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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 6 MAY 2024

Israel bans Al Jazeera, raids broadcaster’s offices; Gaza crossing shut after Hamas rocket barrage

Israel bans Al Jazeera, raids broadcaster’s offices; Gaza crossing shut after Hamas rocket barrage
Protesters hold a poster reading, 'Targeting Journalist is A Crime', together with a poster of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while reporting in Palestine, on World Press Freedom Day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 3 May 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / FAZRY ISMAIL)

Israeli officials seized Al Jazeera equipment on Sunday, hours after the nation’s Cabinet approved a decision to shutter the Qatar-based TV news network’s operations in the Jewish state — an unprecedented step towards an international media outlet.

Israel closed the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing into Gaza on Sunday after a rocket barrage was fired by Hamas from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in an incident that could imperil delicate hostage and ceasefire negotiations. 

New York Mayor Eric Adams pledged to ensure that this year’s graduation ceremonies in the city would not be disrupted by violent protests over the war in Gaza, saying no one should be allowed to threaten commencements. 

Israel raids Al Jazeera’s offices after banning broadcaster

Israeli officials seized Al Jazeera equipment on Sunday, hours after the nation’s Cabinet approved a decision to shutter the Qatar-based TV news network’s operations in the Jewish state — an unprecedented step towards an international media outlet.  

Inspectors from the communications ministry, accompanied by police, arrived at Al Jazeera’s offices in Jerusalem, confiscated equipment and cut off access. Al Jazeera’s broadcasts and access to its website have been blocked throughout Israel. 

Shlomo Karhi, Israel’s communications minister, posted a video clip of the raid on X, formerly Twitter, where the inspectors can be seen and heard naming the equipment they found.  

Karhi has been a key advocate for the termination of the network’s activity within Israel. He’s also called Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, biased and threatened to cut its budgets.   

Al Jazeera denounced Israel’s move, calling it a “criminal act that violates human rights in access to information”. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has petitioned the move to Israel’s Supreme Court. 

“This is a dark day for the media and a dark day for democracy,” Israel’s Foreign Press Association said in a statement. “Israel joins a dubious club of authoritarian governments to ban the station.” 

The association expressed concern that Israel’s government “may not be done” as the prime minister now has the authority to target other foreign media he deems to be “acting against the state”.

Several ministers from Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party abstained from Sunday’s vote and criticised its timing, underlining escalating tensions between the various factions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Gantz’s party said that while it supports shutting down Qatari-owned Al Jazeera, Israel’s war Cabinet had agreed to postpone any decision at the request of security officials, including the head of Mossad, to avoid harming ceasefire negotiation efforts now under way in Egypt. 

Read more: Netanyahu says Israel won’t give in to Hamas demand to end war

Israel and Hamas, through intermediaries, continue to work towards a deal that would involve the release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza and Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Qatar has been a dominant mediator since the war in Gaza broke out following Hamas’ 7 October attacks on Israel.

The idea of shutting down the news channel has been circulating within Netanyahu’s Cabinet, composed mostly of hard-right, nationalist and Jewish Orthodox parties, since the early days of the war. 

Al Jazeera was blamed by Israel for what were termed false reports that heavily relied on what was thought to be Hamas propaganda.

In late March, the channel ran a story claiming that Israeli soldiers had raped and murdered women at Gaza’s Al Shifa hospital, which the Israel Defense Forces denied. It was later removed from all of Al Jazeera’s platforms.

A law allowing foreign media outlets to be shuttered in Israel was approved by the nation’s parliament, the Knesset, in early April. It would give Israel’s premier the power to instruct the communications ministry to act against any foreign media entity deemed to be “harming the country”, pending the opinion of at least one security official and the approval of the Cabinet or security Cabinet.  

“Al Jazeera harmed Israel’s security, actively participated in the October 7 massacre, and incited against IDF soldiers,” Netanyahu said when the law was passed. “It is time to remove the voice of Hamas from our country.” 

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre criticized the move at the time as “a concerning step”. The US supports the work of journalists around the world, including those working in Gaza, she said. 

Israel shuts Gaza crossing after Hamas rocket barrage from Rafah

Israel closed the Kerem Shalom humanitarian crossing into Gaza on Sunday after a rocket barrage was fired by Hamas from the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in an incident that could imperil delicate hostage and ceasefire negotiations. 

