Israel under pressure as Gantz quits despite hostage rescue

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Israel under mounting pressure as Gantz quits despite hostage rescue

/ 10:36 AM June 10, 2024

Israel under mounting pressure as Gantz quits despite hostage rescue

Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz announces his resignation during a televised address in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv on June 9, 2024. Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said on June 9, he was quitting the government after threatening last month to leave over the lack of post-war strategy for the Gaza Strip. “We are leaving the unity government with a heavy heart,” Gantz said in a televised address. Agence France-Presse

PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES — Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz on Sunday announced his resignation amid celebrations for the rescue of four hostages from war-torn Gaza in a raid that Palestinians say killed hundreds.

Gantz’s resignation is the latest sign of sharpening domestic dissent over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the eight-month war, and is the first major political blow to him during the conflict.

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It came after special forces fought gun battles with Palestinian militants on Saturday in central Gaza’s crowded Nuseirat refugee camp area as they swooped in to free the four captives.

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The Israeli military said the extraction team and captives came under heavy gun and grenade fire, which killed one police officer, while Israel’s air force launched strikes that reduced nearby buildings to rubble.

The health ministry in the Hamas-run territory said 274 people were killed and 698 wounded, in what it labelled the “Nuseirat massacre”, figures that could not be independently verified.

Among those were at least 64 children, 57 women and 37 elderly people, the ministry said.

“People were screaming — young and old, women and men,” said Nuseirat resident Muhannad Thabet, 35.

“Everyone wanted to flee the place, but the bombing was intense and anyone who moved was at risk of being killed due to the heavy bombardment and gunfire.”

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READ: Hamas says more than 200 killed as Israel rescues four Gaza hostages

Noa Argamani, 26, Almog Meir Jan, 22, Andrey Kozlov, 27, and Shlomi Ziv, 41, had been abducted from the Nova music festival during Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel that triggered the war.

Many Israelis shed tears of joy when they heard of the release of the four captives, all reported in good health.

The army released footage of the freed captives embracing their family members, and the government press office showed Netanyahu visiting them in hospital.

But Meir Jan’s joy at being released was undercut by the death of his father of a heart attack just one day earlier.

Mounting pressure

Gantz’s resignation comes after he had issued an ultimatum to Netanyahu to present a post-war plan for Gaza by June 8.

Netanyahu responded by telling Gantz it was “not the time to abandon the battle”.

While Gantz’s resignation will not bring the premier’s right-wing government down, it reflects growing domestic pressure over Netanyahu’s failure to return remaining hostages.

A senior military commander, Brigadier General Avi Rosenfeld, also resigned Sunday over what he called his failure to prevent the October 7 attack.

Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, claimed that other hostages were killed during the rescue operation, and warned that conditions would worsen for the remaining captives.

“The operation will pose a great danger (for) the enemy’s prisoners and will have a negative impact on their conditions,” spokesman Abu Obaida wrote on Telegram.

The four freed hostages are among only seven that Israeli forces have managed to rescue alive since Palestinian militants seized 251 in their October 7 attack.

Dozens were exchanged in a November truce for Palestinian prisoners. After Saturday’s rescue operation, 116 hostages remain in Gaza, although the army says 41 of them are dead.

Israel’s top diplomat rejected accusations “of war crimes” in the operation.

“We will continue to act with determination and strength, in accordance with our right to self-defence, until all of the hostages are freed and Hamas is defeated,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said.

Seeking to explain the civilian toll and damage from the raid, Israeli military spokesman Peter Lerner told US network ABC that forces “came under fire from a 360-degree threat… It was and is a war zone.”

Subsequent fighting saw four members of one family killed when an air strike hit their house in Gaza City’s Al-Daraj area, in the territory’s north, according to Al-Ahli hospital medics.

Israeli helicopters were also firing east of the Bureij camp, near Nuseirat, witnesses told AFP.

And heavy artillery shelling hit central and northern areas of Rafah, said officials in the southern city.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell welcomed the hostage release and said reports “of another massacre of civilians are appalling… the bloodbath must end immediately”.

Blinken heads to Middle East

United States President Joe Biden on May 31 launched a new push for a ceasefire and hostage release deal, but without any tangible results so far.

Hamas has insisted on a permanent truce and full Israeli withdrawal from all parts of Gaza — demands that Israel has firmly rejected.

Hamas’s Qatar-based chief Ismail Haniyeh on Sunday condemned the “horrific massacre” in Nuseirat and insisted that “any agreement reached must include a permanent cessation of aggression, a complete withdrawal from the strip, an exchange deal and reconstruction”.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit the Middle East from Monday for his eighth regional tour since the October 7 attack, with stops planned in Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar.

Blinken on Saturday again insisted that “the only thing standing in the way of achieving this ceasefire is Hamas. It is time for them to accept the deal.”

The bloodiest ever Gaza war broke out after the October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory military offensive has killed at least 37,084 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The war has brought widespread devastation to Gaza and displaced most of its 2.4 million inhabitants, many whom are on the brink of starvation.

Aid has arrived only sporadically by truck, airdrops and sea.

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The US military said a temporary pier that had suffered storm damage late last month had been rebuilt and used on Saturday to deliver about 492 tonnes of “much needed humanitarian assistance”.

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TAGS: Hostage, Israel-Hamas war

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