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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 22 NOVEMBER 2023

Netanyahu to convene Cabinet as Gaza hostage deal gets closer; Israeli warplanes strike targets inside Lebanon

Netanyahu to convene Cabinet as Gaza hostage deal gets closer; Israeli warplanes strike targets inside Lebanon
Smoke rises after an explosion following an Israeli strike on the northern part of the Gaza Strip, as seen from Sderot, southern Israel, 21 November 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Christophe Peiti Tesson)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to convene Israel’s Cabinet on Tuesday evening after signalling that a deal with Hamas to free hostages in Gaza in return for a temporary pause in fighting was getting closer.

Israeli warplanes on Tuesday struck targets inside Lebanese territory after Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters shot mortar shells at a military post, Israel’s army said. Three civilians, including two journalists, died in the Israeli bombing, the Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the release of all civilians detained during the Israel-Hamas war and reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire at a summit organised by the BRICS group of nations.

Latest developments

Netanyahu ‘hopes there will be good news soon’ about hostages

“We are making progress,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to the return of some of the 240 hostages abducted by Hamas on 7 October. “I don’t think it’s worth saying too much, not even at this moment, but I hope there will be good news soon.”

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh earlier indicated that Qatar-mediated negotiations were moving forward, following similar comments from US President Joe Biden.

“The movement delivered its response to the brothers in Qatar and the mediators, and we are close to reaching a truce agreement,” Haniyeh, who’s based in Qatar’s capital, said in a statement on Telegram.

Israel, which has vowed to destroy Hamas, has said for weeks that it won’t contemplate a ceasefire until all hostages are returned. But in recent days there have been growing signs the two sides are nearing a deal, which would require approval by Israel’s full Cabinet.

The developments come as international pressure grows on Israel to end its more than six-week retaliatory offensive in Gaza, which authorities in the Hamas-run enclave say has killed more than 13,000 people and triggered a humanitarian crisis.

China’s Xi urges release of civilians in Israel-Hamas war

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for the release of all civilians detained during the Israel-Hamas war and reiterated his call for an immediate ceasefire at a summit organised by the BRICS group of nations.

“China believes that the following is urgent and imperative: first, all the parties to the conflict must end hostilities and achieve a ceasefire immediately,” Xi said, addressing leaders from countries including Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa and Iran by video. “All the parties must stop all violence and attacks against civilians, release civilians held captive, and act to prevent loss of more lives and spare people from more miseries.”

“More humanitarian assistance should be provided to the population in Gaza,” the Chinese leader added. “China will provide more supplies and assistance according to needs of people in Gaza,” he said, while calling for a stop to forced relocations and a halt to water, electricity and oil supplies that “targets people in Gaza as a collective punishment”. 

“We all agreed that this crisis has gone on for far too long and now needs to be resolved,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his closing remarks. “We have called for an immediate and durable and sustained truce.”

US to review terrorist label for Houthis after ship seized

The US is reviewing whether to restore the Iranian-backed Houthis to its list of terrorist organisations after rebels seized a ship on Sunday in retaliation for the war in Gaza.

“In light of the recent targeting of civilians by the Houthis, and now the piracy of a ship in international waters, we have begun a review of potential terrorist designations, and we’ll be considering other options together with our allies and partners,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday.

Kirby said the seizure of the Galaxy Leader, which is beneficially owned by a unit of Israeli businessman Rami Ungar’s Ray Shipping Group, represented “a flagrant violation of international law” and called Iran’s involvement unacceptable.

“Iran is complicit to its material support, and its encouragement of the Houthi forces who conducted the seizure — absolutely unacceptable,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Houthis has said Israeli ships would continue to be targeted until the country’s military operation against Hamas ends.

The Biden administration removed the terrorist designation for the Houthi fighters early in Joe Biden’s presidency as part of a US push to end their war with Yemen’s Saudi-backed government. But the US president has been under pressure to restore the terrorism label, including from some allies in the Middle East and members of Congress.

Drahi’s Altice says war will hamper Israel revenue

Altice International’s revenue in Israel is set to take a hit in the fourth quarter because of the Israel-Hamas war.

The company expects a negative effect on results in Israel, “the extent of which cannot be quantified at this stage,” it said in an earnings report. Altice International is made up of Israel’s Hot Telecommunication Systems as well as assets in Portugal, the Dominican Republic and online video advertising company Teads. Israel accounted for about 21% of the firm’s revenue in the third quarter.

“Hot is affected by a reduction of revenue in the fixed segment (subscription fees have been frozen for the evicted Israeli population in the south and in the north of the country) and in the mobile segment (reduced equipment sales due to closing of shops, prepaid revenues and roaming as less customers are travelling abroad and less visitors are coming to Israel),” Altice said in the statement. Billionaire owner Patrick Drahi has Israeli citizenship and often lives in Tel Aviv.

The results come as Drahi attempts to sell off parts of his telecom empire to reduce the $60-billion in debt accumulated by the group through years of aggressive acquisitions. It’s also grappling with a corruption probe in Portugal that’s targeted some of Drahi’s key executives. The company said last week that internal corruption investigations found violations would have “no material impact” on its subsidiaries’ financial statements. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

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