Israel and Hamas have been negotiating for weeks through mediators towards a potential truce that would include the release of hostages held in Gaza and of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. At the same time, Israel has threatened to launch an operation in Rafah, where it says Hamas battalions remain intact, and where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians are sheltering.

The Israeli army said about 10 projectiles were fired at Kerem Shalom, a corridor for humanitarian aid transfers that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited last week. Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for the attack, which Israel’s Foreign Ministry said in a social media post injured seven people. 

The Israel Defense Forces didn’t immediately confirm the number of casualties, but said the launches took place “adjacent to the Rafah Crossing, located approximately 350m from civilian shelters.” 

The attack came hours after Netanyahu said Israel was prepared to temporarily halt the war in Gaza to gain the release of the hostages held there, but would not agree to the Hamas demand to end the war completely. Israel’s defence minister warned that its forces continued to prepare for a potential assault on Rafah in southern Gaza. 

Netanyahu doubled down on his position on Sunday.

“We are not ready to accept a situation in which the Hamas battalions come out of their bunkers, take control of Gaza again, rebuild their military infrastructure, and return to threatening the citizens of Israel in the surrounding settlements, in the cities of the south, in all parts of the country,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday. Hamas, not Israel, was preventing a deal, he added. 

Giving in to Hamas’ demands would be a “terrible defeat” for Israel, a huge victory for Hamas and Iran, and would project a “terrible weakness” to Israel’s friends and enemies alike, Netanyahu said, according to a statement released by his office. 

This weakness would distance any further peace agreement, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to potential normalisation of ties with Saudi Arabia. 

Read more: US-Saudi defence pact ‘not possible without Israel deal’

“This weakness will only bring the next war closer, and it will push the next peace agreement further away,” Netanyahu said. “Alliances are not made with the weak and defeated, alliances are made with the strong and victorious.”     

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the group, which is considered a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union, brought “seriousness and positivity” to the current talks. 

Netanyahu, he said, wanted to “invent constant justifications for the continuation of aggression, expanding the circle of conflict, and sabotaging efforts made through various mediators and parties”. 

Hamas had conducted a series of contacts with mediators and with resistance factions, and held intensive meetings and consultations before sending its delegation to Cairo, he said. 

Hamas was still keen to reach a comprehensive agreement that guarantees the withdrawal of Israeli forces and achieves a serious prisoners/hostage exchange deal, Haniyeh added. 

In response, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he saw indications that Hamas did not want a deal, which would open the door to “intense” military activity in Rafah. 

“IDF forces are ready for a powerful operation all over Gaza and especially in the Rafah area,” he said in a post on X.  

Earlier on Sunday, an air strike blamed by Lebanon on Israel killed four civilians and wounded two others in a village in south Lebanon, prompting Hezbollah to fire rockets back across the border.

Israeli warplanes targeted Mays al-Jabal, causing “massive destruction”, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported on Sunday. Israel hasn’t so far commented. 

Hezbollah said it fired “tens” of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in response to Israel’s attack, the militant group’s Al-Manar TV reported.

Israeli forces have been exchanging cross-border fire with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah almost daily since the start of the campaign against Hamas in October. Tensions appear to have intensified with Iran-backed Hezbollah since Israel and Tehran began attacking each other directly last month.

Tens of thousands of Israelis and Lebanese have fled their homes near the borders due to ongoing cross-border fighting. That erupted around the time Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people and triggering the war in Gaza that’s destroyed much of the enclave and killed more than 34,000 Palestinians. More than 100 Israelis captured by Hamas are still being held in Gaza, although it’s unclear how many are still alive.  

NYC mayor vows to protect graduations as LAPD shuts university camp

New York Mayor Eric Adams pledged to ensure that this year’s graduation ceremonies in the city would not be disrupted by violent protests over the war in Gaza, saying no one should be allowed to threaten commencements.

“We will make sure it’s done in a peaceful manner,” Adams said on Sunday on ABC’s This Week. Graduations were “a wonderful experience” and “I don’t think we should allow anything to get in our normal way of life,” he said. “We will do our job.”  

