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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 13 MAY 2024

Israel risks fuelling Hamas insurgency in postwar Gaza — Blinken; 300,000 Palestinians flee Rafah

Israel risks fuelling Hamas insurgency in postwar Gaza — Blinken; 300,000 Palestinians flee Rafah
Palestinians prepare to evacuate after Israeli forces launched a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, 11 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Hatem Khaled)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel risked fuelling a Hamas insurgency in postwar Gaza, cautioning that there would still be thousands of armed militants in the area even if Israel invaded the city of Rafah.

At least 300,000 Palestinians have left Rafah since Monday, according to the Israeli military, which warned people to flee before an expected assault aimed at Hamas’ top leaders, thousands of remaining fighters and tunnels thought to be used to smuggle goods from Egypt.

The UK would probably use contractors in the US-led operation to deliver humanitarian aid on the beaches of Gaza rather than deploying its own forces, Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

Blinken warns Israel it risks Hamas insurgency in postwar Gaza

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel risked fuelling a Hamas insurgency in postwar Gaza, cautioning that there would still be thousands of armed militants in the area even if Israel invaded the city of Rafah.

It was the latest warning in a steady escalation of US concern about Israel’s conduct of its Gaza offensive. Blinken broadly questioned Israel’s approach on Sunday, saying the Biden administration hadn’t seen a “credible” Israeli plan for shielding civilians in an assault on Rafah nor a postwar plan. 

“Right now, the trajectory that Israel is on is, even if it goes in and takes heavy action in Rafah, there will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” Blinken said on NBC’s Meet the Press. That leaves Israel potentially on track to “inherit an insurgency” or “a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy, and probably refilled by Hamas”, he said. 

President Joe Biden’s administration has been pressing Israel for a postwar strategy almost since the conflict erupted with the 7 October attack on southern Israel by Hamas militants.

“We’ve been working for many, many weeks on developing credible plans for security, for governance, for rebuilding,” Blinken said on Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “We haven’t seen that come from Israel.”

Biden’s decision to withhold a shipment of bombs from Israel as well as a State Department finding last week that Israel may have violated international law while using US-supplied weapons have further inflamed the US domestic debate over the war, which has turned into a liability for Biden’s reelection bid and caused rifts within his Democratic Party.

“Israel should not be receiving another nickel in US military aid,” Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, said on Meet the Press

Hamas militants attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 in Israel and taking 250 others hostage. Since Israel’s retaliatory military offensive, about 35,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to the Gaza health ministry, which is run by Hamas. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US and the European Union. 

Gazans flee danger of Rafah for uncertainty of crowded camps

This is the fourth time Soha Abu Omara and her family have been forced to flee the fighting in Gaza. At least they have a tent.

Seven months into the war between Israel and Hamas, chaos is rising, and so are prices. A tent, the most basic shelter, can cost $1,000. A ride from the southern city of Rafah, now in Israel’s crosshairs, to the declared safety zone of al-Mawasi can be $270. It used to cost about $13. And those who are fleeing overstuffed Rafah find the al-Mawasi safe zone itself overcrowded and squalid — and perhaps not even safe from fighting.

“There are no suitable washrooms, and we stay on the sand and the dust,” Abu Omara said. 

At least 300,000 Palestinians have left Rafah since Monday, according to the Israeli military, which warned people to flee before an expected assault aimed at Hamas’ top leaders, thousands of remaining fighters and tunnels thought to be used to smuggle goods from Egypt. Also believed to be in the area are about 130 Israeli hostages held by Hamas since October. Israel says it’s taking care to avoid civilian casualties in an operation strongly opposed by the US and other allies.

The Israeli military on Saturday ordered more evacuations from the central parts of Rafah, signalling its intention to expand the military operation, including into the city’s downtown. 

Palestinians and aid groups say that after so much destruction, nowhere in Gaza is safe — and that the coastal enclave of al-Mawasi is ill-equipped to cram in hundreds of thousands more people. 

“How can this huge population, including those with mobility impairments, be moved on destroyed roads, in areas polluted by weapons?” said Hisham Mhanna, a spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Are these areas equipped with what is needed to ensure the families’ survival? Will food, water, medicine, health care, and above all, security and safety, be provided?”  

According to UN agencies, the relocation sites lack essential facilities such as proper latrines, water access points, drainage systems, and adequate shelter. 

Al-Mawasi is a formerly barren patch of coast and dunes in southwestern Gaza which Israel designated a “humanitarian area” after the war began, telling residents fleeing the fighting in the north to go there. 

Since 7 October, more than 70% of Gaza’s housing stock has been destroyed, according to the UN. And so a black market for shelter has emerged. Tents donated to Palestinians by several Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar, as well as international organisations like the Red Crescent, are being resold for sky-high prices that most Gazans can’t afford.

After the recent evacuation orders around Rafah, crowds raided warehouses belonging to aid organisations and the Hamas-run social affairs ministry. They grabbed tents and other supplies, further exacerbating the situation and spreading chaos.

