US, Israel defence chiefs in tense Gaza talks; Netanyahu slams ‘extreme’ Hamas demands

US, Israel defence chiefs in tense Gaza talks; Netanyahu slams ‘extreme’ Hamas demands
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, 17 March 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / LEO CORREA / POOL)

The number of ‘civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low’ in the Gaza war, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a blunt welcome to his Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas broke down again, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing the Islamist group of making ‘extreme demands’.

Singapore ordered the Israel embassy to take down an ‘insensitive and inappropriate’ social media post that could undermine security in the city-state, in the latest test of traditionally warm ties between the two nations. 

US defence secretary has blunt welcome for Israeli counterpart

The number of “civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low” in the Gaza war, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in a blunt welcome to his Israeli counterpart at the Pentagon on Tuesday.

The US visit by Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, was already under way when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a trip to Washington by other senior officials after the Biden administration decided not to veto a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. 

Although a US defence official described Austin and Gallant as good friends, the growing tensions over Israel’s conduct of the war were evident. Gallant made no reply to Austin’s remarks on casualties and aid, according to a Pentagon transcript, focusing on Israel’s fight against Hamas, designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union. He said Israel faced “attacks from seven different fronts” and cited Iran’s support for groups threatening his country.

Negotiations to free hostages held by Hamas “require us to join hands in our military and diplomatic efforts” and increase pressure on Hamas, Gallant said, according to Israel’s embassy in Washington.

The US defence official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, said that Austin emphasised Israel must move the more than one million civilians sheltering in Rafah, in southern Gaza, out of harm’s way before launching an attack on Hamas forces there. 

Netanyahu slams ‘extreme’ Hamas demands as truce talks stall

Ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas broke down again, with Netanyahu accusing the Islamist group of making “extreme demands”.

“Hamas once again rejected an American compromise proposal,” Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday. He cited the organisation’s insistence on an immediate end to the war in Gaza, the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from the territory and “leaving in place its administration so that it can repeat, time and again, the massacre of October 7”.

The two sides were negotiating in Qatar, a key mediator and home to some Hamas political leaders.

Netanyahu’s statement came after weeks of talks that appeared to make little headway. Israel says a ceasefire can only be temporary — around six weeks — and the war must continue until Hamas’ remaining fighting units are taken apart. 

Israel has said its next major move will be to send forces into Rafah. Most of its allies, including the US, are deeply concerned about an offensive because the city in southern Gaza contains more than one million people seeking shelter from the war.

The Israeli government argues an assault is necessary because it’s the last bastion of Hamas and where several thousand of its troops, main military leaders and some 100 Israeli hostages are located.

“We intend to fight this fight to the very end,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s strategic affairs minister and one of Netanyahu’s closest allies, said to Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “If the position of the United States is that there shouldn’t be a major military operation in Rafah, then we won’t be on the same page. We have to go into Rafah and finish the job.” 

Israel also says Hamas must agree to release hostages for a truce to start. Hamas abducted around 250 people and killed 1,200 when its fighters swarmed southern Israel from Gaza on 7 October.

Roughly 100 hostages were freed during the only pause in the conflict so far, which ended in early December. It’s unclear how many of the others are alive.

Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza has killed more than 32,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry there, which doesn’t distinguish between fighters and civilians.

Netanyahu is under increasing pressure to stop fighting and allow more aid into the Palestinian enclave to alleviate a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations has warned of a famine in parts of Gaza. 

Singapore orders Israel to remove ‘unacceptable’ online post

Singapore ordered the Israel embassy to take down an “insensitive and inappropriate” social media post that could undermine security in the city-state, in the latest test of traditionally warm ties between the two nations.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the embassy compared mentions of Israel and Palestine in the Koran, adding that documents and maps “link the land of Israel to the Jewish people as the indigenous people of the land”. The post has since been removed. 

“That post, on the Israeli Embassy social media page, is completely unacceptable,” Home Minister K Shanmugam told reporters on Monday. Posts like these can “inflame tensions and can put the Jewish community here at risk. The anger from the post can potentially spill over into the physical realm.”

While Singapore is made up of an ethnic Chinese majority, the multiracial nation is home to a considerable number of Malays who are Muslim. It also has neighbouring Muslim-majority countries like Indonesia and Malaysia that have seen protests in support of the Palestinian cause.

Singapore has laws against domestic threats and foreign influence to help maintain the country’s racial and religious harmony.

