MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 31 OCTOBER 2023
Netanyahu defies calls to resign and rules out ceasefire; Israeli forces push deeper into Gaza
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls to resign over security failures during the 7 October Hamas attack and ruled out a ceasefire with the militant group as the army intensified ground operations in Gaza. The military said it freed a female soldier held captive in the territory.
A top Israeli official said aid flows to Gaza were poised to increase as concern mounted over the humanitarian situation. Authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said the death toll since the war erupted had surpassed 8,300.
Israeli forces raided a West Bank city, exchanged fire with Hezbollah across the Lebanese border and conducted an airstrike in Syria. The United Nations envoy for Syria warned that the Israel-Hamas conflict was already spilling over into the neighbouring country.
- Israel pledges more Gaza civilian aid as it steps up invasion
- Netanyahu’s ‘Mr Security’ persona fades as rivals want him out
- War with Hamas tests Israel’s economic resilience to its limit
- Israel-Hamas war escalation puts Qatar’s clout to the test
- How the Israel-Hamas war differs from previous conflicts
Mossad chief visited Qatar for hostage talks
David Barnea, the head of Israel’s intelligence service Mossad, visited Qatar on Saturday to meet negotiators and discuss efforts to have hostages released, according to a person familiar with the talks.
Qatar, where key Hamas political leaders are based, has been a go-between in diplomacy aimed at freeing more than 200 captives held by the group in Gaza. It helped to mediate the release of two US citizens earlier this month.
US pushed Israel to reopen Gaza communications networks
The Biden administration pushed Israel to reopen communications networks in the Gaza Strip after they had been shut down, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
“We made clear to the government of Israel over the weekend that communications networks needed to be restored and we are pleased that they took steps to do that,” Miller told reporters.
Internet and mobile phone services in Gaza were cut off on Friday amid Israeli bombardment, according to the main telecom provider. Limited services were restored on Sunday.
Netanyahu says he won’t quit, rules out ceasefire
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed calls for his resignation over his handling of the Hamas attacks and ruled out a ceasefire in the three-week-old conflict.
“The only thing I intend to have resign is Hamas,” Netanyahu said in a briefing for international media. The premier, who’s faced criticism over his unwillingness to accept responsibility for security lapses before and during the 7 October attack by Hamas, also said that “calls for a ceasefire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas”.
Netanyahu defended his decision to escalate the Israeli offensive with a ground push into Gaza, which families of the more than 200 hostages held by Hamas have criticised for endangering their relatives. “We think this method stands a chance” of securing the release of the captives, he said.
UN warns Israel-Hamas war is spreading to Syria
The conflict between Israel and Hamas is spilling into Syria, where the situation is now “at its most dangerous for a long time” after more than a decade of civil war, the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, told the Security Council.
Israel has carried out air strikes inside Syria, while US bases there have also been targeted in attacks blamed on Iran-backed militias. “Spillover into Syria is not just a risk. It has already begun,” Pedersen said. “Fuel is being added to a tinderbox that was already beginning to ignite.”
US forces and allies hit 23 times in Middle East
US and allied forces in the Middle East have been attacked by Iran-backed militias a total of 23 times since 17 October, a senior US defence official told reporters on Monday. Fourteen of those incidents took place in Iraq and nine in Syria, the official said, adding that the attacks had come from a mixture of one-way attack drones and rockets.
Most of the attacks failed to hit their targets, the official said, but they had prompted fears about a wider escalation of the Israel-Hamas war. Last week, the US conducted strikes on two facilities in Syria that the administration said were used by groups affiliated with Iranian forces.
Israel says female soldier freed in ground operation
The Israeli military said it freed a female soldier who’d been held captive in Gaza. The soldier, who was rescued during ground operations in the territory, was in good medical condition and had met her family, the army said.
Israel promises more aid as it steps up attacks
Aid shipments to Gaza were set to pick up somewhat as Israel steps up its offensive, a senior Israeli official said. “We are expecting 100 trucks a day of aid starting tomorrow [Tuesday] or Wednesday,” Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer said in a telephone interview. That’s about one-fifth of the pre-war level.
Dermer said that the next several days “should see the lowest number of civilian casualties of the war”, though he acknowledged that unanticipated events may affect the outlook. He also said Israel would continue to block supplies of fuel to Gaza out of concern it would fall into the hands of Hamas.
Hezbollah ‘attacks several sites’; Israel retaliates
Hezbollah said it fired guided missiles at an Israeli site near the border with Lebanon and attacked Israeli barracks, targeting equipment and achieving “direct hits,” the Iran-backed militant group’s Al Manar TV reported.
The Israeli army reported fire from Lebanon toward its military posts and responded with artillery and mortars at the source of the launches. The Israeli military reported no casualties from the attacks on its posts while Hezbollah announced in the morning that a member had died.
Palestinian PM rejects governing Gaza without accord
US and Israeli officials are discussing Gaza’s future, including an interim government backed by the UN and with the involvement of Arab states. But Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh told The Guardian newspaper that his authority would not return to govern the strip without a comprehensive agreement that includes the West Bank in a Palestinian state.
“To have the Palestinian Authority go to Gaza and run the affairs of Gaza without a political solution for the West Bank, as if this Palestinian Authority is going aboard an F-16 or an Israeli tank?” Shtayyeh said. “I don’t accept it. Our president doesn’t accept it. None of us will accept it.”
Gaza death toll passes 8,300, says ministry
Authorities in Hamas-run Gaza said Israeli attacks have killed 8,306 Palestinians since 7 October. A spokesperson for Gaza’s Health Ministry, Ashraf Al-Qudra, added that more than 21,000 people had been injured.
Save the Children on Sunday said that 3,195 children had been killed in Gaza in just three weeks, exceeding the annual number across the world’s conflict zones since 2019. It urged an immediate ceasefire.
Israeli army says more forces have entered Gaza
More Israeli forces had entered Gaza, with the invasion advancing gradually and according to plan, spokesperson Daniel Hagari said. He said 239 people were now thought to be held by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US, UK and European Union. DM
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