Adams’ stance contrasts with the University of Southern California, which cancelled its main commencement ceremony citing safety concerns after police arrested more than 90 protesters. 

Los Angeles police cleared out protest camps on Sunday at the University of Southern California campus, aided by USC public safety officers. The university said the campus remained closed, though smaller USC graduation ceremonies remained on the schedule this week.  

Universities across the US have faced wrenching decisions in dealing with a wave of pro-Palestinian campus protests.

New York police entered Columbia on Tuesday to remove protesters who had occupied a university building. About 300 people were arrested at Columbia and City College. Columbia president Minouche Shafik is allowing the NYPD to stay on campus for two weeks, including commencement on 15 May. New York University’s graduation is scheduled for the same day. The protests have tested college administrators and prompted a range of responses.

Schools including Northwestern University and Brown University have held discussions with students about demands to divest from businesses they say support Israel. At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, police used pepper spray to break up a camp and arrested 25 protesters on Saturday, according to The Washington Post.

About 75 protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted anti-war messages at the University of Michigan’s commencement ceremony on Saturday, the Associated Press reported. At Indiana University, dozens of students walked out of the graduation ceremony in protest of the war, The New York Times said. 

US-Saudi defence pact ‘not possible without Israel deal’

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan insisted the Biden administration would enter into a defence pact with Saudi Arabia only if the kingdom normalised relations with Israel, the Financial Times reported.    

Sullivan said in an interview with the newspaper the two issues were part of an “integrated vision” for peace in the Middle East and could not be disentangled. He said that President Joe Biden will publicly outline a path to a more secure Israel and a more peaceful region in the months ahead, the FT said.

The US and Saudi Arabia are nearing a historic pact that would offer the kingdom security guarantees and lay out a possible pathway to diplomatic ties with Israel, if its government brings the war in Gaza to an end, Bloomberg reported this week, citing people familiar with the matter. 

Read more: US and Saudis near defence pact meant to reshape Middle East

The agreement faces many obstacles but would amount to a new version of a framework that was scuttled when Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, triggering the conflict in Gaza. 

Crisis in the Palestinian-run West Bank clouds Gaza hopes

The new Palestinian prime minister is a former World Bank executive who vows to fight corruption and waste. The finance minister worked at PwC. The foreign ministry is helmed by a woman with a US doctorate and deep experience in human rights.

By many measures, the new Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is just what the US and others want for a future Palestinian state that could extend its rule to a post-war Gaza: a modern, technocratic group focused on solving problems.

But as a series of interviews in the administrative capital of Ramallah and elsewhere shows, the chances of success are low and the reasons are many. The administration is bloated and inefficient. The economy is collapsing after Israel barred 150,000 West Bankers from entering to work and withheld tax receipts needed to pay Palestinian public employees. And Israeli settler violence is increasing.

“We need someone to say to Israel: ‘This is a dire situation,’” said Varsin Agabekyan, minister of state for foreign affairs. “At the end of the day, people need to find bread and butter on the table.” She said of the new group of leaders: “All of us come from prominent positions and we have left everything to come in and put all our energy and effort in making this work.”

Read more: Israel’s ban on Palestinian workers is hurting both economies

Netanyahu, who leads the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has resisted US calls to allow the Palestinian Authority to extend its mandate over Gaza, and rejects the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel’s official position — even Netanyahu’s — was once in favour of two states. But the nation’s rightward drift, along with the trauma of the attacks by Hamas on 7 October, has hardened its stand to focus on security. Equally, Palestinians since the attack have embraced Hamas.

A survey of 830 people in the West Bank taken from 5-10 March and released in mid-April shows dismal satisfaction with 88-year-old Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement (8% and 24%, respectively). Approval for Hamas was 75%. 

“Trust in the Palestinian Authority is at one of the lowest levels we’ve ever recorded,” said Khalil Shikaki, head of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, which conducted the poll

In the West Bank alone, gross domestic product fell by an annualised rate of 22% in the last three months of 2023, while unemployment is estimated to have more than doubled to 30%, up from 14% before the war. 

Authorities forecast the Palestinian economy as a whole, including both the West Bank and Gaza, will continue to drop in 2024 by nearly 5% after cratering by 33% in the fourth quarter. That’s wildly optimistic, according to Ramallah-based economist Raja Khalidi, who expects a contraction of 25% to 30% this year.