“The Israel Embassy respects religion and racial harmony in Singapore,” the foreign mission said in response to media queries. “We assure you that the social media post that had gone up was done without the necessary approvals and the person responsible has already been harshly punished and will face internal disciplinary measures.”

Both countries have enjoyed warm ties since Israel helped then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew set up the tiny island nation’s armed forces following Singapore’s independence in 1965. However, the city-state has grown increasingly concerned with the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. 

The take-down notice from Singapore comes days after Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan met with Netanyahu during his working visit to Israel. 

There he reiterated Singapore’s view that “Israel’s military actions in Gaza have gone too far.” Last week, Singapore completed its first humanitarian airdrop containing food and other essential items into Gaza. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    America has treated the support of Israel as a culture without any controls and redlines, a system they have defending beyond logic.
    The plausible genocide ruling and the latest report presented by a senior UN official confirming genocide in Palestine destroys the intergrity of a superpower, this is a very high price that ordinary Americans may not be willing to pay.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      They the US (& EU allies) are complicit in the genocide in Palestine, hence the rush to build a temporary port to ship in food etc, [part of an orchestrated American charade to try to avoid complicity & like the public utterances of Austin to ‘gallant’ Gallant – the one who clearly & unambiguously said some 5 months ago “no food, water, medicine, or fuel for Gaza!] when adequate ground entry points are available – a flimsy excuse allowing & enabling Israel to continue its genocide across Palestine. Imagine over seven thousand jailed (besides the ones summarily executed daily) from the West Bank alone … since Oct 7 ! Already the American ‘gamesmanship/deceit’ in the UN rapporteurs report of genocide has been characterised as ‘biased against Israel’ (sic !). What they & their proxy Israel want is for the report to exclusively blame the military wing of Hamas… and by implication avoid Israeli (& direct American) involvement in atrocities. Their common hatred and demonisation of Hamas as a group including those in the health sector, journalists etc …knows no bounds or limits. The same attitude it had to the ANC when it was banned in apartheid SA. Yet that is the very org. it had to eventually ‘negotiate’ with! Even the thought of ‘negotiating’ with Hamas gives Biden & Netanyahu et al nightmares of the worst kind, as did our apartheid regime here! They forgot what the greatest ‘terrorist’ said about “our liberation being incomplete without that of Palestine”.

      • Malcolm McManus says:

        I am not sure if you are South African or not, but over here everything is alleged until guilt is proven in court. I expect Naledi and yourself to be assuming the same, and treat the alleged Genocide as a mere allegation at this stage and that the US and Allies are only allegedly complicit. Jacob Zuma, a great comrade of the greatest South African terrorist of all time, being a similar example of one of the most alleged people on the planet, regardless of what evidence of his corruption etc stares us in the face and no matter how long it takes for a court to make a guilty verdict. Much like the current case with the ICJ and Israel will most likely pan out.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Ever since I knew Benjamin he has been oppressing and normalizing illegal occupation and settlement on Palestinian land.
    His actions has got many Jews and Palestinians killed than any other Israel prime minister.
    Europe and America may just decide to value the international organisations who give grim and ugly reports about Israel’s actions using weapons donated by the west and EU allies, this places them in the centre of crimes against humanity with genocide against Palestinians in the forefront.

    • Malcolm McManus says:

      I don’t know the answer to this mess in Palestine. It doesn’t look like anyone does at this stage, but I don’t see it ending anytime soon, regardless of what stance Europe or the USA are seen to be taking. Whats said and whats done are two entirely different things. But the 7th of October was certainly a massive escalation to this decades old conflict. I am sure many people would prefer it if the 7th of October attacks had never happened, including many Palestinians. It certainly did not help matters.

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        And it didn’t happen in a vacuum although strongly condemned, I wonder if the answer of designing a genocide war against Palestinians was the answer, it is confirmed in all statements of the war cabinet on launch of the war.

        • Malcolm McManus says:

          This hatred between both parties goes back a long way. Its a vicious circle that seems never ending. The question is. How do we move forward in a civil manner to bring a peaceful solution to this conflict. With so much hatred on both sides of the fence, neither party is likely to want to work toward peace with an open, non biased mind. The problem is not really with the normal civilians on both sides of the conflict, but with the leaders of both and the Hamas genocide stance. I do believe if Hamas was out of the picture, it is likely to smooth the way to peace and better lives for Palestinians, particularly now with so much global focus on the this conflict.

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