lebanon bring response

Iran-backed Hezbollah targeted five Israeli sites with guided missiles, according to the group’s Al-Manar TV. Palestinian militant group Hamas said it fired 30 rockets from south Lebanon into Nahariya and Shlomi in north Israel, the television station said.

Israel said it responded to the source of fire after 20 launches from Lebanon, including five that fell in open areas and one that was intercepted by aerial defences.

Israel receives US cargo plane shipment of armoured vehicles  

Israel received an initial shipment of armoured vehicles to replace those damaged during the war, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defence.

The delivery is part of a large-scale procurement operation that will include armoured ambulances, operational armoured vehicles, tactical trucks and mechanical engineering equipment. Hundreds of vehicles have already been delivered, with several hundred more currently en route to Israel.

Hamas calls for ‘Day of Rage’ protests against Israel

Hamas called for a “Day of Rage” across the Islamic world, encouraging Muslims to stage mass protests against Israel on Friday.

Last week, following a similar call by the militant group, thousands took to the streets in the Middle East and other countries for demonstrations in support of Palestinians living in Gaza.

Meta, TikTok added to EU illegal content probe

The European Commission sent formal requests for information to ByteDance’s TikTok and Meta Platforms, further escalating EU attempts to rein in harmful content on social media a week after it asked Elon Musk’s X for similar answers.

The EU gave Meta and TikTok until 25 October to respond about how they’re tackling election disinformation and the spreading of “terrorist and violent content and hate speech” respectively, following the Hamas-Israel war. X’s answers were due on Wednesday.

China’s Xi calls for ceasefire

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, his first public comments since the conflict broke out on 7 October.

China is willing to step up coordination with Egypt and other Arabic countries “to push for a comprehensive, just and lasting solution to the Palestinian issue as soon as possible”, Xi told visiting Egyptian Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly in Beijing on Thursday, according to a transcript from the foreign ministry. 

China has been facing increasing pressure for failing to condemn Hamas, which Europe and the US have designated a terrorist group. There was also pressure on Beijing to provide assistance, especially as Xi seeks to play global peacemaker. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

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