MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 27 NOVEMBER 2023
Seventeen hostages released in north Gaza; seven Palestinians killed in Israeli missile attack on West Bank
Seventeen people were freed by Hamas on Sunday in the third day of hostage releases engineered under a temporary ceasefire with Israel, as work continued to extend the pause in fighting beyond an initial four days.
At least seven Palestinians were killed in a missile attack by Israeli forces on the occupied West Bank, the Voice of Palestine radio station reported. Israel’s army hasn’t commented on the events. Separately, Israeli missiles struck Syria’s international airport in Damascus, knocking it out of service, the state-run Sana news agency reported.
Israel’s defence ministry said the Israeli army had seized about 5-million shekels ($1.3-million) from Hamas during the ground invasion. Iraqi, Jordanian and US currencies have been found primarily in Hamas strongholds and suspects’ homes.
- Biden hails start of truce, expects freeing of more hostages
- The West Bank is being reshaped along with Gaza
Hamas releases another 17 hostages
Another 17 people were freed by Hamas on Sunday in the third day of hostage releases, including the first with US citizenship: a four-year-old girl whose parents were killed in the 7 October attacks.
Abigail Idan, one of three hostages with US citizenship, was initially in the hands of the International Committee of the Red Cross. Hamas militants killed her parents at their home on the Kfar Aza kibbutz near the Gaza border.
“One of our fellow Americans, a little girl named Abigail turned four years old — she spent her birthday, that birthday and at least 50 days before that held hostage by Hamas,” US President Joe Biden said. “She’s free and she’s in Israel now.”
“What she endured is unthinkable,” he said.
The people released to the care of the Red Cross included 13 Israelis, three foreign nationals and an individual carrying a Russian passport, in exchange for 39 Palestinian prisoners, said Qatari Foreign Ministry spokesperson Majed Al-Ansari. Unlike the previous two nights, the hostages were released in the northern part of the Gaza Strip.
The foreign nationals were from Thailand, according to Qatar.
Talks were continuing to extend the four-day ceasefire as more humanitarian aid trucks headed into Gaza on Sunday, including northern areas.
Separately on Sunday, Hamas said it would release a dual Israeli-Russian hostage “in response to the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin and in appreciation of the Russian position in support of the Palestinian cause”. That individual appears to have been counted among the 14 Israeli detainees.
The humanitarian pause in Gaza has “largely held” since going into effect on Friday, allowing the United Nations to boost the delivery of crucial aid into and across Gaza, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an update.
All the same, the agency said many people still had no food — or fuel to cook it with — and bakeries weren’t operating, raising concerns about nutrition, especially in northern Gaza, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive. It also reported that Israeli forces had arrested some Palestinians travelling along the Israeli-designated safe “corridor” from the territory’s north to south.
US should consider attaching strings to Israel aid, says senator
US legislators should consider conditioning future aid to Israel on its compliance with international humanitarian law, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said on Sunday, calling the civilian death toll in Gaza “unacceptable” and “unsustainable”.
“We regularly condition our aid to allies based upon compliance with US law and international law,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union. “And that will be a conversation we will all be engaged in when we get back to Washington on Monday.”
Murphy’s comments reflect a growing willingness on the part of some Democrats — potentially including Biden — to discuss attaching strings to the $14.3-billion aid package that Biden is seeking from Congress.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Biden said conditioning aid was “a worthwhile thought.” But he was quick to add, “I don’t think if I started off with that, we’d ever gotten to where we are today. We have to take this a piece at a time.”
Senator Bernie Sanders, in an op-ed in The New York Times on Thursday, called for an end to what he called a “blank check approach” to funding Israel’s security. “The United States must make clear that while we are friends of Israel, there are conditions to that friendship and that we cannot be complicit in actions that violate international law and our own sense of decency,” Sanders said.
Tanker with ties to Israeli billionaire boarded off Yemen
A chemical tanker with ties to an Israeli-affiliated company was boarded in the waters between Yemen and Somalia on Sunday, the ship’s managers said in an emailed statement.
