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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 11 APRIL 2024

Biden delivers ‘blunt’ message to Netanyahu; Israeli airstrike kills three sons of Hamas leader

Biden delivers ‘blunt’ message to Netanyahu; Israeli airstrike kills three sons of Hamas leader
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrives at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport on 27 June 2021. (Photo: Ali Allouch ATPImages / Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden said he delivered a ‘blunt and straightforward’ message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on improving civilian conditions in Gaza.

An Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the militant group said, among its most high-profile casualties since the start of the war six months ago.

The US and its allies believe major missile or drone strikes by Iran or its proxies against military and government targets in Israel are imminent, in what would mark a significant widening of the six-month-old conflict, according to people familiar with the intelligence.

Biden awaits Netanyahu response after ‘blunt’ talk on war

President Joe Biden said he delivered a “blunt and straightforward” message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on improving civilian conditions in Gaza.

“We’ll see what he does in terms of meeting the commitments he made to me,” Biden said on Wednesday during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Biden also urged the adoption of a proposal that would see a six-week ceasefire in exchange for the return of hostages being held by Hamas, saying the US remained committed to their release.

“We’re not going to stop until we do,” he said.

The Israel-Hamas war, now in its seventh month, has weighed heavily on Biden’s re-election bid. The president signalled a breaking point last week, telling Netanyahu that US support for his war effort would depend on better protecting civilian lives in Gaza. 

Biden on Wednesday also called for Israel to open an additional crossing and allow more aid trucks to enter the war-torn region.

An Israeli strike that killed seven aid workers delivering food to Palestinians prompted the call between Biden and Netanyahu. The incident caused global backlash and ramped up pressure on Biden to persuade Israel to allow more aid to flow into the devastated territory. The Israeli military has said the attack inadvertently targeted the aid convoy. 

Young voters, progressives and people of colour — all crucial groups for Democrats — have increasingly voiced opposition to Biden’s handling of the conflict and urged him to place conditions on support for Israel or entirely cut off military assistance. The president can ill afford defections in his November rematch with Republican Donald Trump.

Israeli officials this week said progress had been made in negotiations for a ceasefire in Gaza that would see the release of hostages held by Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, and Palestinian prisoners. It’s a shift in tone from the nation’s leaders, who had previously said large gaps remained between the two sides.

Netanyahu said on Monday that he had a date in mind to invade the city of Rafah — seen as the last bastion of Hamas and its leaders, but also where more than one million Palestinians fled during the war. Such a move would further strain US-Israeli relations. The White House has said it could not support a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah, given the likelihood of widespread civilian deaths.

Israeli strike kills three sons of Hamas leader

An Israeli airstrike on Gaza killed three sons of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, the militant group said, among its most high-profile casualties since the start of the war six months ago.

The attack, which coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, targeted a car in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City, Hamas said in a statement on Wednesday, citing Haniyeh.

The Israel-Hamas war began on 7 October, when the Iran-backed group invaded Israel and killed almost 1,200 people. That triggered a major military offensive that has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, said three of his grandchildren were also killed in the strike, according to Hamas.

US believes missile strike on Israel by Iran, proxies is imminent

The US and its allies believe major missile or drone strikes by Iran or its proxies against military and government targets in Israel are imminent, in what would mark a significant widening of the six-month-old conflict, according to people familiar with the intelligence.

The potential assault, possibly using high-precision missiles, may happen in the coming days, the people said, requesting anonymity to discuss confidential matters. It is seen as more a matter of when, not if, one of the people said, based on assessments from US and Israeli intelligence. 

Brent crude, the global benchmark, spiked more than 1% to trade above $90 a barrel following the news. Oil is up 16% this year, buoyed by war risk premium since the conflict in the Middle East began.

Iran has threatened to hit Israel in retaliation for an attack on a diplomatic compound in the Syrian capital of Damascus last week that killed senior Iranian military officials. Israel has not explicitly acknowledged it was behind that attack, though it has traditionally followed a policy of ambiguity on operations in Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Israel’s Western allies have been told Israeli government and military facilities may be targeted but civilian facilities are not expected to be, they said. US officials are helping Israel on planning and sharing intelligence assessments, the people said. Israel has told allies it is waiting for this attack to take place before launching another ground offensive against Hamas in Rafah in Gaza, though it’s not clear how soon that operation may begin.

