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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 9 NOVEMBER 2023

G7 foreign ministers call for humanitarian pauses in war; Yemen’s Houthis shoot down US drone

G7 foreign ministers call for humanitarian pauses in war; Yemen’s Houthis shoot down US drone
Citizens inspect the Khaled bin Al-Walid Mosque, destroyed by Israeli raids on 8 November 2023, in Khan Yunis, Gaza. (Photo: Ahmad Hasaballah / Getty Images)

Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations called for pauses in fighting to allow safe passage of hostages. Israel said it would not halt ground and air operations until hostages are freed.

Israeli troops entered the middle of Gaza City as they sought to destroy the main stronghold of Hamas.

Yemen’s Houthis, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, said they shot down a US drone over Yemeni waters.

Latest developments

Israel says ‘no limitations’ to length of Gaza offensive

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has no time limits to achieve the objective of destroying Hamas, according to a top member of the country’s war Cabinet.

“There are no limitations,” Benny Gantz, a former general and opposition leader who joined an emergency government in the wake of the deadly assault on Israel by Hamas on 7 October, told reporters on Wednesday. “The war here is for our existence and for Zionism, and so I can’t provide an estimate of the length of each stage in the war.”

Israeli troops had entered the heart of Gaza’s main city as they battled to dislodge Hamas, which was holed up in a secret network of tunnels in the Mediterranean enclave. The campaign has come under escalating international criticism due to the extent of civilian fatalities, with more than 10,000 Palestinians killed so far in the Israeli bombardment, according to the Hamas-run health authority. Humanitarian conditions inside Gaza are dire and getting worse.

Read More: Israel latest: G7 seeks hostage releases with ‘pauses’ in war

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he sees his country having security control over Gaza for an indefinite period, suggesting it will maintain that role even after fighting in the besieged territory has ended. Israel has invaded Gaza twice before, in 2008 and 2014, to combat the military threat from Hamas. This time, it’s set the much more ambitious goal of ending the group’s control of Gaza.

“We need to replace the Hamas regime and ensure security superiority for us,” Gantz said.

The most likely scenario is for an “international force” led by Arab nations to initially run Gaza once fighting ends, according to Itamar Yaar, a former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council. There will then be a “gap period” before they hand over to a Palestinian entity that’s in charge of both the West Bank and Gaza, he said.

The Israeli military has been pounding Gaza from the air since the Hamas attack on southern Israel, in which it killed 1,400 people and abducted more than 200 others. It’s now cut off Gaza City, using tanks and armoured vehicles to support infantry troops. It’s focusing the incursion mainly on the north, where Gaza City is located, and has urged Palestinian civilians to evacuate to the south.

While Israel appears “quite determined”, the conflict is still in its early stages with more than 30 Israeli soldiers killed since ground operations started, according to Sam Cranny-Evans, a military analyst at the London-based Royal Services United Services research group.

When the number of those killed increases “and the length of time goes on — if there is an inability to show definitive results — then all that tends to degrade political will and elevate international pressure”, he said.

Israeli troops were getting closer to al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical complex in Gaza, which is crowded with tens of thousands of patients and refugees. The facility sits above the underground military headquarters of Hamas, according to the Israeli army.

“It will take some time and there will be casualties though we are trying as much as possible to move Gazan people south” to safety, said Gantz. “We will win this war.”

Yemen’s Houthis say they shot down US drone 

Yemen’s Houthis said their forces shot down a US drone over Yemeni waters, according to a statement from the group.

The Houthis, a Shiite militia backed by Iran, have previously claimed responsibility for launching attacks towards Israel to support Palestinians in Gaza. The US said earlier in the conflict that it intercepted some missiles fired by the group.

Dutch PM Rutte travels to Israel 

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was heading to Israel to meet Netanyahu to explore solutions to end the Israel-Hamas War. He met Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on Wednesday morning, Rutte said on X, formerly called Twitter.

Rutte said he discussed the humanitarian situation in Gaza with the Qatari leader and explored ways to increase aid to the region. Rutte had met Netanyahu in Tel Aviv and the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, last month.

War widens Israel’s deficit to 2.6% of GDP

Israel’s 12-month trailing deficit jumped to 2.6% of GDP in October from 1.5% in the previous month, as war-related spending grew significantly and revenue declined, the Finance Ministry said.

The October deficit was 22.9-billion shekels ($6-billion), compared with 3.1-billion shekels in the same month last year.

US embassy in Turkey flags risk of protests  

Demonstrations critical of the US were expected to continue alongside calls for a boycott of US businesses, the US embassy in Ankara said on its website, warning these “could escalate and turn violent”.

Recent protests at US cafes and fast-food chains in Turkey disrupted business and resulted in damage to property and injuries to some individuals, the embassy said.

South Africa to rebuke Israeli ambassador 

South Africa will issue a formal diplomatic protest note — a so-called démarche — to the Israeli ambassador over what it called “disparaging remarks” made against critics of the war, a spokesperson for South Africa’s foreign ministry said.

“We will definitely démarche him,” the Department of International Relations and Cooperation said by text message on Wednesday. This escalates a dispute between the two nations after South Africa recalled all of its diplomats and criticised Israel’s conduct in the conflict.

Romania says about 100 citizens evacuated from Gaza 

Romania evacuated about 100 of its citizens from Gaza through the Egyptian border checkpoint Rafah on Wednesday and planned to increase efforts to return others, according to the country’s Foreign Minister Luminita Odobescu. It had received about 300 requests for evacuation.

Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu travelled to Egypt on Wednesday to help with the evacuation efforts.

Hezbollah targets Israeli infantry near Shomera Base

The militant group said they attacked Israeli infantry near Shomera Base, located close to the border with Lebanon, with “appropriate weapons”, according to its Al Manar TV.

Lebanese state-run National News Agency also said that Israel shelled some border villages in Lebanon.

G7 foreign ministers call for ‘pauses’ in war

Group of Seven Foreign Ministers agreed on the need for humanitarian “pauses” in Israel’s war with Hamas, according to a joint statement issued after the group met in Tokyo.

“We support humanitarian pauses and corridors to facilitate urgently needed assistance, civilian movement, and the release of hostages,” the ministers said. “All parties must allow unimpeded humanitarian support for civilians.”

US President Joe Biden has also urged Netanyahu to agree to a three-day pause in fighting to allow progress in releasing some of the hostages held by Hamas, Axios reported, citing unnamed US and Israeli officials.

Gaza may need governance ‘transition period’, says Blinken

It was possible Gaza would need to have a transition period at the end of the war in terms of who runs it, the US secretary of state told reporters in Tokyo. Antony Blinken was speaking after Netanyahu appeared to acknowledge Israel would keep a military presence on the ground in remarks earlier this week.

“Gaza cannot continue to be run by Hamas. That simply invites a repetition of October 7,” Blinken said. “The reality is that there may be a need for some transition period at the end of the conflict, but it is imperative that the Palestinian people be central to governance in Gaza.”

Israeli leaders, however, had no intent to reoccupy Gaza, he added and said the US sought “unity of governance” between Gaza and the West Bank.

Shekel surpasses pre-war level 

The shekel strengthened for a sixth day to surpass the level it was at before Israel’s war with Hamas started on 7 October. The Bank of Israel said on Tuesday it had sold $8.2-billion in October to defend the currency.

At the onset of the war, the central bank had pledged to sell as much as $30-billion from its foreign-currency reserves — and to provide as much as $15-billion more via swaps — to support the shekel. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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