Some leaving Rafah returned to Khan Younis, a city from which Israeli forces withdrew in April after weeks of operation, leaving behind extensive destruction. Residents sought shelter under the damaged roofs of their old homes, or set up tents amid shattered cinder blocks and twisted rebar.

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, or UNRWA, says people have also attempted to return their children to schools in Khan Younis, only to find the “classrooms are torched”, the group said on X. “Walls are blown out. There is rubble everywhere.”  

Asmaa Arafat has housed about 20 members of her extended family at her home in Rafah. For nearly seven months, Arafat (47) has lived with her children and other displaced people, enduring food, gas, electricity and water shortages as well as the constant fear of Israeli bombardment.

After Monday’s warning, “We collected our belongings and prepared to leave,” Arafat said in a phone interview, “but we couldn’t find a means of transportation.” 

Despite the challenges, tens of thousands have left by foot, animal-pulled carts or vehicles in recent days, carrying essential belongings like mattresses, blankets and water containers. There was no clear guidance from local authorities, and little assistance was provided. By Saturday, east Rafah was deserted and the downtown largely abandoned, days after shells started landing there and before Israel included the heart of the city under evacuation orders.

Arafat’s family and guests decided to hold out for one more day, but artillery shells started falling on the neighbourhood in the late afternoon. The Israeli warnings, published on social media and relayed by phone calls, text messages and air-dropped leaflets, gave no timeline for the evacuation. “It was a night of hell,” she recalled. “We didn’t believe we would be alive by the morning.”

The next day, a truck driver demanded $270 for the ride to al-Mawasi — but the family had run out of money. “We split up,” she said. “My daughter and I walked west to her husband’s sister’s house, and my family returned to their damaged houses in Khan Younis.”

UK to rely on contractors to deliver aid in Gaza, says Cameron

The UK would probably use contractors in the US-led operation to deliver humanitarian aid on the beaches of Gaza rather than deploying its own forces, Foreign Secretary David Cameron said.

The US last week completed the construction of two floating piers as part of a maritime corridor to deliver aid into Gaza. While the UK is fully part of the effort, including the use of a Royal Navy ship as a logistics hub, it will avoid deploying military personnel in Gaza, Cameron said in a BBC interview on Sunday.

“British boots on the ground, I think, is a risk that we should not take,” Cameron said, a policy that would line up with the US. “There are other people that can do it.”   

Netanyahu trades insults with Colombia president over Gaza war

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked Colombian President Gustavo Petro after the South American leader called for his arrest over the war in Gaza.

“Israel will not be lectured by an antisemitic supporter of Hamas,” Netanyahu wrote in a post on X on Saturday.  

Earlier this month, Petro said Colombia would cut diplomatic ties with Israel for having “a genocidal president”. On Friday, he wrote, “Netanyahu won’t stop the genocide, which implies an arrest order by the International Criminal Court.” 

Israel’s relations have soured with governments across Latin America in recent months as the death toll rose in its Gaza campaign. 

Israel may have violated international law, says US report

The Biden administration said Israel may have violated international law in its war against Hamas but it would not stop the flow of weapons and bombs to a key ally.

The State Department said in a highly anticipated report Friday that although Israel’s reliance on US weapons in Gaza meant it was likely that it had breached obligations under international law, it had been unable to verify specific instances.

It was “reasonable to assess” that US weapons “have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent with its IHL [international humanitarian law] obligations or with established best practices for mitigating civilian harm”, the department said in the report.

“The nature of the conflict in Gaza makes it difficult to assess or reach conclusive findings on individual incidents,” it said.  

The department also said the US had “deep concerns” over Israel allowing the delivery of humanitarian aid into Gaza, a situation that was still “insufficient” but improved.

However, it said in the report, “We do not currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of US humanitarian assistance” consistent with the Foreign Assistance Act.

The findings were included in a report that was sent to Congress on Friday. Some Democratic legislators have pressed the Biden administration to suspend shipments of military aid to Israel over its handling of the war. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    Tents and humanitarian being re-sold, drivers charging exorbitant fees to move civilians. Meanwhile leaders in tunnels surrounded by human shields, giving exactly zero damns. Ah, the extraordinary humanity. People on campuses worldwide should venerate such a nation, and reward them.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      There is nothing in the world that describes the human shield quoted by Israel, there is a clear target and a target obstructed by the presence of humans minding their own business.

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        If you built tunnels underneath your house with the aid that you were given (by, say the Lotteries Board), instead of schools, and then decided to attack me and kidnap my parents and kids, and I come to get you while you take to the tunnels (knowing full well that I’m coming to get my parents and kids back) and leave your parents and kids in the house to await me coming – what exactly do you describe your abandoned parents and kids as Kenneth? “Human shields” my friend. While inside the tunnels, surrounded by my parents and kids, you are a simple coward.

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