World

MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 2 APRIL 2024

Israeli airstrike kills two Iranian generals in Syria; Netanyahu committed to attack on Rafah

Israeli airstrike kills two Iranian generals in Syria; Netanyahu committed to attack on Rafah
Rescue workers at the site of an airstrike in Damascus, Syria, on 1 April 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Youssef Dafawwi)

An Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria killed several people, including two generals, stoking tension between the longtime adversaries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was preparing to move more than a million Palestinian civilians from southern Gaza city of Rafah, provide them with sufficient aid and then carry out an attack on the remaining Hamas fighting battalions there.

Hamas, clans and the Israeli military are engaged in a bloody battle for control of north Gaza and aid distribution, making an already troubled process more dangerous and unreliable. 

Iran says Israeli strike on its compound killed two generals

An Israeli airstrike on Iran’s embassy compound in Syria killed several people including a top military commander, Iranian and Syrian state media said, stoking tension between the longtime adversaries.

Mohammadreza Zahedi, a high-ranking Iranian general linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was among those killed, according to the reports. The Guard Corps said the attack also killed a second general and five officers, according to the Associated Press. 

Zahedi had served as the head of IRGC’s ground forces in the 2000s and also led its Quds Force in Syria and Lebanon from 2008 to 2016. Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said Zahedi’s deputy was also among those killed, without saying where it got the information. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Israel should be held accountable for the repercussions of the attack, while the country’s envoy to Syria vowed a “decisive response”.

Israeli officials didn’t confirm the strike. “I won’t comment on any strike that is published in the foreign media,” said Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces.

Israel has for years routinely struck targets in Syria. Netanyahu’s government has stepped up those attacks since the war with Hamas, an Iran-backed group that’s designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union, erupted in October in the Gaza Strip. 

Hamas killed about 1,200 people and abducted 250 others during its incursion into southern Israel, according to Israeli authorities. A fierce retaliatory land and air campaign has since left more than 32,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. Hundreds of Iran-backed militiamen have since moved from the Iraq-Syria border to be nearer Israel.

Netanyahu vows to move civilians from Rafah, then smash Hamas

Netanyahu said the military was preparing to move more than a million Palestinian civilians out of the southern Gaza city of Rafah, provide them with sufficient aid and then carry out an attack on the remaining Hamas fighting battalions there.

“It’s the right thing to do operationally and internationally,” he said on Sunday night, speaking at a news conference in his Jerusalem office. “It takes time, but it will be done.” 

Almost six months since the conflict began, Israel has come under growing international pressure — including from the US, its key ally — to accept a ceasefire to avoid more civilian deaths and casualties. 

A week-long November truce led to the release of more than 100 of the hostages held by Hamas. Talks involving Qatar, the US and Egypt, starting up again in Cairo, are aimed at releasing the rest in exchange for Palestinian prisoners and a long pause in fighting.

“We need to balance between pressure on Hamas and flexibility in the negotiations,” Netanyahu said at the news conference.

Responding to accusations in Israel that he was not focused enough on the release of hostages, he said, “Whoever says that is wrong and misleading you.”

Israeli troops dominate the northern part of Gaza now. One Hamas demand is that civilians and fighters be permitted back to their homes in the north. Netanyahu said that couldn’t be accepted because of “significant security implications” that he declined to enumerate.

“More concessions are not what will lead to a deal,” he said. “You need to conduct intelligent negotiations and not respond to illusory and dangerous demands.”

The ceasefire deal under discussion would last for some six weeks, leading to the release of about 40 hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and a big increase in humanitarian aid. Many hope such a truce would be extended. Israel says it will not end the fighting until the 5,000 to 8,000 Hamas militants it says are in Rafah are defeated.

Without that victory, Israeli officials say, the war will be a failure and will not send the needed message of deterrence to another Iran-backed militia, Hezbollah in Lebanon. Fighting there has escalated in recent weeks between militants and Israel.

