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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 29 JANUARY 2024

US contemplates pressure on Netanyahu; UN urges support for Gaza work

US contemplates pressure on Netanyahu; UN urges support for Gaza work
Israeli Merkava tanks from the Reserve Brigade 4 at a gathering location to be loaded on trucks after they pulled out from southern Gaza Strip, at an undisclosed location in Israel, on 28 January 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Atef Safadi)

The Biden administration is considering slowing or pausing deliveries of some weapons to Israel to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed longstanding US calls to scale back military operations in Gaza, according to NBC News.

The US said Iranian-backed militants killed three service members and wounded 25 others in a drone attack near the Syrian border, the first US deaths under enemy attack since Israel and Hamas went to war.

The head of the United Nations vowed decisive action against any staff in Gaza found to have taken part in October’s attack on Israel and urged nations not to withhold funding for the “desperate populations” receiving aid as the war continues.

As top US officials push for a hostage deal and a pause in the war in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday the only acceptable outcome was the elimination of Hamas and any threat it may pose to Israel.

US considers slowing some weapons sales to Israel, says NBC  

The Biden administration is considering slowing or pausing deliveries of some weapons to Israel to pressure Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to heed longstanding US calls to scale back military operations in Gaza, according to NBC News.

The Pentagon, at the direction of the White House, was reviewing weapons requests from Israel to determine what may be used as leverage, NBC said, citing four people with knowledge of the matter. The administration is focused on offensive military equipment and is unlikely to slow the delivery of air defences.

Read More: US aims to use Israel-Hamas deal to open wider peace talks

At the same time, officials are also discussing offering Israel more of the weapons it has requested as an incentive to take some of the steps the US has requested, NBC said.

Three US troops killed in first deaths from Iran-linked attacks

The US said Iranian-backed militants killed three service members and wounded 25 others in a drone attack near the Syrian border, the first US deaths under enemy attack since Israel and Hamas went to war.

President Joe Biden vowed US retaliation, saying, “We will hold all those responsible to account at a time and in a manner of our choosing.”

The attack, which struck US forces stationed in northeast Jordan, heightens tension between the US and Iran as well as pressure on Biden to take stronger action against a longtime enemy of the US.

Risks of a direct confrontation have increased since the attack by Iran-backed Hamas militants on Israel on 7 October and Israel’s subsequent military incursion into the Gaza Strip.

“While we are still gathering the facts of this attack, we know it was carried out by radical Iran-backed militant groups operating in Syria and Iraq,” Biden said on Sunday. The US Central Command said 25 US service members were injured in what it described as a “one-way attack”.

Biden said the base was hit during an unmanned aerial drone attack on US forces stationed in northeast Jordan near the Syria border. About 3,500 US troops are stationed in Jordan.

UN urges support for Gaza work after staff blamed in attack

The head of the United Nations vowed decisive action against any staff in Gaza found to have taken part in October’s attack on Israel and urged nations not to withhold funding for the “desperate populations” receiving aid as the war continues.

“The abhorrent alleged acts of these staff members must have consequences,” Secretary-General António Guterres said on Sunday, referring to the UN Relief and Works Agency. “But the tens of thousands of men and women who work for UNRWA, many in some of the most dangerous situations for humanitarian workers, should not be penalised.”

So far, the UN said 12 staff members had been implicated in taking part in the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel, which killed 1,200. Nine of the UN staff had been fired, one was confirmed dead and the identity of two others was being clarified, according to Guterres.

Fury over the latest developments prompted nations including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, Italy, Germany and Finland to say they will pause funding for the agency. That led UNRWA to issue an urgent appeal, saying it won’t be able to meet the needs of people in Gaza next month.

The agency — long a lifeline for the most vulnerable populations in Gaza — has become more essential since Israel sent troops into the territory to dislodge Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and EU. That’s left more than two million people increasingly dependent on food, water and medical aid, according to the UN.

UK Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch said on Sunday there was “clearly a problem” with the agency.

Since the allegations against UNRWA staffers were made last week, the UN has sought to balance outrage over their alleged actions against the need to provide humanitarian support.

“Anyone who betrays the fundamental values of the United Nations also betrays those whom we serve in Gaza, across the region and elsewhere around the world,” UNRWA Director-General Philippe Lazzarini said in a statement on Friday.

A vast majority of UNRWA’s 30,000 staff are Palestinian, with 13,000 of those in Gaza. The US is UNRWA’s single-biggest donor, having contributed more than $296-million to the group in 2023.

The agency has long been regarded with suspicion by Israel and Republicans in the US, who argue that it only fuels the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and money going to food, education and healthcare frees Hamas to fund hostilities against Israel. That argument has continued as Israeli forces in Gaza uncover more evidence of tunnels and supplies buried beneath the territory.

While criticism over UNRWA’s role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict became even more charged after Hamas’s October attack, the agency has also paid a heavy price in Israel’s bombardment of Gaza, with more than 150 of its staff killed in the violence.

Netanyahu says elimination of Hamas remains his goal in Gaza

As top US officials push for a hostage deal and a pause in the war in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday the only acceptable outcome was the elimination of Hamas and any threat it may pose to Israel.

Speaking at an evening news conference, Netanyahu noted that it was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. He held up a copy in Arabic of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf and said it was found, along with other Nazi propaganda, by Israeli soldiers in Gazan homes.

“If we don’t eliminate the Hamas terrorists, these ‘new Nazis’, the next massacre is only a question of time,” he said.

Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns is set to join fresh hostage talks in the coming days, seeking a deal that US and regional officials say would be part of a ceasefire of at least two months.

Read more:

Netanyahu didn’t mention such talks or any pause in fighting. Instead, he said he had “instructed the ministers of defence and finance to bring before the government an unprecedented plan, a huge plan, to strengthen our defence industries for decades to come.”

As he spoke, Israeli troops were fighting intense battles around the central Gaza city of Khan Younis and thousands of Palestinians there were seen trying to evacuate to safety. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • John P says:

    And suddenly Netanhayu can show “evidence” and make accusations regarding “New Nazis” in Gaza. How very convenient.

  • Joe Schlabotnik says:

    Amazing! Straight after the ICJ ruling, in which Israel came off second best, Israel suddenly produces “evidence” of UNRWA staff being involved in the Hamas attacks. What a coincidence!

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