The Liberian-flagged Central Park “was involved in a suspected piracy incident” about 54 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, according to Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.
US naval forces also were “engaged in the situation” with the Central Park, which Yemen-based Houthi rebels had previously threatened to attack if it didn’t change course to the Yemeni port of Hodeidah.
The incident is the latest in a string of attacks on ships with ties to Israel since Iranian-backed Houthi rebels based in Yemen issued a threat to continue targeting ships until Israel’s military operation against Hamas ends.
Israeli businesses gather steam as shock of conflict eases
Israeli businesses are beginning to get back to work following the shock of the 7 October attack by Hamas and the subsequent war in Gaza.
Whereas two weeks into the war, more than a third of businesses hadn’t started up again, as of a week ago, it was just over a fifth, a survey released on Sunday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics showed.
Still, the economy is far from firing on all cylinders. Two-fifths of businesses in the south, where infrastructure was damaged and communities evacuated, were still effectively closed, and more than a third of construction outfits were struggling to staff their sites as many of their employees come from the West Bank. Palestinians from there have been barred from travelling into Israel since the conflict began.
The hardest hit have been small businesses. There’s been a 21% fall in weekly credit card purchases from the pre-war average in 2023 and a shortage of staff caused by the unprecedented call-up of 300,000 reservists, or 8% of the workforce, to the military.
The West Bank is being reshaped along with Gaza
In the weeks since 7 October, Issa Amro has watched as Israeli settlers have entered his community, shot at nearby families and damaged property. He’s erected a fence and barricaded his windows with bricks after men in military uniform broke into his home earlier this month.
“I’m living in a cage now from all directions,” said Amro, a Palestinian activist who advocates the use of nonviolent resistance. He lives in Hebron, a city located in the occupied territory of the West Bank. “It’s intimidation day and night.”
The events of 7 October, which saw more than 2,000 heavily armed fighters belonging to the Islamic militant group Hamas storm into southern Israel from Gaza and kill 1,200 people, has aggravated a longstanding conflict over the West Bank. Jews living in the swathe of land between Israel and the Jordan River that forms the other Palestinian territory, fear that something similar could happen there, and extremists among them have lashed out.
Settlers — who have received hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding toward infrastructure and weapons in recent years — have carried out more than 220 assaults on Palestinian communities since 7 October, according to Yesh Din and B’Tselem, two human rights groups documenting attacks in the West Bank. They say that’s included shooting live ammunition, setting homes and olive trees on fire and destroying water pipelines.
For decades, there have been clashes in the West Bank between Israelis — the military and settlers — and Palestinians, but last month’s attacks have exacerbated tensions, sparking fears that a second front in Israel’s war against Hamas could open up. While the violence is caused by a minority, Biden has threatened sanctions against those extremists should it continue.
Israeli forces in the West Bank have killed in excess of 200 people in that time, more than a quarter of whom were children, according to the United Nations. Seventy of the dead were living in refugee camps, with most killings occurring during Israeli search-and-arrest operations or in the context of demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza, the UN says.
A spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces said that it had recorded 770 “terrorism events” carried out by Palestinians in the West Bank since 7 October, including shootings and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails. Four Israelis have been killed in the West Bank.
The army confirmed that it had killed 216 Palestinians and documented 126 attacks by Jewish settlers. Counterterrorism operations are conducted nightly to apprehend suspects, many of whom are members of Hamas, according to the IDF spokesperson.
In many areas of the West Bank — referred to by the Israeli authorities by its biblical names Judea and Samaria — shops are shut, streets are deserted and communities cut off, closing down businesses and starving parts of the region of economic activity. Very few of the 200,000 Palestinians who used to work in Israel prior to 7 October are able to move freely.
Whereas Gaza is ruled by Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and the European Union, parts of the West Bank are run by the Palestinian Authority, which receives direct funding from the EU. Israel estimates that 465,400 Jewish settlers lived in the West Bank as of 2021, excluding Jerusalem, while Palestinian officials put the figure at 751,000 including neighbourhoods in the suburbs of the contested capital. DM