While Netanyahu was speaking, tens of thousands of protesters — organisers said the number reached 100,000 — were outside calling for him to step down and hold new elections. He said at the news conference that elections now “will paralyse Israel for eight months, paralyse the negotiations and bring an end to the war, and Hamas will bless it”.

Netanyahu said the US had ideas about getting aid to the Rafah civilians and limiting casualties and he was ready to listen. But, he added, “It won’t take much longer. Nothing will stop us.”

Gazans go hungry as Hamas, Israel and clans battle for control

A top Hamas police commander met in mid-March with the heads of a Gaza clan who’d been commandeering aid meant for hungry Palestinians. He told them to stop taking the shipments or they’d be killed. A week later, that commander was killed — by Israeli troops. 

The Israelis weren’t acting at the clan’s request. Rather, all three — Hamas, clans and the Israeli military — are engaged in a bloody battle for control of north Gaza and aid distribution, making an already troubled process more dangerous and unreliable. Famine is a threat, and people are beginning to die of hunger, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The dead commander, Fayeq al-Mabhouh, had organised a safe route so that those who’d been desperately making bread from animal feed got wheat flour, according to a senior Hamas official and several others on the ground, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Israeli troops killed several others working with Mabhouh, Gazans say, and the safe route died with them.

Israeli military officials acknowledged killing Mabhouh and colleagues during their operation in Shifa Hospital, along with almost 200 other Hamas operatives, but said it had nothing to do with aid. “We are at war against Hamas, he was a top Hamas terrorist and therefore was killed,” said Major Nir Dinar, a spokesperson.

International aid groups are also central players in Gaza and in frequent conflict with Israel. UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, is essentially a Palestinian organisation that Israel is trying to shut down on charges that it’s too cosy with Hamas. 

Several governments have stopped funding UNRWA because of those charges, and UNRWA said last week that although it was best positioned to get aid to those in need, Israel was stopping it from doing so, worsening hunger and suffering. While everywhere in the coastal strip is in need of food, the north is the most dire. 

A recent UN-backed report said famine was imminent in northern Gaza where 70% of the population was on the brink of starvation. Some two dozen people, including babies, have died from starvation in the north, the health ministry said. 

The International Rescue Committee said in a statement that “US-funded humanitarian assistance has been consistently and arbitrarily denied by the Israeli authorities.”

A spokesperson for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in response to queries from Bloomberg, said, “Between March 1 and 15, every fifth humanitarian mission to the north was denied access. This is in addition to delays, impediments and multiple dangers, including live fire. The Israeli authorities have impeded the import of items critically needed to save lives in Gaza, including generators to power medical operations.” 

Shimon Freedman, a spokesperson for the Israeli military’s civilian affairs department, denied the accusations, saying Israel had been facilitating aid into northern Gaza but international aid groups had not increased the number of trucks, workers or working hours as needed. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Judging by the thousands protesting in TelAviv and other Israel cities against the killings it is not clear whose interests are being served here.
    Unless there is an invisible Israel population.

  • JP K says:

    A state which is committing genocide (as per UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories which found reasonable grounds that genocide was being committed).

    An Apartheid state (as per Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’tselem)

    A state which perpetrated and continues to perpetrate ethnic cleansing (Cf. Zionist historian Benny Morris who stated that “transfer was inevitable and inbuilt into Zionism—because it sought to transform a land which was “Arab” into a “Jewish” state and a Jewish state could not have arisen without a major displacement of Arab population”)

    And now it targets a diplomatic mission killing senior Iran officials and potentially drawing the region into a war with a nuclear power?

    Israel is clearly a lunatic state. Its international supporters must be watching with grave concern.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Become a Maverick Insider

This could have been a paywall

On another site this would have been a paywall. Maverick Insider keeps our content free for all.

Become an Insider
Elections24 Newsletter Banner

On May 29 2024, South Africans will make their mark in another way.

Get your exclusive, in-depth Election 2024 newsletter curated by Ferial Haffajee delivered straight to your inbox.