“We are now in a free-fall,” Khalidi said. 

The Palestinian Authority no longer receives the portion of tax receipts from Israel it needs to pay the salaries and pensions of employees in Gaza and says it’s owed $1.3-billion. It faces a “spiralling fiscal crisis”, the World Bank said in a report in February. It had to cut salaries to as low as 60% of pre-war levels. 

Even at the best of times, the Authority would face an uphill struggle. It inherited a bloated administration with 25 ministries, a dozen public agencies, and 147,000 civil servants that barely provides basic services, said Khalidi, the economist.

Public dissatisfaction soared after Israel introduced restrictions on movement inside the West Bank as well as shutting down the borders in the wake of 7 October.

Since then, there’s been rising violence by Israeli settlers as well as security forces, who freely enter all areas of the West Bank — including the 20% nominally under full Palestinian control. Attacks by Palestinians are also increasing.

Since 7 October, 474 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank, including at least 10 by Israeli settlers, according to the United Nations, which in 2023 recorded the highest number of Palestinians killed by Israeli security forces since it began collecting this data in 2005.

Israeli troops killed five Palestinians, including four members of Hamas’s armed wing, in an overnight raid near the city of Tulkarm in the West Bank, Palestinian and Israeli officials said on Saturday. 

Land seizures and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank, where close to 500,000 settlers live alongside 2.8 million Palestinians, are another key source of friction.

About 4,000 Palestinians were displaced in 2023 because of the actions of security forces and settlers, the UN says. This year has already set a new record for land grabs, with about 1,100 hectares of West Bank land seized by Israel so far in 2024, more than twice the previous yearly high of 520 hectares taken in 1999, according to the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now. 

Gaza truce talks set to restart in Egypt with hopes for deal

A Hamas delegation has reportedly arrived in Cairo for new talks aimed at reaching a ceasefire in Gaza, where the war between the Iran-backed militant group and Israel is nearing the seven-month mark.  

Reports in Saudi Arabian and Israeli media that couldn’t be independently confirmed suggest Hamas negotiators were prepared to accept the terms of an Egypt-brokered deal. 

Israel’s Channel 12 also quoted a Hamas official saying that the organisation’s leadership had approved the implementation of the first phase of a hostage release plan. CNN reported that the details of any agreement could take several days more to iron out, citing US and Israeli officials it didn’t identify.  

CIA Director Bill Burns arrived in Cairo on Friday to help Egyptian mediators work towards a truce, Axios reported. Israel hasn’t yet sent a delegation, an official told Agence France Presse.  

As of early Saturday, Hamas had yet to make a formal response to the latest proposal for a ceasefire and hostage release put forward by US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators, who are looking to avert an Israeli military operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah.  

Israel’s government briefed the White House this week on its plan to move Palestinian civilians out of Rafah before a potential military operation, the Associated Press reported, citing officials it didn’t identify.  

A “full-blown famine” had now developed in parts of northern Gaza and was “moving its way south,” Cindy McCain, the director of the UN’s World Food Programme, told NBC News in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday’s Meet the Press

Separately, the US has told Qatar that it should expel Hamas if the group continues to reject a ceasefire with Israel, The Washington Post reported. The message was delivered to Qatar’s prime minister by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in April, the newspaper reported. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Vic Mash says:

    There you have it folks, the wolf has finally emerged.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    Netanyahu’s alliance partners do not want a ceasefire – they do not want a two state solution.
    The escalation of illegal West Bank land grabs suggest an extremely cynical objective.

    • dexter m says:

      Not only Netanyahu’s alliance partners , none of the parties in the Knesset want a 2 states solution. Neither is the US and some European countries .The US proved that by first lobbying countries to deny Palestinians full membership in UN , when that failed they had to use their veto to kill that motion . So all the talk about a 2 state solution is political management by Israel’s supporters . The only offer that has always been on the table , is what SA had with the Bantustans .

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        After seeing that killing the Aljazerra employees is not scaring them they closed their operation, fortunately they still broadcast live incidents in Palestine from Egypt, I guess mossad will go after them, Israel is a very powerful army for unarmed non military targets, I wonder if they can win a street fight without their surrogate parents USA and UK.

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