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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 3 NOVEMBER 2023

Israeli troops encircle Gaza City as death toll rises; Biden calls for ‘pause’ in warfare

Israeli troops encircle Gaza City as death toll rises; Biden calls for ‘pause’ in warfare
An Israeli artillery unit fires during a military drill in the annexed Golan Heights near the border with Lebanon on 2 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ayal Margolin)

Gaza’s death toll climbed as Israel intensified its ground offensive against Hamas militants, saying its troops had encircled Gaza City in the north of the territory.

Authorities in Gaza said more than 9,000 people had died due to the war, while the Israel Defense Forces announced the death of a senior officer during battles with Hamas, which is designated a terrorist group by the US.

US President Joe Biden said Israel and Hamas should “pause” fighting to allow time to free more hostages from Gaza. He said several dozen Americans had been evacuated.

Latest developments

US wants ‘concrete steps’ on protecting civilians in Gaza 

The US wants to talk about steps that can be taken to better protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters before heading to the region on Thursday.

“We’ve seen in recent days Palestinian civilians continuing to bear the brunt of this action,” Blinken said. “And it’s important that the United States is committed to making sure everything possible is done to protect civilians.”

Biden says 74 Americans evacuated from Gaza 

“Good news — we got out today 74 American folks, dual citizens,” Biden said on Thursday during a meeting with President Luis Abinader of the Dominican Republic.

The White House has said around 400 American families have been trapped in Gaza since the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel, which prompted an air and ground offensive by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). On Wednesday, Biden, at a fundraiser in Minnesota, called for a “pause” to fighting to allow aid to flow into the country and hostages and refugees to exit.

Hezbollah ‘attacks Israeli barracks near Lebanese border’

Hezbollah said it had attacked an Israeli barracks near the border with Lebanon with two drones, Hezbollah’s TV Al-Manar reported.

The Lebanese group said they “hit their targets accurately”.

Israeli forces encircling Gaza City, says chief of staff  

Israeli Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi said Israel’s military was encircling Gaza City, and if need be, was ready to attack in any other area that may be necessary.

‘’We are in the middle of the war and have made another significant move forward,” he said in televised comments. “Our forces are in the heart of the ground battle in the north.”

Israel says senior officer killed in Gaza fighting  

Israel said a lieutenant-colonel was killed in fighting in Gaza. He was 33.

The IDF has announced the deaths of 18 soldiers in Gaza since its ground offensive began over the weekend.

Read more: Israel says more soldiers killed in Gaza amid clashes

Gaza death toll exceeds 9,000, says health ministry

The ministry of health in Hamas-run Gaza said that 9,061 people in Gaza had died due to the war and 32,000 others were injured, while 2,060 were missing.

The ministry’s spokesperson, Ashraf Al-Qudra, warned of an “imminent health catastrophe” resulting from the shutdown of the main power generators at two major hospitals.

Israel stocks, shekel set for weekly gains 

Israeli assets looked set to post their first weekly gain since the start of the conflict, with the TA-35 equity index rising by 1.4% on Thursday, extending its weekly increase to 4.5%. The shekel appreciated 0.5% to below four per dollar, headed for the strongest on a closing basis since 13 October.

Read more: Israel’s war effort is giving its economy a Covid-like shock

Even after the rebound, the shekel remains more than 3% weaker than when hostilities began on 7 October, while stocks are more than 8% lower.

The cost to insure Israeli debt against default using five-year credit default swaps was 143 basis points as of Wednesday, more than doubling from 59 basis points before the war. That means traders are now pricing Israel’s credit risk as roughly on par with Morocco’s, a country whose credit rating at Moody’s is six notches below it.

Israel’s army advances further into Gaza 

Israeli soldiers continued to advance in the area of Gaza City and were “conducting close combat battles with Hamas terrorists and expanding the fighting”, military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said.

They were destroying Hamas defence lines in the north of the Gaza Strip, where Gaza City is located, and were taking control of some central areas, Hagari said.

Read more: Flaring tensions in West Bank risk new front for Israel at war

Forces near the northern border with Lebanon were at “high readiness” amid a continuation of attacks, including mortar fire, from the other side of the frontier, he said. Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged fire almost daily since 7 October.

Hagari said Israel had lost 332 soldiers since Hamas’s attack, including those killed on the day of the assault. The number of hostages in the Gaza Strip was currently estimated to be 242, he said.

Ex-national security adviser McMaster says it’s already a regional war 

“The hand behind this is Iran,” HR McMaster, a US national security adviser under ex-president Donald Trump, said, referring to Hamas’ actions and Israeli skirmishes in Lebanon and Syria. “They’re trying to place proxy armies on the border with Israel. They’re executing that strategy. It’s already a regional war.”

Iran was using proxy forces for its “ring of fire strategy to destroy Israel,” McMaster said to Bloomberg Television. “Sadly, it’s a conflict that’s likely to escalate, at least within the region.”

He added it was unrealistic to call on Israel to implement a ceasefire given Hamas’s intentions remain so hostile.

Egypt prepares to receive about 7,000 foreigners from Gaza  

Egypt’s foreign ministry said it was working with other states to facilitate the evacuation from Gaza of around 7,000 foreigners, representing more than 60 countries.

The ministry said it had met with foreign ambassadors and other officials to brief them on the efforts being made to bring the foreign passport holders out through the Rafah border crossing.

Russia disputes Israel’s right to self-defence as ‘occupying power’ 

Russia’s envoy to the United Nations said Israel did not have the right to self-defence because it was an “occupying power” in Palestinian territories.

The Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told an emergency session of the UN General Assembly late on Wednesday that Israel was entitled to ensure its security. “But fight with terrorists, not with civilians,” he said.

Hamas releases list of foreigners to exit Gaza

Hamas published a list of hundreds of foreigners and dual-national Palestinians expected to exit the Gaza Strip on Thursday. The list of those who would depart via the Rafah crossing included 400 US citizens and 196 people with other nationalities.

The Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt opened on Wednesday for people to leave the Palestinian territory, the first time that had happened since the Israel-Hamas war began on 7 October.

Read more: First foreigners, injured Palestinians leave Gaza for Egypt

Biden pushes for ‘pause’ to free hostages 

Joe Biden took credit for persuading Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow time to “get the prisoners out” before launching a ground invasion of Gaza. He also said he helped talk Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi into letting foreigners and wounded Palestinians leave Gaza for his country.

He urged Israel and Hamas to “pause” fighting to allow time to free more hostages from Gaza.

Progressive groups, as well as Muslim and Arab Americans, have criticised Biden over his support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas, which has resulted in thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

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