Read more: The Israel-Iran shadow war reaches a risky new phase: QuickTake

US and Western intelligence indicates an attack from Iran and its proxies may not necessarily come from Israel’s north, where Tehran’s ally Hezbollah in Lebanon is located, the people said.

Israeli officials agree with the allied view. They’ve also publicly threatened Iran that if it hits Israeli soil, Israel will hit Iranian soil.

Earlier on Wednesday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated a vow to retaliate against Israel for the Damascus strike, which he said was tantamount to an attack on Iranian territory.

Foreign diplomatic missions already are preparing for the potential strikes, making contingency plans for evacuation amid requests from Israeli authorities about emergency supplies such as generators and satellite phones, one of the people said, noting that they were not aware of any Western missions planning immediate evacuation.

While the US has pushed Israel for a ceasefire in Gaza, the Biden administration has also signalled it’s prepared to back the country in the event of an attack by Iran or its proxies.

“We also want to address the Iranian threat to launch a significant — they’re threatening to launch a significant attack in Israel,” Biden said on Wednesday. “As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is iron-clad. Let me say it again, iron-clad — all we can to protect Israel’s security.”

Switzerland backs EU sanctions against six Hamas supporters

Switzerland was imposing financial sanctions and travel restrictions against six individuals who are involved in financing Hamas and the organisation Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the government said in a statement on Wednesday.

These sanctions were originally imposed by the European Union following the attack against Israel on 7 October.

Gaza faces major cash shortage after war destroys banking system

Heba al-Helou, a Palestinian sheltering with her two daughters in a tent in Rafa, finally managed to access some desperately needed money this week after spending days jostling in queues at a currency exchange.

She and many more of the estimated 1.5 million civilians taking refuge in the southern Gazan city have found that provisions such as food are becoming more readily available, especially as an increasing number of aid trucks enter the enclave and Israel starts to withdraw ground forces. But a major cash shortage across the whole of the coastal strip makes accessing them a different story.  

“There are no banks, and most of the currency shops are closed and we badly need the cash,” the 28-year-old said.

Within weeks of Hamas’s 7 October attack that Israel says killed almost 1,200 people, Heba and her family were forced to flee south from their home in Gaza City to Rafah, by the Egyptian border, as Israel’s military began its retaliatory campaign. Air and ground assaults have left many urban areas in ruins.

Much of Gaza’s infrastructure has been rendered dysfunctional by the ongoing six-month war — including the banking system. Israel has yet to embark on an invasion of Rafah itself — an assault firmly opposed by the US — though Netanyahu says that’s still the plan if Hamas is to be destroyed entirely. 

After Israel announced a military withdrawal from Khan Younis, Gaza’s second-largest city, at the weekend, more of the humanitarian aid that’s been languishing at border crossings is being allowed in. About 419 trucks were inspected by Israel and allowed into the enclave on Monday, the highest single-day number since the start of the war, according to the Israeli military.

Yet demand for supplies is high and ordinary Gazans can’t buy what they need. The situation is urgent: The United Nations warned weeks ago that tens of thousands of people were on the brink of famine, while at least 27 children have already died from malnutrition and thirst.

Rafah’s only functioning ATM, run by the Bank of Palestine, has been the sole source of cash available to Palestinians sheltering in the city, according to people in the area.

Israel’s military has destroyed the vast majority of banks and ATMs across Gaza, according to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, based in Ramallah in the West Bank. None of the lenders in northern Gaza, which Israel has cut off from the rest of the narrow coastal strip, have electricity or internet let alone any manpower, according to officials at the authority.

Before the war, almost 400 individual bank branches and bank offices were licensed and operating across Gaza and the West Bank, according to data on the PMA’s website.

The World Bank and the UN have estimated that the cost of the destruction wrought on Gaza overall is about $18.5-billion, almost equivalent to the total economic output of the West Bank and Gaza in 2022.

In the Gazan town of Deir al-Balah, where the only working ATM still frequently malfunctions, thousands of people stand in line each day to use it, residents there say.

Taking advantage of this cash crunch is a small industry of currency dealers who charge a 20% fee for giving cash to anyone who can move bank funds online.

This is how al-Helou ultimately managed to get her money — she made a transfer using a smartphone wallet to a dealer who then passed on the funds to her in cash, siphoning 20% for himself. 

“The lines were endless and it was chaotic, with people jostling and even fighting,” she said by phone. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East crisis news hub

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Denise Smit says:

    What next. The aid is free but Hamas says the people can now not buy it because the banks are destroyed. What rubbish. The aid is free

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