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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 6 NOVEMBER 2023

Military readies operation to encircle Hamas in Gaza City; Blinken meets Palestinian president in West Bank

Military readies operation to encircle Hamas in Gaza City; Blinken meets Palestinian president in West Bank
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 5 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Alaa Badarneh)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, with the pair discussing how the Palestinian Authority could play a central role in a post-Hamas future for the Gaza Strip. It was the latest stop on a Middle Eastern tour that’s seen the top US diplomat clash with key Arab allies demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Israel’s military was gearing up for an operation to encircle Hamas forces in Gaza City and strike and destroy select targets, including Hamas command-and-control centres, the army spokesperson’s office said in a text message.

Israel suspended its heritage minister from Cabinet meetings after his comments on the possibility of using an atomic bomb in the conflict. Israeli attacks have killed nearly 9,500 people in the besieged territory, according to the Gaza health ministry run by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union.

Latest developments

Israel says soldiers positioned along coast of Gaza 

Israel’s military was gearing up for an operation to encircle Hamas forces in Gaza City and strike and destroy select targets, including Hamas command-and-control centres, the army spokesperson’s office said in a text message.

The soldiers in the division had struck 1,600 Hamas targets during battles in Gaza and killed more than 300 Hamas gunmen, some in close-quarter combat, the message added.

Internet and communication disrupted in Gaza

Internet and telecom services were disrupted in Gaza for the third time since the Israel-Hamas war began, Paltel, the main telecom provider in the Palestinian territory, said.

Israel calls Hamas military use of hospitals ‘systematic’ 

Israel’s army said Hamas was using hospitals in Gaza in a “systematic” way to hide its military activities in Gaza. Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Daniel Hagari said the Qatari-built Sheikh Hamid bin Khalifa al Thani hospital is above a tunnel used by Hamas. He also said Hamas had shot at Israeli troops from inside the hospital.

Israel’s UN rep says ‘no humanitarian crisis’ in Gaza 

“There is no humanitarian crisis” in Gaza and therefore no need for a humanitarian pause to the conflict with Hamas, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said on Sunday.

Almost 100 trucks a day with food and medicines were now reaching the Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah crossing, Erdan said on CNN’s State of the Union, adding, “We don’t see the need for humanitarian pauses right now, because it will only enable Hamas to rearm and regroup.”

Blinken discusses Gaza aid with Cyprus

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken made a brief stop in Cyprus, where he discussed humanitarian aid to Gaza with President Nikos Christodoulides at Larnaca airport. The Mediterranean island’s initiative to create a maritime corridor for the provision of aid from Cyprus was discussed in detail, said government spokesperson Konstantinos Letymbiotis in a written statement.

Blinken meets Abbas amid push for pause 

Blinken met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday, as the Biden administration pressed Israel to avoid civilian casualties in its war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Blinken reaffirmed the US commitment to the delivery of humanitarian assistance and resumption of essential services in Gaza, “and made clear that Palestinians must not be forcibly displaced”, according to a State Department readout.

The visit, which wasn’t announced in advance, came after stops in Tel Aviv and Amman, where Blinken met with Israeli and Arab officials to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza and to urge countries to consider a post-Hamas future for the enclave.

EU sees ‘extraordinary’ rise in anti-Semitic incidents  

The European Commission said the spike of anti-Semitic incidents across the continent in the past few days had reached “extraordinary levels” reminiscent of some of the darkest times in history.

The commission condemned the resurgence of activity “in the strongest possible terms”, and vowed to continue to step up security measures in cooperation with member states.

Separately, Paris police chief Laurent Nuñez said France’s capital region and the nation as a whole were seeing an “explosion” in anti-Semitic actions. The greater Paris region had seen 257 such acts since 7 October, more than in a typical year, he said. A Jewish woman was stabbed in her home in Lyon, the city’s mayor said, and an “anti-Semitic inscription” was found on her door.

Israel finds rocket launchers near pool, playground in Gaza 

Ground troops found rocket launchers a few metres from a children’s swimming pool and about 20 to 30 metres from residential buildings in the northern Gaza Strip town of Bet Hanoun, the Israel Defense Forces said on Sunday. Another launch site was identified in an old children’s playground.

“This is further proof of Hamas’ deliberate use of civilian infrastructure and civilians — including children — as human shields for its military operations,” the military said.

Israel intercepts drone over Lebanon

Israel’s military said it intercepted a drone over Lebanon after identifying it flying toward Israel from deep inside the neighbouring country.

Earlier, several launches from Lebanon toward northern Israel were identified. The Israel Defense Forces responded with artillery fire toward the sources of the launches. Hezbollah said it targeted two Israeli army posts near the Lebanese border with missiles.

Israel denied a report by the state-run Lebanese National News Agency that Hezbollah downed an Israeli drone over the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh with an anti-aircraft missile.

Qatar says Israel’s practices in Gaza complicate hostage talks  

Israeli army practices in Gaza were complicating hostage negotiations, Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said in a televised briefing after meeting France’s foreign minister.

The minister also criticised what he said were the international community’s “double standards”.

Israel suspends minister from Cabinet meetings on Gaza remarks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred Minister of Heritage Amihai Eliyahu from Cabinet meetings after his comments on the possibility of using nuclear weapons in the war against Hamas in Gaza.

Eliyahu, a member of Israel’s far-right Otzma Yehudit party, responded to a question in a radio interview with the suggestion that dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza was a possibility. He later said on social media platform X that the statement was “metaphorical”, but “we definitely need a powerful and disproportionate response to terrorism”.

Israel announces new four-hour window for Gazans to move south  

Israel’s military said it would allow people in Gaza to move to the southern sector of the besieged territory on Sunday via the Salaheddine road between 10am and 2pm.

Avichay Adraee, the Israel Defense Forces’ Arabic spokesperson, said Hamas had shelled troops on Saturday despite a previous announcement of a temporary safe corridor.

“If you care about yourselves and your loved ones, then move south according to our instructions. And know that Hamas leadership is effectively looking after their own,” Adraee said on X early on Sunday.

Israel ‘has struck 2,500 Hamas targets’ since ground assault began 

Israeli troops were killing Hamas militants in close-quarter combat and using airstrikes against Hamas infrastructure, weapons depots, observation posts and command and control centres in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces said.

Troops directed aircraft to strike a Hamas military compound overnight, the military said. Israel claims to have struck over 2,500 Hamas targets since the beginning of the ground operation about a week ago.

Gaza evacuations appear to stall 

The Rafah Crossing Authority in Gaza did not publish any lists of people allowed to cross into Egypt on Sunday, suggesting evacuations were stalling as Hamas and Israel traded blame on the implementation of a deal.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an update that no movement of “dual nationals, internationals, or patients” from Gaza to Egypt was reported on 4 November. More than 1,100 crossed on 2 November and 4 November, it said.

Number of Gaza deaths nears 9,500, says UN

The UN’s humanitarian affairs office said the fighting in Gaza had left 9,488 people dead, including 3,900 children. Another 2,000 were missing, presumably under rubble. The agency said the tolls were reported by the Hamas-run health ministry. Four Israeli soldiers were reported killed in Gaza on Saturday, for a total of 28 since the start of the ground war.

Thirty trucks with humanitarian supplies entered the strip through Egypt to the south, for a total of 451 aid trucks since 21 October. DM

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